AUGUSTA — Mainers affected by domestic violence said Wednesday that Question 3 on the November ballot could help prevent murders or injuries by blocking abusers from purchasing a gun on the private market.

With Election Day less than two weeks away, organizers of the campaign to require background checks prior to private gun sales or transfers sought to connect the issue of access to guns with domestic violence-related homicides in Maine. In 2014 and 2015, 24 of the 46 murders in the state were labeled as domestic violence incidents because the victim and perpetrator were related.

Lois Galgay Reckitt said she saw the connection between guns and domestic violence firsthand during her more than 30 years as executive director of Cumberland County’s Domestic Violence Resource Center. Reckitt pointed to statistics showing that in states with so-called “universal background checks” on all gun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by a partner or relative.

“I don’t care if there are 10 or five or two women killed in Maine from domestic violence in the course of a year, half of that is a way better result than the current situation,” said Reckitt, who is running for the Legislature in House District 31. “Everyone agrees that domestic violence perpetrators should not have easy access to firearms, but … it is very easy if you are turned down by a licensed dealer to get a gun in another way.”

But David Trahan with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who is helping lead the campaign against Question 3, said individuals with a history of committing domestic violence are already breaking the law by attempting to purchase a gun. So Trahan suggested that person would likely find a way to obtain a firearm.

“You’ve got to treat the (domestic violence) problem and that deep-rooted problem is in our society,” Trahan said.

To that end, Trahan pointed to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s work with police, domestic violence awareness organizations and other groups to strengthen Maine’s laws. One of the law changes supported by SAM allows judges to order the temporary confiscation of guns from individuals accused of domestic violence.

Question 3 would require private gun sellers to have a federally licensed firearms dealer run the names of any would-be buyers through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System prior to a sale. The initiative also would require background checks before gun “transfers” – whether temporary loans or gifts – except for transfers between family members, for parties hunting together or in instances when the recipient is in immediate danger of death or bodily harm.

Opponents have seized on the transfer issue in recent weeks as they fight against a measure they argue will do little to prevent crime but will burden law-abiding citizens. But Question 3 supporters said Maine’s rate of homicides linked to domestic violence underscores the need to close what they call the private-market “loophole.”

Since 1998, more than 5,500 gun sales in Maine were blocked – at least initially – because the potential buyer failed a background check run by a licensed gun dealer. Among those, 22 percent of the rejections were because the person had a history of domestic abuse.

Bar Harbor resident Bill Horner speculated that his son, Mark, might still be alive today if his killer – the estranged ex-husband of Mark’s girlfriend – had to pass a background check. Bill Horner said he steered clear of the politics of gun control until the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass killing, which happened 14 years to the day after his son was shot and killed in Texas.

“The spectacle of a national government unable and unwilling to deal with the issue of gun-related violence simply rubs salt into wounds that remain slow to heal to this day,” Horner said at a State House news conference. “And then along came Maine’s citizen-initiated Question 3 on the upcoming ballot. It appeared that at last there was something that a person like me could do that might make a difference.”

Question 3 has divided Maine’s law enforcement leaders. While the Maine Chiefs of Police Association support the measure, the vast majority of elected county sheriffs oppose it, and the Maine Warden Service has expressed concerns about the proposal’s impacts on hunters.

The campaign is being largely bankrolled by Everytown for Gun Safety, the New York-based gun control organization created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On the other side, the National Rifle Association is working with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and other groups to defeat the measure.

A September poll by the Portland Press Herald of likely Maine voters found that 61 percent of respondents supported Question 3, with 33 opposed and 6 percent undecided.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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