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Lawmakers to decide if time has come for universal background checks

The bill would require background checks for individual sales to strangers, as well as sales made at local gun shows.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers are once again being asked to expand background checks and take other gun control measures, in response to multiple mass shootings across the country over the past month. On Monday, they also heard arguments about banning bump stocks by defining them as machine guns, but background checks are the most prominent part of the debate, as they have been in previous years. 

Maine has background checks for sales at gun dealers but not private sales. At Monday’s public hearing, the mother of Daieen Richardson said her daughter might be alive today is Maine has had universal background checks 11 years ago.

Richardson, a 25-year-old school teacher, was shot and later died in 2010 when a masked intruder broke into her home and shot her. A month after, the same handgun was used to shoot another person, and a ballistics test showed it has been used to shoot the young woman as well. The shooter was never identified. 

“The gun was traced to a Maine resident who bought the gun at a retail establishment, where he was required to undergo background check,” said Judy Richardson, the young woman’s mother. “But soon after he sold it at a gun show to someone he didn’t know, kept no records, and asked no questions. Since it was a private sale the law required nothing.”

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross’ bill would require background checks for sales at gun shows, which now happen often but at the choice of the show sponsor. It would also require any sale between people who don’t know each other to have a background check. Rep. Talbot Ross said sales or transfers between friends or relatives would not be subject to a check.

But David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and a prominent voice for gun owners' rights said Monday background checks are not the solution many believe.

“Background checks aren’t going to solve all our problems. It’s a tiny fraction of what’s going on. We need to look at society and do significant studies on what’s promoting these shootings and this violence.”

Trahan also said many gun owners oppose background checks because they fear the government will go too far.

“There has to be a registry or some kind of database to ensure or enforce a position like that, and that scares a lot of people that the government would know exactly how many firearms you own, where you live, and all that.”

Rep. Talbot Ross said the bill does not go too far and that it’s a needed step for Maine.

“It does not compromise our state’s proud sporting heritage. It is, in fact, an incredibly small price to pay to save lives.”

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee will be the first to debate the measure and decide if the time has come to change Maine’s law. 

In 2016, a statewide referendum to require universal background checks was defeated by Maine voters.