AUGUSTA — A group hoping to bring a statewide ballot question to require federal background checks 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, the field director for Maine Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, said Thursday.

Allen said volunteers were continuing to collect signatures, but the various organization’s in Maine that were working on the ballot measure were confident they would meet the threshold by the Jan. 22 deadline.

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, said she had heard the group had gathered the minimum number of signatures it needed.

But Allen said Thursday that they were still collecting signatures and validating those in hand.

Under state and federal laws, anyone who buys a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, like those at major retailers including Wal-Mart and Cabela’s, must first submit to background checks with the National Instant Criminal Background check system. Those who buy or sell guns in private sales such as those offered in classified advertisements in print or online are not required to submit to an NICB check.  

Connor said Thursday that the Maine Gun Safety Coalition would reach its signature goal just two days after President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a new series of executive orders that aim to tighten gun control in the U.S. Obama was slated to host a nationally televised town-hall-style meeting Thursday night.

Connor said the coalition in Maine was 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 those suffering violent mental illnesses.

“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 residents in Maine and at least two other states, including 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 formed in 2000 following the high school massacre in Columbine, Colo.

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