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Maine Opposes Effort to Expand Background Checks for Gun Sales

Early on, polls showed strong support for expanding background checks on gun sales in Maine. But closer to the election the numbers tightened, and by Tuesday evening it seemed momentum had swung to the opposition.

David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, says voters resented interference by a gun-control group founded by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg. And he says they particularly disliked a provision in the measure that could bar loaning or giving a gun to a friend without getting a federal background check.

“Generally when you talk to people they like the idea of background checks on sales. And I think that’s right. I think that had this been drafted differently you wouldn’t have seen that much opposition, it would have been more difficult to defend. But that’s not what happened,” Trahan says.

Supporters say that the details mattered — that without the provision for loaning a gun, criminals would still take advantage to illegally buy guns in Maine.

“The way to defeat a referendum is to sow doubt, sow confusion, and basically paint a picture of impending doom if a referendum were to pass,” says Bobby Reynolds, deputy director of the Yes on 3 campaign. “So it wasn’t a surprise that that was a tactic used, and that’s all fair in love and war and politics.”

Question 3 drew the most spending of any of the ballot items. The Yes on 3 campaign spent nearly $5 million on its efforts, while the National Rifle Association spent about $1 million.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.