AUGUSTA, Maine — The National Rifle Association is escalating a campaign against President Barack Obama’s push for national gun control measures and Maine is one of the select states where the gun lobbying group is focusing its energy.
The NRA will start running ads in Maine and four other states on Thursday, NRA spokeswoman Jacqueline Otto confirmed Wednesday. The lobbying group also will start running regionally targeted ads online and in USA Today.
Otto declined to say how much the NRA is spending on the ad campaign.
An ad that will run in Maine publications, including the Bangor Daily News, asks readers to call the state’s two senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, and urge them to oppose gun control proposals that Obama discussed last week during his State of the Union address.
“Tell them to oppose Obama’s gun control proposals and to fix our broken mental health system,” the ad reads.
The other states are Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and West Virginia. Otto said Maine and the other four states were chosen because their senators are playing central roles in the gun control debate on Capitol Hill.
“We’re doing our best to educate and inform Mainers and people in other states whose senators are front and center in this debate to make sure they’re armed with the facts,” Otto said.
On Wednesday, USA Today reported that an advocacy group associated with President Barack Obama is launching its own web advertising campaign on Friday. It seeks to build support for background checks, the paper said.
This advertising push follows an online ad the NRA launched last week in which the group cites what it says is an internal Justice Department memo that suggests some of the measures Obama is proposing won’t result in a drop in gun violence. The memo, which outlines common gun control measures, says an assault weapon ban, for example, is unlikely to be effective without a massive gun buyback, which the NRA says “is another way of saying ‘confiscation.’”
Four of the five states where the NRA is running the newspaper ads are likely to be home to competitive U.S. Senate races next year which could determine what party controls the Senate. Maine is the only one of the five states where the Senate seat on the 2014 ballot is held by a Republican.
Collins doesn’t appear to be in any imminent danger of losing her Senate seat next year, but the NRA could be targeting Maine in order to remind her that gun rights enjoy widespread support in Maine, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
“In a lot of these instances, what the advertising campaign is meant to do, you just want to offer a reminder of how much support you and your position have in that particular constituency,” he said. “It’s an easy and cheap thing to do here.”
Gun rights are widely supported and gun owners are numerous in Maine and the four other states the NRA is targeting, Brewer noted.
“If you’re looking for a state in the Northeast where there is a long and deep tradition of firearm ownership and assertion of Second Amendment rights, Maine is really the only state in the Northeast that fits that statewide, at least,” he said.
Collins’ most recent NRA rating is a C+, according to The Washington Post, placing her behind most other Republican senators.
When running for her Senate seat in 1996, Collins supported repealing the country’s assault weapons ban, which was then in effect, according to an Associated Press report. However, she voted to extend the ban in 2004 when it was up for a renewal vote in the Senate.
More recently, Collins hasn’t explicitly called for new gun controls. Instead, she has focused her public statements on keeping weapons out of the hands of people who are mentally ill.
“An effective and comprehensive approach must include mental health care reform and improved state reporting to the background check database so that we as a society can better identify and care for troubled individuals who pose a threat to themselves and others,” Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley wrote in an email. “A National Commission on Mass Violence, which Sen. Collins has called for, could conduct a comprehensive review including helping us understand the effect that violent entertainment has on our youth.”
King has been more open to a handful of specific gun control measures, such as expanding background checks to all gun purchases and making it a federal crime to traffic guns. He said in an interview in Bangor on Wednesday he’s “reluctant” to support an assault weapons ban.
“I’m not sure it will work,” he said. “My approach is to keep guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn’t have them. If there’s a basic premise to how I come at this, that’s where I start.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage released two letters he sent recently to Vice President Joe Biden and the state’s congressional delegation that largely match the NRA position outlined in its ad campaign. LePage urges the vice president and Maine’s senators and representatives to focus on mental health issues, rather than gun control measures, as they consider ways to reduce gun violence.
“The problem we are facing has little to do with firearm ownership and nearly everything to do with mental health issues,” LePage wrote to Biden in a letter dated Jan. 16.
Organizing for Action, an advocacy group founded by Obama and some of his advisers last month, deemed Friday a “national day of action” and will launch an ad campaign that seeks to rally support for background checks.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.