AUGUSTA — The Maine House defeated a bill Thursday that would have required background checks for private gun sales in the state.

The 66-80 vote effectively kills the measure, as the Senate voted 16-19 on the bill Wednesday night.

The background check bill was the latest in a series of gun control measures to be rejected by the Legislature, despite intensive lobbying efforts by gun safety advocates.

Still pending are a so-called “red flag” bill that would allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and another measure that would require people taken into protective custody to surrender their guns if they were deemed dangerous.

The Legislature also rejected a bill this week that would have allowed municipal and county governments to ban firearms from public places, including polling stations. The Legislature also has rejected a bill that would have created a minimum 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of a gun and another that would have required gun owners to use trigger locks or gun safes on weapons stored at home.

David Hogg, the co-founder of the student-led March for Our Lives movement, started after the February 2018 shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, visited the state just last week as part of an intense push by gun safety advocates in Maine.


One lawmaker giving a speech in support of the bill mentioned meeting Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, noting he had implored her to “please do something to stop us from getting killed.”

“I told him I was so terribly sorry for what he and his classmates had to endure,” said Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, “and that we, the adults in the room, would always have his back and that we would do the right thing. The time is now for us to lead and to act on this. Our children are watching us.”

Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, said she was backing the background check requirement because it closed a loophole that responsible gun owners in her conservative district support.

Sheats was candid in acknowledging that the debate over gun rights and gun safety is a polarizing issue in Maine, and that her support for the measure could put her reelection campaign “at great risk,” as her district is one of many in the state with a strong culture of hunting and firearm ownership.

Sheats said she supported the bill because unlike a statewide ballot question that was rejected by voters in 2016, the measure would not require background checks for firearms transferred between family members or for the loan of a gun between friends.

“I did not support the referendum two years ago,” Sheats said. “Because I hope to hand my guns down to my son legally, without needing a background check, since he’s already been firing them.”


But Sheats said she supported the bill because it “does exactly what the responsible gun owners I have talked to want, it closes the loophole that allows people to get guns illegally – or legally through a loophole – that should not have them.”

The proposal would have required gun sellers to enlist the help of a federally licensed firearms dealer to run a background check on a would-be buyer before completing a private transaction. The requirement would apply to private transactions that occur at gun shows or after the seller advertises the firearm for sale either online or in print.

“It has to be advertised and it has to be for sale, that’s the kind of transfers that this bill will reach,” said Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who also supported the measure. Cooper said gun homicides and firearm-related suicides had declined in states like Connecticut that had enacted similar background check laws.

But opponents of the bill argued a similar measure already had been rejected by voters and that a background check law would not prevent a criminal from obtaining firearms.

“As a police officer and one of the few people in this room who has actually seized a firearm from a prohibited person, I can assure you that none of this legislation will prevent these folks from getting firearms, it will only affect law-abiding citizens,” said. Rep. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford.

The Senate voted against the bill Wednesday night, with 16 in favor and 19 opposed.

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