House Minority Leader Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, left, Rep. Donald Ardell, R-Monticello, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harold “Trey” Stewart, R-Presque Isle, were among the speakers during a news conference by Legislative Republicans on Thursday in the Maine State House in Augusta. Rep. Ardell said people selling a firearm through an advertised sale would likely need to have a licensed firearm dealer conduct the background check. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Republican leaders in the Maine House and Senate spoke out Thursday against a proposal by Gov. Janet Mills to expand background checks on gun buyers to include advertised private sales, saying that it would lead to a registry of firearms owners.

Mill’s office and gun safety advocates pushed back, saying Republicans were mischaracterizing her proposal and criticizing it before all of the details are available.

“Despite her clear explanation of the proposal, the governor hopes that when the bill is released, Republicans will approach it with an open mind and study it closely to clear up their confusion,” spokesperson Ben Goodman said in a statement. “False characterizations and red herrings should not stand in the way of progress on what are practical, common-sense measures.”

Mills cited the mass shooting that took the lives of 18 people in Lewiston in October as the reason for the expanded background checks, which she had opposed in the past. But the initial reaction of Republican leaders shows even limited reform proposals will still be a tough sell in a state that prizes its strong tradition of hunting and responsible firearm ownership.

Details of the proposals are expected to be released in the coming days ahead of public hearings and legislative work sessions, but Republican lawmakers criticized the background checks proposal Thursday based on the framework laid out in Mills’ State of the State address on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said Maine’s current gun laws are adequate and none of the proposed gun safety bills would have stopped the shooting in Lewiston.


“I think we already have a very safe state here in Maine under the current system,” Stewart said. “Prohibited folks are already prohibited. And that wasn’t even the case in this shooting, so using the shooting as the justification to do completely unrelated things is getting a bit far afield.”

Republican members of the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, which will likely review Mills’ bill once it’s printed, repeatedly mischaracterized Mills’ proposal Thursday as calling for universal background checks. The governor said she would exempt non-advertised transfers between families and friends.

Critics also argued that the proposal is actually aimed at creating a firearm registry, which is not allowed under federal or state law.

Rep. Donald Ardell, R-Monticello, who is a retired law enforcement officer and a former licensed firearm dealer, said people selling a firearm through an advertised private sale would likely need to have a licensed firearm dealer conduct the background check. And the dealer would also likely have to create a record of the firearm sale, which would be available to law enforcement.

Licensed firearm dealers already conduct background checks for commercial firearm sales. Ardell did not directly respond to questions about whether those records violate federal or state laws against a gun owner registry, or explain how Mills’ proposal would be any different.

Instead, Ardell said that new gun laws will only affect law-abiding gun owners. “If this law were to go into effect, the people who wouldn’t pass background checks would continue not to subject themselves to them,” he said.


Goodman accused Republicans of mischaracterizing Mills’ proposal as a universal background check and he denied that the new requirement would lead to a firearm registry or that a registry would be needed to enforce the law.

“The governor is not proposing a gun registry; nor is one needed; nor would she support the creation of one,” Goodman said. “The governor’s proposal would be enforced in the same manner that every other law in Maine is enforced – it is incumbent upon citizens to follow the law, recognizing that there is the potential for a legal repercussion as determined appropriate by the courts for those who break the law.”

Gun safety advocates also pushed back on Republican characterizations of Mills proposal.

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham said the governor’s mental health care proposal is similar to one suggested by Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais. “That was one part we can agree on.” Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We haven’t seen the full details of her proposals, but as described she is not proposing universal background checks,” said David Farmer, spokesperson for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which is pushing for stronger reforms than those proposed by Mills.

“Additionally, she did not propose creating a registry of firearms, which is a fear tactic that opponents of gun safety reforms use to try to scare law-abiding gun owners away from reasonable improvements to the law. Gun registries are illegal and background checks are run routinely without the need for a gun registry.”

While criticizing the gun safety reforms, Republicans applauded Mills’ proposal to expand mental health services by creating a network of crisis-receiving centers for people experiencing mental health crises. One center currently exists in Portland and Mills proposed an expansion beginning with a center in Lewiston.

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham said the governor’s proposal is similar to one suggested by Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais. “That was one part we can agree on.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.