Republican businessman Shawn Moody has won the endorsement of gun rights groups in the race to be Maine’s next governor, but the groups are at odds over Democrat Janet Mills’ performance in supporting the Second Amendment.

Mills, the state’s attorney general, received an F grade earlier this year from the political action arm of the National Rifle Association. However, she received an A- rating from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a statewide organization focused on hunting and fishing issues, which also advocates for gun rights.

SAM’s executive director, David Trahan, said Mills’ grade is lower than the A grade SAM gave to Moody, who also received an A from the NRA and the endorsement of SAM’s political action arm.

Independents Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, who are trailing significantly in the polls, received grades of C and D, respectively, from the sportsman’s group.

The conflicting ratings given to Mills reflect her relatively moderate positions on gun-related issues and complicate the decision-making for voters who take gun rights into account when they enter the voting booth.

In an email Wednesday to SAM members, Trahan explained the ratings and said that Mills changed her position on firearms regulation. He said that Mills stated “unequivocally” in a recent interview with SAM’s board that she would not seek a ban on assault-style, semi-automatic weapons in Maine, nor would she work to put limits on large-capacity magazines.

That sets Mills apart from many Democrats who have supported such restrictions in the wake of mass shootings in the U.S. – like the one at a Parkland, Florida high school last February that left 17 dead and 17 others wounded.

The Parkland shooting and another at a Las Vegas concert in October 2017 that claimed 59 lives – the deadliest in U.S. history – made firearm safety and gun control a key issue for candidates in the run-up to the primary elections in June. The gunman in Las Vegas used large-capacity magazines and a device known as a bump stock, which enabled his rifle to fire virtually automatically from his perch in a high-rise hotel.

In Maine, the shootings prompted the introduction of a bill in the Legislature that would have made it easier for police to confiscate firearms from people with mental health issues following a judge’s review. But the measure was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and no other significant gun legislation was passed.

Mills said in an email to the Press Herald that she helped craft that bill and would have signed it into law.

On the campaign trail this summer, Mills said she was open to trying to figure out which types of firearms or ammunition should be banned, including during an appearance before the Knox County Democratic Committee.

“Are there certain kinds of firearms that we should be looking at in Maine?” Mills says in a video clip from an appearance before the Knox County Democratic Committee, responding to question on gun control from what appears to be a group of high school students. “I’m not an expert in firearms. But we are probably not going to ban shotguns.”

Mills goes on to say that she would like to seek the advice of experts, including gun-control advocates and law enforcement, but doesn’t say she wants to ban any weapons outright.

The response is similar to one she gave in an interview with the Portland Press Herald in February, shortly after the Parkland shooting.

Trahan said that Mills’ high grade, released last month, prompted backlash from some of SAM’s members and other gun rights groups in Maine. They pointed to a message Mills had sent to another media outlet last year suggesting that she would seek to ban assault-styled weapons and limit magazine capacities.

“There were some angry people,” Trahan said. “The most hostile comments came from non (SAM) members, some of them wanted my job basically.”

In response to a follow-up request from SAM, Mills provided written answers to questions about her views on gun issues, and indicated that part of what she learned during a meeting with SAM’s board led her to change her position.

“I do not support banning any firearm because of its cosmetic design or appearance, and I do not support a ban on semi-automatic weapons,” she wrote in a Sept. 18 message to Trahan. Mills wrote that a mass email written for her by campaign consultants in March was “in-artfully worded” in its description of her position on gun questions.

“My personal concern has focused on fully automatic weapons and weapons which are altered to function in a fully automatic manner,” Mills wrote. “Our discussion at the board meeting was informative regarding the mechanism of so-called high capacity magazines, and that discussion persuaded me that a ban on a particular capacity magazine likely would be ineffective in preventing violent crime.”

Trahan said he felt it was important that SAM’s membership be advised of Mills’ shift in positions and why the group gave her such a high grade. He said Mills’ A- grade reflected her past voting record as a legislator, along with her support of other important parts of SAM’s mission, including land conservation for hunting and fishing.

Trahan’s message to members also praises Moody for his “refreshingly honest and genuine answers on all outdoor issues,” which pushed him over the top to secure the group’s endorsement over Mills.

Moody’s campaign spokeswoman, Lauren LePage, said in an email that Moody “will veto any unconstitutional measures which limit law abiding citizen’s rights. Shawn will uphold the law, as it stands now, to carry concealed in Maine. Constitutional carry is the law of the land and he intends to uphold it. Shawn supports the current background check system that we have in place under Maine law. He wants to make every effort to ensure those who are convicted of domestic abuse or who have a history of experiencing mental health issues do not own firearms, based on current law.”

An F grade from the NRA, which has deep roots in Maine, a state peppered with rod and gun clubs and steeped in an outdoor hunting tradition, could spell trouble for a candidate in rural parts of the state. On the other hand, the grade will be seen by many in Maine’s more urban and liberal areas as a badge of honor.

The NRA does not specify what Mills has done to earn an F grade. Its website describes an F-rated candidates as one who is a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights. A consistent anti-gun candidate who always opposes gun owners’ rights and/or actively leads anti-gun legislative efforts or sponsors anti-gun legislation.”

It’s a fall from grace for Mills, who took heat during the Democratic primary race for previous endorsements she received from the NRA for votes she took during her time as a state lawmaker in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

This year the NRA gave all seven Democrats who competed in the gubernatorial primary an F.

Moody is the only candidate in the race to hold a Maine hunting license, and Mills said she once held a concealed weapons permit, but it has expired. Neither she nor Moody would say if they currently own any guns, while Hayes said she does not and Caron said that he does.

Hayes and Caron both said they would support a universal background check system for all private firearms sales in Maine, while Moody has said he would not seek to change any of Maine’s existing gun laws. Hayes and Caron also said background checks should not be required for transfers between family members.

Hayes said she would not seek to change Maine’s concealed carry law, which allows adults 21 and over to carry a concealed handgun without a permit, if they are not prohibited from otherwise possessing a firearm. Caron said all people carrying a concealed firearm should have a permit to do so.

Hayes was given a D grade by SAM in part for her record as a state representative, including voting against a bill, which became law, that made the names and addresses of people with concealed weapons permits confidential.

Caron received a C grade from the group based largely on his opposition to a SAM proposal that would require Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists to weigh in on any statewide ballot questions that seek to manage wildlife or regulate hunting and trapping practices in Maine.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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