The director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action on Wednesday urged Mainers to protect their personal freedom from the influence of out-of-state elitists by rejecting a referendum question on background checks for gun sales in November.

Chris Cox, the executive director of the political and lobbying arm of the NRA, spoke at the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s 2016 Freedom and Opportunity Luncheon in Portland. Much of his speech focused on Question 3 on the November ballot, the referendum question that would require background checks on gun sales and transfers, but Cox also urged Mainers to continue to fight for liberty on all fronts.

“This year’s election is crucial to your freedom,” Cox said.

The National Rifle Association, with more than 5 million members, is considered one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country. It has wielded considerable influence at the national level, especially among Republicans, against efforts to regulate guns, and spends about $3 million annually to influence gun policy.

Cox, who has headed the Institute for Legislative Action since 2002, is not unfamiliar with Maine politics. He helped fight against bear hunting referendums in 2004 and 2014 and helped pass the constitutional carry law in 2015 and the Section 8 housing protection law in 2016. On Wednesday, he spoke at length about what he characterized as attempts to take away firearms rights with Question 3.

“Don’t wake up the morning after Election Day and realize Michael Bloomberg just bought a piece of your freedom with Question 3,” Cox said, referring to the former New York City mayor, who helped create Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, an advocacy group lobbying for gun control and against gun violence, which donated $1.7 million in May to support Question 3.


The background check question – “Do you want to change Maine law to require background checks prior to the transfer of firearms between individuals, with some exceptions for certain circumstances?” – will appear third of the five questions on the state ballot in November.

The legislation would require a background check before the sale or transfer of a gun between two people who are not licensed firearms dealers. They would be required to meet at a licensed dealer, who would conduct a background check on the transferee and complete the sale. Exceptions are included in the proposal for transfers between family members, while the parties are hunting or sport shooting, for emergency self-defense and some other circumstances.

By the end of July, opponents of background checks in Maine had raised just over $40,000, most of it donated by the NRA.

Cox called Question 3 an unenforceable and unfunded mandate that takes away the ability of Mainers to protect themselves in their homes.

“Whether or not you own a gun, Question 3 will be a nightmare for all of you,” Cox said. “It will turn law-abiding citizens into criminals overnight.”

During his presentation, Cox showed two videos of people talking about freedom, including Josephine Byrd, a Delaware woman who, with the backing of the NRA, successfully sued the Wilmington Housing Authority because it prohibited her from having a gun in her apartment. Cox likened Byrd’s fight to that of Harvey Lembo, a Rockland man who faced eviction from his subsidized apartment after the landlord became aware Lembo had a gun in his apartment.

In response to Lembo’s situation, the NRA backed a bill in Maine that prohibits most private landlords who accept public housing vouchers from barring tenants from keeping guns in their apartments.

“The right to feel safe in your own home, the right to survive, isn’t determined by your tax bracket or zip code,” Cox said. “The right to protect yourself is the most fundamental right we have as living beings.”

Also at the luncheon, Matt Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, presented the 2016 Freedom and Opportunity Award to Rupert and Suzanne Grover. The Grovers are the founders of Grover Gundrilling in Norway. The award is given each year to a Maine resident who demonstrates a commitment to improving the economic well-being of Maine.

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