Here’s the best explanation I’ve seen about Question 3, gun sales background checks

David TrahanDavid Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, wrote a great explanation of the ballot initiative requiring background checks for gun sales, Question 3. I hope you will share this with everyone you know. It clearly explains that current law already outlaws many of the sales that proponents of Question 3 are claiming for their initiative.

Here is Dave’s column, which was published in the Kennebec Journal on October 4.

Question 3 Proponents Mislead Maine Voters

Former U.S. attorney Paula Silsby recently appeared in a “Yes on 3” campaign ad to expand background checks for firearm sales and a new category of transfers that includes temporary use.  Ms. Silsby claimed that there were “loopholes” in Maine firearm laws, and said, “More than 1,500 guns sold in Maine turned up at crime scenes in other states.” In front of her in the ad appeared the image, “Bangor Daily News, 11/17/2009.”  This ad makes it appear Maine is the wild-west of gun trafficking.  Except, when you go to the article referenced, this is what the story says, “Data compiled by ATF traced 97 of the 1,534 guns it recovered in 2008 in Massachusetts to Maine.”   Silsby got it all wrong, when you look at ATF’s actual data of traced guns that originated in Maine and later recovered outside of Maine for 2008 in all of the United States, it was 248.  Oops! Ms Silsby and Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership owe Maine people an apology.

According to ATF, in 2015, Maine was the 8th lowest state in the nation with 277 firearms found at a crime scenes in other states.  The yes on 3 campaign also claims if we pass question 3 it will keep guns out of the hands of “bad guys”.  Let’s look at how Bloomberg’s plan worked in the three states (2015) where he pushed and passed almost identical laws and which have been in effect for several years, Colorado (879), Oregon, (828) and Washington State, (1145).

Ms. Silsby claims there are “loopholes” in Maine law that allow criminals to easily get guns and then traffic them out of state.  The Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 is a federal law that regulates everyone:  firearm industry; dealers; individual gun owners. The GCA regulates commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearm sales and transfers, except by licensed (FFL’s) manufacturers, dealers, and importers. Subject to limited exceptions, a person may only acquire a firearm legally within their own state.

The GCA makes it an offense for non-licensees “to transport into or receive in the State where he resides … any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that State,” except as specifically permitted. It is also a federal crime for non-licensees to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm having “reasonable cause to believe”, that such person is legally prohibited from possessing a gun.

Generally, the GCA also prohibits any private or dealer sale where the facts suggest the purchaser is a non-resident. A non-resident visiting Maine may buy a rifle or shotgun from an FFL dealer — but only in person, at the FFL dealer’s business, with federal forms and a background check.

Otherwise, for a non-resident to legally purchase a Maine gun, the firearm must be sent to an FFL dealer in that person’s state of residence. The buyer must then undergo the background check and completes the federal forms before returning to Maine.

The GCA also prohibits residents from acquiring firearms at a gun show outside their own state. An out-of-state buyer may place an order with a gun dealer at a gun show, in which case the firearm is shipped to an FFL dealer located in the buyer’s state of residence, undergoes a background check, meeting any additional state requirements; in addition, gun dealers must conduct background checks on Maine buyers at Maine gun shows.

“Yes on 3” proponents claim that gun sales may be made via classifieds or online. Can guns legally be mailed to the buyer’s home without a background check? No. The GCA makes handguns and concealable firearms non-mailable. A violation is already a federal felony.

Under the GCA, it is already illegal for anyone to purchase a firearm from an FFL dealer on behalf of someone else. This is called a “straw purchase’; it is already a crime.

There are no “loopholes” that allow non-residents to traffic guns in and out of Maine. Some guns might legally have traveled across the state lines when gun owners moved out of Maine.   Others were illegally acquired and transported in violation of the existing law. Question 3 won’t make a bit of difference for either case.  It doesn’t apply to the first scenario, and in the second, criminals who don’t obey existing laws, won’t obey new laws.

The only firearm sales in Maine that do not require a background check are those between Maine residents not prohibited from owning firearms.  Question 3 could have been written to address these types of in-state sales, but, it is not.  If background checks made us safer, Question 3 might merit revision. We know they don’t.  In 2000, the American Medical Association did a national study on this very issue.  The AMA study showed no improvement in homicide or suicide rates in states with expanded background checks.  Someone should get this study to Ms. Silsby.David Trahan

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.