LEWISTON — A group hoping to bring a statewide ballot question to voters in 2016 to require federal background checks on all gun sales in Maine is joining similar organizations across the country in urging Congress to tighten gun laws.

Emma Connor, director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said Friday her organization is concerned about a pending change in Maine law that allows carrying concealed handguns without permits.

The law goes into effect Oct. 15.

“People need to be aware of this, that people in Maine can buy a gun without a background check, and now being able to carry that same gun without a permit is very concerning,” Connor said.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition issued a joint statement with the national nonprofit group States United to Prevent Gun Violence. It urges Congress to listen to the vast majority of Americans who support a universal background-check law at the federal level, especially in the wake of a mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore., that claimed 10 lives at a community college Thursday.

“We should ask ourselves: When are lawmakers going to do something about the reckless availability of firearms in our communities?” read the statement that was signed by 31 state gun-safety coalitions from across the U.S.


“Why aren’t there better safeguards to protect our families and our rights? Why do lawmakers continue to pander to the profit-seeking motives of the gun lobby and gun manufacturers?”

Citing a variety of national polls that suggest as many as 90 percent of voters nationwide support stricter federal gun laws, the group said it was time for Congress to act and called on citizens to demand it from their lawmakers and to get involved in the debate.

Connor, with the Maine group, said a signature-gathering campaign would begin in earnest later this month in hopes getting a ballot question before voters in 2016.

“There is overwhelming public support for background checks; it’s really just about legislators reflecting the views of their constituents,” Connor said, noting efforts by state lawmakers over the years to require universal background checks have failed in the Legislature.

In Maine, licensed firearms dealers are required to do background checks using the National Instant Criminal Background Check system when selling firearms to individuals, but individuals selling guns to one another are not required to perform background checks.

The system, when used, allows a seller to determine whether the individual buying the firearm is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a mental health condition or a criminal record.


Members of Maine’s U.S. congressional delegation offered condolences to those affected by the shooting in Oregon.

“My heart goes out to the students and community of Umpqua Community College in Oregon,” 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community.”

Poliquin, a Republican, did not elaborate on whether he would support tightening federal gun regulations but did say he wanted to protect Maine’s outdoor sporting traditions and the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding citizens.

“For years, Maine has been ranked high in gun ownership and low in gun violence as we have a rich tradition of using firearms responsibly,“ Poliquin said.

But U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, took a more strident tone, agreeing with Connor and the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. King has long been an advocate for strengthening federal laws on background checks.

“Congress can and should strengthen the background check system,” King said in a statement issued Friday. “It’s a common-sense way to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them while also respecting the rights of law-abiding Americans at the same time. It’s time for Congress to stop turning a blind eye to these tragedies, to stop acting like this is just routine in our country, and to start doing something about it.”


Officials at Maine college campuses offered condolences to the victims and their families in Oregon and urged students and staff to reach out for support if they felt they needed it.

“Our hearts and minds are with our colleagues and the students at Umpqua and the families of the victims,” said Joy Pufhal, the dean of students at the University of Southern Maine, which has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston.

Pufhal said staff were providing time and space for students to discuss the events in Oregon as appropriate and needed, and the focus was on the community’s sense of helplessness.

Pufhal said Friday morning that the university had circulated information on the school’s safety and security policies to all students.

“We continue to encourage students and employees to be vigilant, to trust their gut and report concerning or suspicious behavior immediately to Public Safety,” Pufhal said, “and most importantly to take good care of themselves and to utilize all the support services available to them.”


“We should ask ourselves – when are lawmakers going to do something about the reckless availability of firearms in our communities? Why aren’t there better safeguards to protect our families and our rights? Why do lawmakers continue to pander to the profit-seeking motives of the gun lobby and gun manufacturers?”

 – States United to Prevent Gun Violence. 

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