NRA Lobbying Arm Lobs Falsehood-Filled Attacks Against Initiative To Expand Background Checks For Gun Sales In Maine

The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, released an ad falsely attacking Question 3, a Maine ballot initiative that would expand background checks on gun sales.

The initiative, which will be on the ballot November 8, would require (with exceptions) individuals who are not licensed firearms dealers but wish to sell or transfer a firearm to go to a gun store, where the recipient of the firearm would undergo a background check before a transfer is completed.

A new ad from the NRA-ILA, however, distorts what Question 3 proposes to do by misleading about the current state of background checks in Maine and also by offering a falsehood about how the new background check law would work.

In its September 7 ad, the NRA-ILA claims proponents of the ballot initiative “say Question 3 is about background checks. We already have those in federal law.”

In fact, Question 3 aims to close a loophole in federal law that allows prohibited people such as domestic abusers and felons to avoid undergoing a background check when obtaining a firearm. While the federal system has stopped more than 2 million prohibited sales over the last two decades, it requires only those individuals who are “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to obtain a license and perform background checks on customers.

People who say that they are not “engaged in the business” of selling firearms do not need a license and are not required to run checks on their customers. This discrepancy is what is known as the “private sale loophole” or “gun show loophole,” and significant numbers of firearms are transfered through these types of sales, including in Maine.  

The NRA-ILA ad also sweepingly -- and falsely -- claims, “Let’s say you loan your shotgun to a neighbor. You both have to drive to a dealer to get permission before you do it. And then you’d have to go back to a dealer and get another background check when he returns it.”

In fact, that type of temporary transfer could easily fall into one of the exceptions to the background check requirement included in the law that Question 3 would enact.

For example, in a section addressing temporary transfers, the background check requirement is waived if  “the transferor has no reason to believe that the transferee intends to use the firearm in the commission of a crime” and if the transfer occurs during participation in shooting sports or hunting, or if the transferee remains in the presence of the transferor while the loan occurs.

Further, the background check requirement would also be waived in a situation where a neighbor wanted to borrow a firearm “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”:

The transfer is temporary and is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, and: (1) The transfer lasts only as long as necessary to prevent such threat; and (2) The transferor has no reason to believe that the transferee is disqualified to possess firearms under state or federal law and has no reason to believe that the transferee intends to use the firearm in the commission of a crime;

Question 3 also exempts family members from the background check requirement for loans and permanent transfers.

The NRA previously launched dishonest attacks against a ballot initiative to expand background checks in Washington state, misleading about temporary transfers and other exceptions to the background check requirement. That measure passed by a wide margin in 2014.

UPDATE: On September 13, the NRA released a similar ad for television that falsely claimed, “Let's say you loan your neighbor a shotgun. You both have to drive to a dealer and get permission. If you don't, jail.” The claim in the newly released ad is even more sweeping than the falsehood appearing in the NRA's September 7 radio ad. 

The NRA's new ad, which complains that “New Yorkers” are “trying to tell Mainers how to live” also included a misshapen map of Maine that fails to include the western part of the state: