AUGUSTA — The latest effort to require background checks for private gun sales in Maine failed in the state Senate Tuesday.

The 21-13 vote effectively kills the measure, which squeaked through the House of Representatives by one vote Monday. The bill drew unified opposition from Senate Republicans, and nine Democrats, including Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, broke ranks to reject the proposal. Given the decisive vote in the Senate, the bill is certain to die between chambers, both of which are controlled by Democrats.

The Senate rejection comes one day after the House voted 69-68 in favor of the bill. It is the second time this session that the Senate has rejected a gun control bill passed by the House. Earlier this month, senators voted 21-12 against a House-approved bill that would have banned firearm modification devices, including bump stocks.

Supporters of background checks for private sales argued in the House 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. Opponents said universal background checks would unfairly burden law-abiding gun owners.

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.

Gun control bills come up every year but fail to gain traction in Maine, which 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.


Although the bill appears to be dead, passage in the House marks progress for a proposal that was rejected by voters in 2016 and failed to advance in a Democrat-controlled House by 14 votes in 2019.

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.

Nacole Palmer, founder and director of the Maine-based group Show Up Network for Gun Safety, criticized the vote Tuesday in a prepared statement.

“The continued failure of the Maine Legislature and Gov. (Janet) Mills to pass a background check bill, despite overwhelming support from Maine voters for this commonsense measure, is extremely disheartening,” Palmer said. “How many more Mainers and other Americans need to die before our legislators wake up to the crisis and their own responsibility to help solve it?”

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, sponsored the background checks 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.

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

Private sellers would have been required to get a background check from an authorized dealer, a provision House Republicans argued would have created a burden for local firearm dealers. Republicans also criticized a loophole that would have allowed someone to loan a firearm indefinitely to a friend or neighbor without a background check.

The nine Democratic Senators opposing the bill were Jackson, Joe Baldacci, of Bangor; Chip Curry, of Belfast; Craig Hickman, of Winthrop; David LaFountaine, of Winslow; Tim Nangle, of Windham; Cameron Reny, of Round Pond; Mike Tipping, of Orono; and Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, of Arrowsic.

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