- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Lawmakers of opposing political stripes put aside their differences in Maine to strengthen restrictions on gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence crimes.

The state Legislature passed a law last year that keeps domestic violence criminals from owning guns for five years after the end of their sentences. The law goes beyond federal standards to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as to punish abusers, supporters have said.

Passing the law required cooperation between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House. Legislators then overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is a supporter of both gun rights and curbing domestic violence. LePage supported the concept of the new restrictions but argued that the ban wasn’t lengthy enough.

Approving new gun restrictions is a balancing act in the rural state, where gun ownership and hunting are long-established parts of the culture in many areas. The key to the new law was to make sure it punished the right people, said Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican.

“Of course we want to make sure that if truly dangerous people who have been committing violent crime in the past, that’s something where we’d want to look at having restrictions in place,” he said. “We have to have due process whenever we take someone’s rights away.”

Gun control advocates applauded the bill even as they took issue with other changes to gun laws in the state. Another new law in Maine that allowed legal gun owners to carry concealed handguns without a permit drew heavy criticism from gun safety groups.

“Protecting women from this clear and present danger is extremely important, and I am pleased that the nexus is recognized in this legislation,” said Tom Franklin, president of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “Five years is sufficient to deter such conduct, which is the entire point.”

Maine was the site of 24 firearm-related domestic homicides from 2006 to 2014. That is more than New Hampshire and Hawaii, which are the closest states to Maine in population, but less than Montana, which has fewer residents. The homicides were spread out evenly between the state’s more densely populated south and its vast, rural middle and north.

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