- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 24, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A referendum designed to strengthen background checks is an affront to gun rights and individual liberties, Gov. Paul LePage said on Wednesday.

Echoing the Republican’s statements was Chris Cox, of the National Rifle Association of America who is also the executive director of the political and lobbying wing of the NRA. Both men spoke out against a ballot initiative that Maine voters will consider this fall that, if approved, would require background checks before gun transfers and sales between unlicensed firearm dealers.

Cox characterized the initiative as backed by out-of-state elites such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who backs a nonprofit that has spent millions in support of the referendum. He said the referendum is “about control,” and while it will not make anyone in the state safer, it will turn some residents into “accidental criminals” if they fail to comply with new gun transfer rules.

“It’ll take a big chunk out of your freedom,” Cox said, adding that “criminals won’t register their guns.”

The doors of the event were closed to the media when LePage spoke. The governor, who has called the referendum “unconstitutional” in the past, declined to talk reporters upon exiting the event.

Cox said during his address that LePage was right to criticize the proposed new gun transfer laws as unwieldy and likely to cost gun owners money.

Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, which is advocating for passage of the referendum, disputed the notion that the proposal will cause hardships for gun owners. Deputy campaign manager Bobby Reynolds said it represents “a common sense initiative” that has support among many Maine gun owners.

The proposal is designed to close a loophole in Maine’s background check system, and includes exemptions for family members, Reynolds said.

“I’m not surprised that he would come to Maine and mischaracterize Question 3,” he said.

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