Why is the gun lobby so scared of a referendum on guns?

Ethan Strimling

Last month, I wrote a column saying it was time for Maine to go around the Legislature and directly to referendum if we want to enact sensible gun laws. After years of seeing police chiefs, hunters, university officials, psychiatrists, and victims of gun violence turned away as they pleaded for sensible gun regulation in front of our Committee on Criminal Justice, a public vote seems to be our only path.

Now, you might think the gun lobby would welcome a battle at the ballot box to resolve whether Maine wants greater gun control. After all, back in the 1980s they were able to amend the Maine Constitution by ultimately winning a referendum to strengthen gun rights. But no.

Through columns and hundreds of comments on Facebook and the BDN website, the gun lobby and its supporters are out in force to avoid any such public vote.

But just yesterday, perhaps, we learned why. The Portland Press Herald has published a poll, conducted by Critical Insights between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, in which an astounding 81 percent of Mainers believe we should have sensible restrictions on guns. By a six-point margin, we want an assault-weapons ban. By a 25-point margin, we want a ban on high-capacity magazines. And by a 43-point margin, we want a ban on armor-piercing ammunition. They didn’t even test universal background checks, which I am sure would enjoy similar margins.

But perhaps the greatest myth buster is how Maine ranks against national polling. There has long been a belief that we Mainers just don’t consider gun safety a problem the way other states do. The thinking goes that because we are a hunting state with low crime and lots of guns, Mainers don’t want new restrictions on guns the way other states do.

Well, according to the Press Herald analysis, in every category listed above, there is a stronger percentage of Maine people who support stronger gun laws then we see nationally.

  • Nationally, 44 percent want an assault weapons ban. In Maine, 51 percent.
  • Nationally, 53 percent want a ban on high capacity magazines. In Maine, 61 percent.
  • Nationally, 57 percent want a ban on armor-piercing bullets. In Maine, 69 percent.

So, maybe now we understand better why the gun lobby is so scared of a referendum. They may control the Legislature, but they don’t control the people.

Posted by Ethan Strimling