LEWISTON — Omar Samaha saw his little sister the day before she was shot to death in her Virginia Tech French classroom.
She didn’t fit the profile of a murder victim, he said, because there isn’t one.
Samaha was part of a Mayors Against Illegal Guns tour that visited the city Friday, parking its giant red electronic billboard — marked “Americans Murdered With Guns Since Tucson” — in front of Dufresne Plaza on Lisbon Street. The billboard, with a counter that started on zero Jan. 8, after the supermarket shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, ticked from 4,009 to 4,010 at the start of the news conference.
The group estimates 34 Americans are killed with guns each day. It’s trying to bring attention to U.S. Senate bill 436 which would require background checks for private gun sales and update the national database with the names of people already prohibited from buying firearms.
“Right now, millions (of names) are missing,” Samaha, 27, said. Reema Samaha’s killer “passed two background checks on two occasions simply because his name wasn’t entered into the database.”
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in April 2007.
Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, a former police chief and one of four Maine mayors involved with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said he had lost friends and colleagues to gun violence.
“I may not know what it will take to change the system, but I do know with all of us standing together it will change,” Gilbert said.
Cathie Whittenburg of States United to Prevent Gun Violence said that Maine allows private gun sales without background checks and with no requirements for record keeping.
“This is a system that invites abuse and criminals know about this,” she said.
They propose that private sales be processed through a licensed gun dealer, something already done in California.
Lance Orchid, also traveling with the billboard, said Lewiston marked its 43rd city stop and the first event in the state. It’s moving on to New Jersey for a stop Monday.
He said hearings on the Senate bill would likely take place this summer.
Samaha, from Centreville, Va., said he’s hopped from hotel to hotel making his way across the country for three months. He’s heard lots of personal stories and met with victims of the Tucson shooting.
“It’s been a great experience, everyone’s been very supportive,” he said. “We’re going to be on the road until Mayors Against Illegal Guns tells us to stop.”