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Ballot question has Lewiston gun show attendees on edge

LEWISTON — There’s no doubt Maine’s gun owners feel like they are under attack this year and that goes beyond fears of a state ballot issue that would expand background checks.

“There are concerns with this whole election, whether it’s Question 3 or the presidential election,” said John Reid, owner of J.T. Reid’s Gun Shop in Auburn. “The concern I’ve heard around here today is about presidential executive orders and that even if she (Candidate Hillary Clinton) doesn’t win, what is President (Barack) Obama going to do until he’s out of office? So yes, we are really concerned.”

Reid was front and center Saturday at J.T. Reid’s Gun Show at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston. His store sponsors the event two times each year, in the fall and in the spring. The fall show continues Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Reid said this fall’s show features more than 40 vendors from as far south as Connecticut and as far north as Aroostook County, and everywhere in between. As of 2 p.m. Saturday, the show had 335 attendees, all of whom paid a $7 entrance fee. As many as 600 are expected by the time the doors close on Sunday afternoon.

They’re all talking about Question 3.

Voters will decide the Question 3 at the polls Nov. 8. If they approve, it would require background checks gun sales or transfers at private gun shows and private sales. Sales in gun shops already require background checks.

“The whole conversation so far has been about Question Number 3,” Reid said. “Number 3, Number 3, Number 3,” 

Opponents have used those concerns to their advantage, setting up their booth in front of the registration desk. It’s the first thing people see when walking in, full of yard signs, bumper stickers and campaign literature free for the taking.

Todd Tolhurst of China said he thinks gun owners are in danger of losing the battle at the ballot this year. Tolhurst is president of Gun Owners of Maine.

“This referendum has been coming for some time, and all of its support is coming from out of state,” Tolhurst said. “You’ve seen the media buys and the ads they’ve run so far. They’ve spent $4 million so far, and they could spend up to $8 million before they’re done. It’s an uphill battle for us. It makes David and Goliath look like a shoe-in.”

Neil Whitcomb, a private gun dealer from Fairfield, said he thinks it’s an attempt to require the registration of all guns.

“There are so many guns — old guns — that have been passed down and inherited, and there is no record of that,” Whitcomb said. “If this passes, it brings a whole new wave of guns into the government’s record-keeping system. So it’s a form of quasi-firearm registration.”

Tolhurst, of Gun Owners of Maine, doubts registrations or background checks do any good, anyway. The fundamental problem that supporters of background checks and firearm owners alike are trying to solve is how to keep innocent people safe from bad people.

“It’s hard enough to keep criminals from doing crimes because, by definition, that’s what’s they do and it’s who they are,” Tolhurst said. “What you can do, however, is make sure there are fewer victims. Defenseless people are victims of violent crime; People who are not defenseless are not victims. So we don’t like to see laws that make it more difficult for people to defend themselves from predatory criminals.”


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