Question 3 on the statewide Nov. 8 referendum ballot would close the private sale loophole that exempts from a background check all gun sales made by a private seller, which now account for approximately 40 percent of all gun sales, according to a survey by researchers at Duke University and the University of Chicago.

When the Brady Bill – mandating background checks on people buying firearms from federally licensed dealers – was adopted in 1993, internet sales did not exist. But they’re now common across the United States, and as a means of avoiding background checks, they have become one of the major markets for gun transfers.

In Maine, the weekly classified circular Uncle Henry’s advertises thousands of guns from private sellers every year, and internet sites likewise facilitate private sales with no background check. Convicted felons can buy in Maine any gun they like, and as many guns as they like, the day they walk out of prison.

Extending background checks to cover all gun sales is such a common-sense and obvious means of keeping guns in responsible hands that it is supported by a very large majority of Maine (and national) voters: over 70 percent in most surveys and close to or over 90 percent in some.

More than 80 percent of gun owners support background checks, and more than half of National Rifle Association members do. Most gun owners and most NRA members are responsible and recognize that they have a responsibility to keep guns in safe hands.

Significantly, studies released in 2015 show that where background checks have been extended to all gun sales, gun violence is dramatically reduced. In these states, there are 48 percent fewer gun suicides than in states without universal background checks, women are 46 percent less likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner and police officers are 48 percent less likely to be shot to death.

But the gun lobby opposition, led by the NRA, has raised a peculiar objection to extended background checks. Specifically, it will make it difficult to loan a gun to a friend. Seriously, that is the argument. It may save lives, hundreds or thousands a year, but boy, will it be a burden to gun lenders.

This superficial argument ignores the specific provisions of the proposed law that permit temporary loans while hunting in the owner’s presence, among family members, for emergencies and under other defined circumstances.

But worse, they would create a new loophole – the gun loan loophole – that would be as dangerous as the private sale loophole. It makes no more sense to regulate gun sales but not loans than it does to regulate gun sales by dealers but not by private sellers. A gun in the wrong hands is dangerous whether it is loaned or owned.

A second objection by the gun lobby is that banning private gun sales would be unenforceable. That is plain nonsense – thousands of drug dealers in prison today prove that illegal private sales can be prosecuted very effectively.

Opponents also claim that extended background checks is a dangerous idea supported only by out-of-staters. Over 85,000 Mainers signed the petition to qualify Question 3 for the November ballot, from every town and city in the state! Similar to national surveys, Maine polling has found that roughly four out of five voters here support background checks.

One of the most superficial arguments against extended background checks is that “Maine doesn’t have a gun problem.” This, too, is factually wrong and pure wishful thinking. Two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides, and Maine’s suicide rate is consistently higher than the national average, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures.

More significantly, Maine has all the ingredients for a mass shooting: a high suicide rate; unregulated gun sales to anyone; freedom to carry guns openly or concealed virtually anywhere; poorly funded and administered mental health programs, and the recent abolition of all public mental health programs for adolescents – who are the typical perpetrators of mass shootings.

These factors in combination make Maine deeply vulnerable. Maine has not been smart – it has been lucky.

Closing the private sale loophole in Maine will cost nothing. It could reduce domestic violence, gun crimes, suicides, shootings of police and drug-related gun violence. It is supported by a great majority of voters, gun owners and even NRA members. It is an opportunity for Maine to show the rest of the country how to balance gun rights with responsibilities, and it could save lives in Maine and beyond.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.