The Referendum Process in Maine

The process for adopting a law by citizen initiative or referendum is established by Maine law in very specific terms. The wording of the initiative must be approved by the Secretary of State, which in this case was accomplished October 13, 2015. The approved wording appears on the petition signature sheets; the full text of the proposed law is attached to each petition signature sheet. Maine law requires the petition to be supported by 60,000 voter signatures on approved signature petition sheets that must be submitted by February 1, 2016 in order that the referendum be on the November 2016 ballot. 

The complete terms of the proposed law are attached to each petition signature sheet and may be read by anyone signing the petition; a one paragraph summary is included at the top of the signature sheet. Basically the new law would require gun sales made by anyone other than a federally licensed firearm dealer to be made subject to a background check just as though the sale were made by the dealer. The buyer and seller would be required to conclude the sale at a licensed dealer location where the dealer could make the same background check as if it were the seller, for which the dealer may charge the parties a reasonable fee. The sale may not be concluded if the buyer is identified as a prohibited buyer. 

The law contains exemptions for certain transfers within a family, transfers to a law enforcement officer, temporary transfers during hunting, transfers of antique guns and transfers in an emergency to save a life. 


The Background Check Loopholes Closed by the Referendum Bill

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act adopted by Congress in 1993 was the first comprehensive regulation of gun sales in America and was enacted in response to the then sensational attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan during which Presidential press secretary Jim Brady was seriously wounded.

The bill prohibited the sale of a gun by a federally licensed gun dealer (defined as one engaged in the business of selling guns) to persons deemed dangerous, principally: convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers, persons ruled by a court to be mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others, and aliens. Among other obligations imposed upon such dealers they were required to conduct a background check of every gun buyer that consisted of entering the name and address of the buyer into a data base maintained by the FBI and obtaining confirmation from the FBI that such person was not a prohibited buyer. 

When the Brady law was enacted gun shows in America were no more common than golf club shows or tennis racket shows. But largely because the Brady law was limited to gun dealers, gun shows at which non-dealers could sell guns without a background check became popular, so popular that for many years now approximately 40% of all gun sales are made without background checks. Additionally, sales over the Internet by non-dealers are not subject to a background check.


Universal Background Check Laws in Other States

Advocates for better gun laws have turned to state legislatures and increasingly have achieved solid victories. The following states have enacted universal background check laws: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. The laws vary in their coverage and specific terms but all are directed at closing the loopholes in the Brady bill. 


Constitutionality of Universal Background Check Laws

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have left some areas of ambiguity concerning regulation of gun purchases but there is none concerning universal background check laws. They were cited in the landmark decision (District of Columbia vs. Heller, 2008) as a valid limitation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and have become a widely adopted form of such limitation.