BRUNSWICK — Before her 6-year-old son goes to play at a new friend’s house, Jacqueline Sartoris asks the parents if there’s a gun in the house.
It’s not because she’s particularly averse to guns, the Bowdoin street resident said Tuesday. Her father was an FBI agent, and she and her sisters grew up with a gun in the house.
“And I don’t know of … any man in my family that does not own a gun,” Sartoris added.
But after the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings in 2012, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, she said the threat of gun violence just felt closer than ever before.
“My son was 3 years old when the shooting at Sandy Hook school occurred. … I have older kids, and never once when I took them to elementary school did I have to wonder whether they were safe,” she said. “Now I do.”
Sartoris is now the primary organizer in Brunswick for the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national group that advocates for gun control measures.
In Maine, the state chapter is collecting signatures to get a question on the November 2016 ballot to close what they call a “loophole” in the law regulating criminal background checks on gun sales in the state.
Currently, federal law only requires background checks on sales by licensed gun dealers. Checks are not required of buyers of guns in private sales, at gun shows, or through classified ads from unlicensed dealers.
“Most people are unaware of this big background-check loophole,” Sartoris said. “When they hear, they’re surprised, dismayed, and want to do something.”
The group’s initiative, if approved by voters, would require that all gun sales in Maine include a background check at a licensed dealer, with “reasonable” exceptions for family, hunting and self-defense, according to the organization’s website.
The group was cleared in October by the secretary of state to collect signatures, and must secure more than 61,000 before Jan. 22, 2016, to get the measure on the ballot.
Sartoris said she fully expects it will meet the deadline.
On Election Day, she and other volunteers were at the polls gathering signatures for their petition. “When we explained (the measure) to them, people would turn around … and come back just to sign it,” she said.
In all of her organizing experience – Sartoris is an attorney and former four-term town councilor who last year lost the Democratic primary in state House District 50 by nine votes – she said she had “never seen anything like the enthusiasm we saw.”
“We expected to get 7,000 signatures, and we got over 10,000” statewide, she added.
On Tuesday, organizing manager Beth Allen said more than 100 volunteers gathered more than 11,000 signatures around the state.
In Brunswick, more than 1,000 people signed the petition at the polls, meaning about one-third of voters who turned out for the Nov. 3 election put their names on the petition.
In other parts of the state, though, viewpoints on the issue clashed on Election Day. In Portland, members of Project Dirigo were widely publicized videotaping voters signing the petition at the polls.
Gun Owners of Maine, a nonprofit “dedicated to defending and promoting the gun rights of Mainers,” issued a statement online after the petition group filed with the state, saying, “Gun rights in Maine are under attack” and calling the measure “a very serious assault on our liberties by those who would turn us into anothr (sic) New York or Chicago.”
Ed Hardy, sales manager of C&R Trading Post in Brunswick, a licensed gun dealer, said the measure is “not needed” and “not able to be enforced.”
“To tell an individual ‘I can’t swap with my buddy’ … that’s a tremendous amount of paperwork for really no (result),” Hardy said Wednesday. “It’s not going to stop criminals (from getting guns).”
“I just think it’s an awful waste of time and money,” he added.
Money has already started flowing into the campaign. According to state filings, all $250,000 of the group’s initial contributions have come from the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the gun control advocacy group funded heavily by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In an email, Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said, “This is just another example of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s drive to impose a New York-style gun control agenda on the rest of the country.”
“What they don’t bother telling you is that Maine has the second-lowest murder rate in the nation and the only state that’s safer – Vermont – doesn’t have any of the restrictive laws this group wants to impose upon the law-abiding gun owners of Maine,” he added.
Sartoris said Tuesday that she could not speak to the specifics of how campaign funds will be used, because she is a volunteer and not a staff member. But “given that we know money is going to pour into the other side … it’s naive to think we could do it all with no funding of any kind.”
Sartoris said, however, that she believes the public already shares her group’s position.
“Polling shows that 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks,” she said, invoking a popularly cited poll by the online polling research company GfK Knowledge Networks.
“I know NRA members,” she added. “They’re supportive of background checks.”
Sartoris said she and other Brunswick volunteers will now start organizing days they will be at the post office with petitions.
“Almost every day over the last two weeks a child has been killed by a gun,” she said. “This is not a toll we can look away from.”
Bowdoin street resident Jackie Sartoris sits at her home Nov. 10 with a signed petition for background checks on all gun sales in Maine. Sartoris is the lead organizer in Brunswick for Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.