Maine group seeks petition for 2016 gun background check ballot question

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AUGUSTA — A group hoping to require criminal background checks for all gun sales in Maine has taken the first step toward launching a petition drive for a statewide ballot question in 2016.

Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense Fund submitted an application for a petition to collect signatures to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, according to a news release issued Monday.

“Currently in Maine, felons, domestic abusers and people with dangerous mental illnesses can buy guns from unlicensed sellers, including at gun shows and online, anonymously and with no questions asked, due to a loophole in federal law that requires criminal background checks only for gun sales at licensed dealers,” a news release from the group stated. “The Background Check Initiative would close this loophole in Maine by requiring that all sales and transfers be conducted through a licensed gun dealer, ensuring a background check is carried out each time.”

Efforts to change Maine law in the Legislature to close the so-called private sales, or “Uncle Henry’s” loophole have been unsuccessful. The name comes from the weekly classified advertisement magazine that features dozens of categories of items for sale, including firearms.

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Lawmakers also rejected a bill in 2015 that would have stiffened background check requirements for those selling firearms in private sales as well.

Meanwhile, Maine’s federal lawmakers, including both of the state’s U.S. senators, have voiced their support for closing background check loopholes in federal law.

Changes to state law to ensure those with serious and violent mental health issues are being referred to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System in a timely manner have also been rejected by lawmakers.

Maine is among a few states that have been targeted by national gun safety groups because of its lax reporting system and its weak background check requirements.

Among those filing the application for a petition Monday are Judi and Wayne Richardson, a South Portland couple whose 25-year-old daughter, Darien, was shot to death in her Portland apartment during a home invasion in 2010. Darien Richardson’s killing remains unsolved, in part, because the gun used in the crime was transferred without a background check at a gun show, according to the release.

“While nothing can bring back our daughter, we can and must take action to prevent other parents from going through the senseless pain and suffering of having a child or loved one taken by gun violence,” Judi Richardson said in a prepared statement. “A deadly loophole in Maine law makes it easy for criminals, domestic abusers and people with dangerous mental illnesses to buy guns online and at trade shows with no background check and no questions asked. This ballot measure will close that loophole. It won’t stop all gun violence, but it will save lives and make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.”

Bucksport police Chief Sean Geagan, who also supports the signature drive, said the intent is to keep criminals and the mentally ill from being able to get guns in Maine.

“Supporting the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Geagan said in a prepared statement.  “My years protecting and serving the people of Maine have shown me how critical it is to keep criminals from getting ahold of guns. This background check initiative will help keep Mainers safe by doing just that, while also making it harder for criminals in other states to purchase guns illegally here in Maine.”

Under Maine law, the first step in qualifying a ballot initiative is submitting an application and proposed language to the secretary of state from six state residents. Once the initiative is cleared for circulation, Maine Moms Demand Action will have until Jan. 22 to collect at least 61,123 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Also signing the request for a petition were Laurie Fogelman, Christopher Dickens, a father and gun owner from Blue Hill, and Amy Fiorilli, a mom from Otis.

Fogelman, the retired executive director of the Next Step Domestic Violence Project, said an average of 88 Americans are killed every day by gun violence, including many women and children in domestic violence slayings.

“In states that have closed this loophole, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners,” Fogelman said in a prepared statement. “This initiative will give Maine the chance to join the group of states where women are safer from gun violence.”

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