Lawmakers took on the contentious issue of gun control Monday, hearing hours of testimony on bills that would add background checks for private sales and institute a 72-hour waiting period on firearm purchases, among other things.

Over the course of more than four hours, supporters said the bills would help reduce gun violence, especially suicides, and make it more difficult for criminals to access weapons. Opponents, however, argued that the bills would only impact law-abiding citizens and infringe on their Second Amendment constitutional rights.

Bowdoin resident Nicole Palmer said she supported the gun control bills as a mother and an educator. She urged lawmakers to take action before a mass shooting happens in a school or mall in Maine, saying the proposals will make it more difficult for criminals – not law-abiding citizens – to access firearms.

“I can hardly believe I have to beg you for background checks,” Palmer told lawmakers. “I am here because inaction in the face of constant gun tragedies in this country and in this state is unacceptable and would be a clear violation of your duty to protect citizens.”

Gun control bills come up every year and fail to gain traction, as Maine has a long tradition of hunting and gun ownership, and is considered a relatively safe state. Voters rejected a citizen referendum to institute universal background checks in 2016.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, is sponsoring a bill that would require universal background checks, including on private sales. The lack of background checks makes Maine a destination for criminal gun purchases, she said.


Talbot Ross noted that the weapons used in a mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured three others in Nova Scotia in 2020 were bought illegally in Houlton because the suspect was not a U.S. citizen.

“A simple background check would have prevented those sales and transfers but were not required under Maine law,” Talbot Ross said. “Licensed dealers are not permitted to make those sales or facilitate those transfers without conducting background checks. L.D. 168 closes the gaping loophole that exempts private sales and transfers.”

Talbot Ross pointed to differences between an amended version of her bill and previous efforts, including exclusions for sales and transfers among family members and for antique or relic firearms. It also would give private gun sellers the option of getting a background check through an authorized gun dealer or through a local law enforcement office, she said.

Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, introduced L.D. 60, which would institute a 72-hour waiting period for buying a firearm – a move that she said would reduce the number of gun-related suicides.

And Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, introduced L.D. 22, which would make it a crime under state law for someone to knowingly sell or transfer a firearm to someone they know – or should know – is prohibited from possessing a firearm.



The bills face a tough road in the Legislature, even as mass shootings in schools, shopping centers and other public spaces continue to make news.

Gov. Janet Mills, in a questionnaire leading up to last fall’s election, told the influential lobbying group the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine that she opposes a range of gun control proposals, including a new background check requirement for private sales, banning high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic assault-style weapons.

Mills’ office did not respond Monday to a question about whether the governor supports any of the bills that were being heard by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine opposed all of the bills, as did the National Rifle Association.

Board member Mike Shaw said SAM opposed Carney’s bill because federal law already prohibits transferring firearms to a prohibited person. And SAM opposes Craven’s bill because it would infringe on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, which “shall not be questioned.”

Shaw said enforcement of Talbot Ross’ bill would require the state to create a firearm registry, which is currently illegal.


“For these reasons, gun owners’ concerns are warranted,” Shaw said.

Opponents also said imposing a waiting period would inhibit a victim of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm for self-defense – a claim rebutted by Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, a South Portland Democrat who has worked with domestic violence victims.

“We often counsel women not to get a gun because someone will use it to kill you,” Reckitt said.


Gun control supporters said background checks and waiting periods are supported by a majority of voters and gun owners in the state.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said that the Maine Sheriff’s Association supports both Carney’s and Craven’s bills. And Joyce said he personally supports the universal background check bill sponsored Talbot Ross, stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the association.


“This is not a panacea,” Joyce said. “This isn’t going to keep guns out of a criminal’s hands by any stroke of the imagination. But if we can make it hard for a criminal to get it, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Joyce said that many opponents cited Maine being the safest state in the nation as a reason to oppose gun control, but he said that may not always be the case, pointing to the increasing crime in the Portland area.

“This is about finding something that we can do,” he said. “Those who deserve to have guns will make it through a background check – no problem. The bad guys, they may not go through a background check, because they’re going to avoid it, but it’s going to make it a little bit more difficult to get them a gun.”

But for others, gun ownership is an absolute right – and one necessary for personal safety.

“Whether you like it or not, a right delayed is a right denied,” Bangor resident Steven Brough said, adding that he would personally challenge the waiting period in court. “When danger is at your door and police are minutes away, anyone in their right mind would want the most effective means of protecting themselves and their loved ones.”

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