Universal background check supporters launch grassroots campaign

Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the coalition formed to support the citizens’ initiative on the ballot this November to close a loophole in Maine’s system of background checks for gun transfers, formally launched its campaign on Saturday with volunteer events across the state.

“While this initiative will not prevent every tragedy, it will make Maine safer and save lives,” said Judi Richardson of South Portland, a supporter of the initiative whose daughter, Darien, died six years ago as a result of gunshot wounds. “We cannot bring Darien back, but we are committed to doing everything possible to protect others from this pain by reducing gun violence.”

On Saturday, members of the coalition, which includes community organizations, law enforcement, faith leaders, domestic violence prevention advocates, sportsmen, law enforcement officials and others, conducted door-to-door canvasses in Damariscotta, Portland and Rockland and a volunteer phonebank in Bangor.

Volunteers plan to hold similar events over the next week in towns including Eastport, Belfast, Norway and Houlton to reach out to to their friends and neighbors about the initiative.

Currently in Maine, criminal background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed dealers. Guns sold at gun shows, through classified ads and through online services can be transferred without a background check and often with no questions asked. Supporters of the initiative note that this means violent criminals and other dangerous individuals can easily buy guns anonymously.

If passed, the referendum would require that everyone buying a gun in Maine would have the same background check, no matter where they buy it or who they buy it from.

“Background checks work,” said Caribou Chief of Police Michael Gahagan. “Since 1998, they have prevented more than 2.4 million felons, domestic abusers, people with severe mental illness and other dangerous people from getting guns nationwide. And in states that already require background checks for all gun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed by handguns.”

A poll released last month by the Maine People’s Resource Center found 66% of likely voters in favor of the background check proposal.

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