AUGUSTA, Maine — A national big money campaign to expand background checks one state at a time is revealing tensions among hunters and law enforcement in Maine about just how far the government should go to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands.
It’s on track to be one of Maine’s most costly ballot campaigns ever, with both sides touting their credentials and decrying the influence of powerful special interest groups. In Maine alone, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun safety nonprofit has contributed $3.7 million, while the National Rifle Association’s nonprofit advocacy arm has ponied up about $420,000.
Data released by the Center of Public Integrity shows $2 million has been spent on television ads for Maine’s referendum questions, with $1.3 million spent on Question 3 ads. Bloomberg’s campaign has backed similar laws in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, and this year is supporting a comparable referendum in Nevada.
Question 3 would mandate background checks before gun sales and transfers between people not licensed to deal firearms. The referendum would follow a state criminal statute that defines transfers as meaning “to sell, furnish, give, lend, deliver or otherwise provide with or without consideration.”
The question includes exceptions for giving firearms to family members, or giving a gun to a friend while hunting. Borrowing a firearm for the weekend, for example, would require a background check. First-time offenders face less than a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.