AUGUSTA, Maine — A group hoping to bring a statewide ballot question to require a federal background check on all gun sales in Maine said Thursday it was well on its way to gathering the more than 61,000 voter signatures it needs for a November referendum.

“We fully anticipate having the signature numbers that we need and have had a tremendous response from Mainers supporting this initiative,” Beth Allen, field director for Maine Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, said Thursday.

Allen said volunteers were continuing to collect signatures but the various organizations in Maine to place the question on the ballot are confident they would meet the threshold by the Jan. 22 deadline.

Meanwhile, Emma Connor of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition said the group, which started collecting voter signatures in October, would be “well over” the required number of signatures. Earlier this week Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, also said she had heard the group had gathered the minimum number of signatures it needed.

But Allen said Thursday they were still collecting signatures and validating the signatures they had in hand to make sure.

Under current state and federal law, anyone who buys a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, including retailers such as Wal-Mart or Cabela’s, must first be cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal background check system. Those who buy or sell guns in private sales, including those offered in classified advertisements in print or online, are not required to submit to an NIC check.

On Thursday, Connor told the Sun Journal that the Maine Gun Safety Coalition had reached its signature goal just two days after President Barack Obama signed a new series of executive orders designed to tighten gun control in the U.S. Obama was also slated to host a nationally televised town-hall-style meeting Thursday night.

Connor said the coalition in Maine is pleased with the president’s latest move on the issue but remained disappointed that neither federal nor state elected officials would act to require universal background checks as a means to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals or others whose possession of firearms could pose a threat to public safety.

“It will be really interesting to see how everyday Americans react to the president’s town hall meeting tonight,” Connor said, “given we already know from polling that 90 percent of Americans and a majority of gun owners support universal background checks.”

Based on polling, Connor said, a majority of Mainers and Maine gun owners also support universal background checks for gun sales.

She said inaction by Congress and legislatures had prompted citizens in Maine and at least two other states, Nevada and Arizona, to seek statewide ballot questions.

“We’ve decided to take it to the people instead of working with the politicians,” Connor said.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition first formed in 2000 following the high school massacre in Columbine, Colorado.


Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.