AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives voted 69-68 Monday in favor of requiring background checks on private gun sales.

The vote gives new life to a long-running effort to regulate private gun sales in Maine. But the proposal faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which already has rejected one House-backed gun control bill this session.

Democrats argued Monday that the bill would close a “dangerous loophole” that allows people who are prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms to do so through private sales and at gun shows. Republicans, however, contend that universal background checks would unfairly burden law-abiding gun owners.

Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, D-Westbrook, said the gun control bills heard this session by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee are “a desperate attempt to do something” about the surge in gun violence across the county, including in Maine.

“This bill was aimed at trying to deal with people who are buying guns off Uncle Henry’s, off Facebook marketplace (and) off their neighbors,” Salisbury said. “(They’re) buying these guns without any sort of checks and balances.”

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, is sponsoring the bill, L.D. 168, and has argued that the lack of background checks makes Maine a destination for criminal gun purchases.


Talbot Ross has said that, unlike previous efforts to regulate private sales, her bill excludes sales and transfers among family members and sales of antique or relic firearms. It would require private sellers to get a background check from an authorized dealer.

Background checks already are required for commercial gun sales from licensed dealers.

A number of gun control bills come up every year but fail to gain traction, as Maine has a long tradition of hunting and gun ownership, and is considered a relatively safe state. Nearly half of Maine households – 46.8 percent – own guns, according data compiled by the Pew Research Center.

Maine voters rejected a citizen referendum to institute universal background checks in 2016. And the Maine House rejected a similar bill in 2019 on an 80-66 vote.

Lawmakers submitted gun control bills this year after incidents that intensified concerns about gun violence in the state, including false reports of active shooters that forced lockdowns at about a dozen high schools last fall and a mass shooting in April that left four people dead in Bowdoin and three others injured.

During a four-hour hearing in April, 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 rights.


Rep. James White, R-Guilford, who has been a firearms dealer for the last 30 years, said the bill would only add burdens on local dealers, like himself. Those dealers would have to hold the firearm while conducting the background check, which he said can take three to 29 days.  

The bill would allow people to continue loaning their firearms to friends or relatives without a background check. White said that firearm could be lent to anyone for an indefinite amount of time without a background check. 

“It makes no sense that you could lend a firearm without a background check, but you have to go do a background check to make the transaction official,” White said. “This bill is an undue, unnecessary burden and doesn’t fix any problems.”

While Republicans argued that law-abiding gun owners could face unnecessary delays when purchasing firearms, Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland, said such delays would be worth preventing criminals, domestic abusers and other violent people from accessing firearms.

“I cannot see the downside to this,” Reckitt said. “A little inconvenience maybe, but it’s better to have a little inconvenience than to have more dead people who ought not to be dead.”

A separate bill submitted in the Legislature this year would have required a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases. That proposal was rejected by lawmakers after votes in the House and Senate.

The Senate also rejected a bill that would have banned bump stocks and other devices designed to modify a semiautomatic firearm to make it fire like an automatic. That bill passed the House by a 77-66 vote, before failing in the Senate, 21-12.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition released a poll this month showing that more than 70% of respondents supported measures such as universal background checks and waiting periods.

Maine is one of 29 states that do not require background checks for private gun purchases, according to Everytown, a national advocacy group that supports more regulation.

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