"Universal" background check bill passes Maine House of Representatives

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

It wasn’t that long ago that voters in Maine soundly rejected a “universal” background check measure at the polls, but the Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives chose to disregard the will of the people on Monday by narrowly approving a bill that would impose the new restriction on the vast majority of firearm transfers.


By a vote of 69-68, the House advanced L.D. 168, sending the measure to the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 22-13 advantage over Republicans. There’s no guarantee that the anti-gun bill will advance any further, however, especially since the House vote featured a number of Democrats in opposition. Democrats have a 81-67 majority in the House, and only barely managed to approve the bill with the bare minimum of votes needed for passage. Still, it’s fair to say that today’s vote does give the gun control bill some momentum.

The vote gives new life to a long-running effort to regulate private gun sales in Maine. Background checks already are required for commercial gun sales.  The bill will go to the Senate for a debate and vote later this week.

It is among a number of gun control bills come up every year and fail to gain traction, as Maine has a long tradition of hunting and gun ownership, and is considered a relatively safe state. Voters rejected a citizen referendum to institute universal background checks in 2016. And he Maine House voted down a similar bill in 2019 buy a vote of 80-66.

During a four-hour hearing in April, supporters said the bills would help reduce gun violence, especially suicides, and make it more difficult for criminals to access weapons. Opponents, however, argued that the bills would only impact law-abiding citizens and infringe on their Second Amendment constitutional rights.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, is sponsoring the bill and argued the lack of background checks makes Maine a destination for criminal gun purchases, she said.

Talbot Ross pointed to differences between an amended version of her bill and previous efforts, including exclusions for sales and transfers among family members and for antique or relic firearms. It also would give private gun sellers the option of getting a background check through an authorized gun dealer or through a local law enforcement office, she said.


Today’s vote is another sign that pro-gun Democrats are an endangered species on the verge of extinction. Just four years ago the Democrat-dominated House soundly rejected a background check bill, but this year the anti-gunners were able to cobble together enough votes to edge it across the finish line. The vote also comes just a few days after U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine joined every one of his fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate to vote down a resolution that would have repealed the ATF’s rule classifying firearms with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles. King voted against the confirmation of gun control activist David Chipman as head of the ATF just a couple of years ago, but gave his approval to the agency’s executive branch overreach and criminalization of millions of responsible gun owners, including disabled Americans who use the stabilizing braces to help them shoot safely and responsibly.

Democratic congressman Jared Golden of Maine was one of just two House Democrats to vote in favor of repealing the ATF pistol brace rule, and based on today’s vote in the Maine House of Representatives he may be one of the last Democrats in the state willing to buck his party and back the right to keep and bear arms.

As for the substance of L.D. 168, these Democrats are deluding themselves if they honestly believe that it will reduce crime or suicides. Colorado imposed “universal” background checks in 2013, and both violent crime and suicides have increased since then. In 2013 there were 1,004 suicides in Colorado, but in 2021 the number had grown to 1,370, according to the Colorado Department of Health. Violent crime, meanwhile, has increased as well, even as the state has imposed even more restrictions on law abiding gun owners.


The same phenomenon can be seen in New Mexico, which implemented its own “universal” background check law in 2019. Not only has the law been rarely enforced, it’s done nothing to stop violent crime rates from remaining far above the national average. And just as in Colorado, the first full year of “universal” background checks in New Mexico saw an increase in suicides, not a decline.

Maine is already one of the safest states in the nation in terms of “gun violence”, but that’s little importance if the real goal is to make gun ownership a burdensome process weighed down with legal pitfalls and criminal statutes.

These statistics don’t really matter to the anti-gunners, who take it as a matter of faith that we can ban and regulate our way to safety. But Maine already has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the nation, and if lawmakers are truly concerned about preventing suicide they should be addressing the crisis in the state’s mental health system instead of trying to criminalize private transfers of firearms. Today’s vote was about pure politics, not public safety, and the state will be worse off if the Senate follows suit.



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