By Ryan J. Foley | Associated Press
NEW YORK — The last time voters in Maine were asked about gun rights, they easily passed a constitutional amendment creating a right to own firearms that “shall never be questioned.”
Three decades later, the state known for its hunting tradition will vote on whether to tighten restrictions on gun sales and transfers.
Maine is one of four states, along with California, Nevada and Washington, where voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to enact tougher firearms laws. In a change from past elections, there are no statewide initiatives seeking to expand gun rights anywhere in the United States.
The presence of so many ballot questions in the same year reflects the strategy, growing power and deep pockets of gun-control supporters, who are outspending opponents in all four states.
They hope passage of the proposals shows widening support for more measures designed to keep firearms away from dangerous people.
In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions advocating for background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. Supporters want to close gaps in the federal system that allow ineligible felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to buy firearms from private sellers at gun shows and online without a background check.
“I do call it a movement. People are really getting fed up with all the violence,” said Judi Richardson, 57, of South Portland, Maine, who gathered signatures to help place the initiative on the ballot.
Her 25-year-old daughter, Darien, was fatally shot in 2010 during a home invasion that remains unsolved. The investigation hit a dead-end because the handgun used to kill her was bought without a background check from a seller who told police he did not know the buyer’s name.
Richardson said the Maine initiative would help reduce gun violence by making firearms harder to access and easier to trace.
In Washington state, advocates who successfully campaigned for a background check law in 2014 are now seeking passage of a measure that would allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from people who are deemed a threat. For instance, concerned families could seek the removal of guns from relatives threatening to harm themselves or others.
California’s Democratic lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, is leading the campaign for a first-of-its-kind law that would require anyone buying ammunition to pass a background check and obtain a state permit.
Gun-safety groups say a Democratic sweep that includes a White House victory and party gains in Congress would put pressure on federal lawmakers to strengthen the national background-check system.
Congress has blocked attempts to create universal background checks, even after the fatal shooting of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. That prompted groups such as Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety to focus on a state-by-state strategy.
The history of gun-related ballot initiatives shows how the tide of public opinion may be turning.
During the last 40 years, states have approved 15 out of 18 ballot initiatives to expand gun rights and six of nine to restrict them, according to Ballotpedia, which tracks the initiatives.