Just months before this week’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine’s Legislature considered three major bills to tighten gun restrictions: one to require criminal background checks for gun purchases, another to create a 72-hour waiting period before someone could take possession of a gun after purchasing it and a third to outlaw modifications that make semiautomatic weapons more deadly.
All three bills were defeated in the Maine Senate by sizable margins.
Maine, a largely blue state where Democrats control both chambers of the State Legislature and the governorship, has a long history of resisting gun control measures.
The shootings in Lewiston on Wednesday that left 18 people dead are already fueling renewed calls from gun control groups to expand firearms restrictions in Maine. But much of the state’s political power base, which is rooted in rural communities in the state’s north and western mountains, is unlikely to be swayed, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
In regions where hunting is a big part of the culture, “if you are going to talk about restricting gun rights,’’ Mr. Brewer said, “you are going to have a hard time.”
The authorities have not made public any information about what type of firearm was used in the Lewiston shootings on Wednesday, nor anything about how the weapon was obtained.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for tighter restrictions on guns, ranks Maine 25th in the nation in the strictness of its gun laws, with more permissive laws than nearby Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut. In the region, only New Hampshire has a lower ranking than Maine.
“When you look at the track record of Maine it stands out that the state has rejected at every juncture common sense gun laws that make communities safer,’’ said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown.
The debate over gun control flared earlier this year when a man who had recently been released from prison killed his parents and two friends and shot at motorists on a highway in April in Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties.
Opponents of stricter gun regulation said the incident showed that laws such as one barring felons like the gunman from possessing firearms do not help prevent violence.
“Maine has a kind of bipartisan support for the Second Amendment in its most extreme form,” Jackie Sartoris, the chief prosecutor in Cumberland County, told the Portland Press Herald in September.
Maine does restrict the possession of guns by people suffering mental challenges who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Instead of a so-called red flag law of the sort that many states have passed, which allow the police or the public to petition for a temporary removal of a person’s firearms, Maine has a “yellow flag” law with the additional requirement of a medical professional’s opinion.
Lynn Ellis, legislative policy director for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said there were a few victories for her group this year, including the defeat of bills that would have allowed the arming of teachers.
But for the most part, this year’s session was viewed as a disappointment by gun control advocates.
As the state’s legislative session was winding down in July, Giffords, an advocacy group for stricter gun regulations founded by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, pointed out that “Maine is on track to be one of the only Democratic-controlled states in the country to fail to take bold action on gun safety this year.”
Calls for expanded gun restrictions in Maine have grown louder in recent years particularly from progressive Democrats, many of whom are concentrated in the southern part of the state where Portland, the state’s largest city, is.
But guns remain an important part of the culture in the rural, blue-collar areas. According to a 2020 study by the RAND Corporation, 45 percent of Maine households owned at least one gun between 2006 and 2017, compared with the national average of 32 percent.
Despite the high rate of gun ownership, gun violence in Maine had been below the national average.
“Mainers could look and say, ‘this is a problem elsewhere,’” said Mr. Brewer. “They are not going to be able to say that anymore.”