Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords urged Maine residents Wednesday to “fight, fight, fight” to reduce gun violence as the state prepares to vote on a background check initiative.

“Be bold, be courageous,” said Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who has become a national figure in the gun control debate since she was critically injured in a 2011 shooting. “The nation is counting on you.”

Giffords spoke briefly to a small gathering in Portland’s Congress Square Park as part of an event organized by her political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC; and Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the campaign behind Question 3 on the November ballot. Question 3 seeks to require background checks on all private sales of firearms as well as for most gun “transfers,” such as loans between individuals.

Giffords stopped in Maine as part of her organization’s 14-state Vocal Majority Tour. She and her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, have taken on a national role promoting gun control measures ever since a mass shooting at a constituent event in her Arizona district that left 13 people injured – including Giffords – and six dead. She stepped down from Congress in 2012 to focus on her slow recovery from the serious head injuries she suffered in the attack.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what is right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said in a slow, deliberate voice. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone, we must never stop fighting.

“Fight, fight, fight!” Gifford said, holding her fist aloft.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which opposes Question 3, said he respects Giffords’ strong belief in the necessity for additional gun control. But Trahan argued that Question 3, as written, will cause confusion among sportsmen and ultimately turn law-abiding citizens into criminals. Trahan’s organization is particularly concerned about the prospect of requiring a background check for a friend to lend a hunting rifle to another friend, or of running afoul of other aspects of the law while hunting.

“It should be written clearly, be simple to understand and easy to abide by, and this initiative is not,” Trahan said.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, left, meets Portland resident Judi Richardson at Congress Square Park in Portland on Wednesday. Richardson's daughter died from gunshot wounds sustained during a home invasion in 2010.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, left, meets Portland resident Judi Richardson at Congress Square Park in Portland on Wednesday. Richardson’s daughter died from gunshot wounds sustained during a home invasion in 2010. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Giffords and Kelly launched Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which 20 children were killed. After several gun control measures failed in Congress, Giffords’ PAC and organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety have shifted to seeking changes at the state level or on supporting congressional candidates aligned with their views.

Everytown for Gun Safety has funneled large sums of money this year into Maine and Nevada, where voters will decide whether to expand background checks to private gun sales. Anyone purchasing a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer already must pass a criminal background check.

Judi Richardson, whose 25-year-old daughter Darien died in 2010 from medical complications linked to a gunshot wound, recounted how the firearm used to shoot her daughter was later used to kill a second man in Portland. Yet when police tried to trace the gun’s history, they ran into a dead end because the gun traded hands during an undocumented private sale.

“We feel that despite our efforts and the efforts of other people around the country, our political leaders have failed us on the issue of gun violence prevention,” Richardson told the gathering. “That is why we are proud and honored to be the citizen sponsors (of Question 3). Maine is my home and I am proud to be a citizen here. But it is unconscionable that a state as dynamic as ours still allows individuals to purchase lethal firearms without going through as much as a 90-second criminal background check.”

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said expanding background checks “has to happen” in order to help keep Maine a safer place to live, work and raise families. He added that expanded background checks are already in place elsewhere.

“We’re following other states,” Sauschuck said. “We’re not breaking new ground here.”

Opponents of Question 3 – including a dozen Maine sheriffs and the Maine Warden Service – have said the measure could infringe on Maine hunters’ longstanding tradition of loaning firearms to each other. They have also questioned the enforceability of the proposed law.