Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence endorses Eliot Cutler

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler on Thursday received the endorsement of the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, largely due to Cutler’s support for background checks for all gun sales.

“Cutler joins with 89 percent of Maine citizens who favor background checks. Unlike his opponents he is willing to stand up against the corporate gun lobby and do what for what is right for Maine,” said William Harwood, a board member of the group.

The group criticized both Cutler’s opponents in the race — Democrat and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican Gov. Paul LePage — for opposing gun reform efforts in Washington and in Augusta.

Harwood mentioned LePage’s veto of a bill passed in the wake of the Newtown shooting, which would have held gun sellers accountable for not performing background checks. He also criticized Michaud for being the only member of Maine’s delegation who has not co-sponsored a bill in Congress known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which would create universal background checks.

Cutler said that while he supports Second Amendment rights and Maine’s long sportsman tradition, the issue is straightforward.

“If you’re a member of Congress and you genuinely support universal background checks, you sign on as a cosponsor of the Manchin-Toomey bill,” he said “You add your name. If you’re unsure of your principles, if you’re wavering or afraid of the NRA, or if you want to have it both ways, then you don’t. Period.”

There’s been a spike in interest over the candidates’ position on issues of guns and gun regulation ever since it was announced that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — who was a victim of a violent shooting spree and now advocates for moderate reform for firearm regulation — will stump for Michaud in August.

Giffords’ proposed reforms are supported by a broad swath of the American public, but for gun advocates, any move to tighten regulations on the Right to Bear Arms is a political poison pill.

Michaud has long received high marks from the National Rifle Association, so the announced appearance with Giffords prompted Maine’s GOP to accuse him of drifting toward the left. (It should be noted that Giffords has also supported Maine’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Susan Collins.)

Meanwhile, LePage — who is a supporter of near-universal concealed carry — has doubled down on his claim to the gun-rights vote.

It’s yet to be seen how much “the guns issue” will matter in the minds of voters. Poll after poll indicates that jobs and the economy are the No. 1 issue this election cycle. But all it will take is another mass shooting between now and November (unfortunately, they happen all too frequently) to catapult the issue back to the forefront.

UPDATE: Michaud has said repeatedly that he supports background checks, and a spokeswoman for his campaign said the reason he didn’t sign the Manchin-Toomey bill was to better position himself to work out a compromise with Republicans, who control the house and largely oppose the bill.

“It was made clear to members of the House that that bill was dead on arrival, and Mike is one of the few people in Congress who is well-positioned to end the gridlock on this issue,” said spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt. “Mike is right int he middle, with the majority of Maine voters. He believes in common-sense reform to keep guns out of the hands of violent people while protecting Maine’s Second Amendment rights and outdoor heritage.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misspelled William Harwood’s surname. I apologize for the error.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.