Two ads, two different focuses from Maine background check rivals

Good morning from Augusta, where the unofficial post-Labor Day kickoff to the 2016 campaign season has led to a blitz of advertising in Maine, including in the bid to expand background checks to private gun sales and transfers.

This is the highly nationalized struggle between Everytown for Gun Safety, the group linked to billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has almost solely funded the effort to put Question 3 on this year’s ballot, and the National Rifle Association, which has emerged as the main opposition.

In their first ads, the two sides are focusing on different parts of the proposed law: While Everytown’s affiliate is happy to talk about popular background checks, the NRA is focused on hypothetical idiosyncrasies that it says could hamper gun rights.

If Everytown’s campaigns in Maine and Nevada succeed this year, the states would join 11 others with “universal” background check laws, going beyond federal law, which only mandates background checks when guns are purchased through federally licensed dealers, but not for private transactions.

Stricter background checks poll really well: Nationally, 83 percent supported expanding them to private and gun show sales, according to an August survey from the Pew Research Center.

That explains why the first ad from Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the Everytown affiliate here, focuses on that issue. It features Manchester hunter Brian Jackson explaining that private-sale loophole and saying while he supports the 2nd Amendment, “I don’t want dangerous people getting their hands on guns.”

But the NRA’s first radio ad, featuring a narrator with a not-so-great Maine accent, sort of glosses over the issue of background checks entirely, saying Bloomberg and other out-of-staters are “trying to tell Mainers how to live” and that background checks are “already” in federal law.

Of course, that ignores many private gun sales, such as through classified publications and online venues, including Uncle Henry’s and Maine’s black gun market has been flagged as an issue by police, including the fatal 2012 Portland shooting of Darien Richardson, whose parents support the referendum.

The NRA ad also focuses on some of the potential difficulties of the law on gun owners, describing a situation in which you couldn’t lend your neighbor a gun or get it back from them without background checks.

This is true, but it’s unclear how often this happens. The situation described falls outside of the referendum’s exceptions from background checks, including when transferring guns to family, hunting or shooting for sport and some other circumstances. However, if you could just give guns to your neighbor, the law could be easily circumvented.

The NRA’s messaging is more clever than other attacks on the referendum we’ve seen, such as the false ones from Gov. Paul LePage. But their focus on weedier parts of the bill shows an effort to take the focus off of background checks, where Everytown wants it. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • The Maine Drought Task Force met Wednesday, reporting worsening, severe conditions as far north as Wiscasset. Groundwater basins in southern and Down East Maine are low and dropping, as most counties in Maine have seen precipitation deficits this summer. Conditions may improve with autumn rainfall, but temperatures are forecasted to be above normal with below normal precipitation for the next two weeks.
  • U.S. Sen. Susan Collins gave a speech on hyperpartisanship to a student group at American University on Thursday. The Republican’s audience included Molly Herman, the daughter of Maine’s other senator, independent Angus King. You can read it here.
  • A September meeting of Maine’s nascent education funding commission has been rescheduled. The Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine, which has looked to right its path since a private Blaine House meeting that prompted a fine from Attorney General Janet Mills, pushed back a meeting originally set for next week to Sept. 26. It’ll be at the Regional School Unit 17 headquarters in South Paris. — Michael Shepherd

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.