In 1987 Mainers voted for stronger gun rights language than the founding fathers

Title page of a copy of the Maine Constitution from 1902. Courtesy Maine State Archives.

This article is part of the Maine Examiner Pine Tree Primer series.

AUGUSTA – The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, which lends itself to a key argument made by advocates of stricter gun control in favor of bans on certain firearms – the argument that the Second Amendment is outdated or obsolete.

As the argument from gun control advocates goes, the founding fathers did not intend the Second Amendment to cover weapons such as those built on the AR-15 (Armalite Rifle) platform, which was first manufactured in 1959, or other firearms that exceed the functionality of what the founding fathers could have foreseen in the eighteenth century.

But in Maine it was not long ago that lawmakers of both parties joined with voters to affirm the rights of individual Mainers to possess firearms with some of the strongest language in the nation.

An amendment to Maine’s Constitution sponsored by Democratic Representative John Martin affirmed the right to bear arms as an individual right, not one reserved just for organized militias or for the protection of the public or “common good” as the previous language defined the right in Maine’s Constitution.

After receiving strong bipartisan support in both chambers of the Maine Legislature, the amendment passed in a referendum of Maine voters with nearly 58% of the vote in 1987.

The 1987 amendment to Article I, § 16 of the Maine Constitution provides: “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”

Seen as some of the most unequivocal language asserting the individual right to bear arms in the nation, it is no surprise that new attempts to regulate or ban firearms are controversial across wide swaths of Maine, where firearms ownership is very high and violence low.

While there certainly is a lot of public debate yet to take place around gun rights, mental health, school security and the federal background check system, any argument that Maine’s constitutional protection of gun rights is outdated is made extremely difficult given that it was enacted just over thirty years ago.

At the very least, Maine’s lawmakers have the benefit of knowing most modern day firearms had already been created before Maine’s Constitution was amended to strengthen gun rights and that the amendment is so new that one of the authors of the amendment is serving in the Legislature with them as they consider new laws.

Article I, § 16 of the Maine Constitution: “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”

Second Amendment of the United States Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

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