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Obama Gun Proposals Likely to be Tough Sell in Maine
01/16/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

If there is reluctance on the part of Congress to pass some of President Obama's key gun control measures, it may have to do with how the issue plays far from Washington - in states like Maine, where hunting and owning a firearm are cultural touchstones. The proposals unveiled by Mr. Obama today call for legislation to ban assault weapons, limit high-capacity magazines and expand background checks for gun purchases. A recent poll in Maine shows that slim majorities of state residents would support such measures. But the depth of the opposition to them is also profound, as Jay Field found out shortly after the president's speech.

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Obama Gun Proposals Likely to be Tough Sell in Mai
Originally Aired: 1/16/2013 5:30 PM

Shortly after noon, President Obama stepped to a lecturn in the White House. To his left sat four school children - among the many who wrote to the president after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,Connecticut.

The president began by reading from their letters:  "I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook. I feel really bad," one said.

The president summed up the changes he wants to see in one short sentence: "Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater."

Obama is calling on Congress to pass legislation requiring universal background checks for all gun sales. He wants lawmakers to outlaw high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. And he's pushing them to re-instate the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

As the president spoke in Washington, Frank Siviski and two fellow land surveyors sat down for a quick lunch. "If I want to own an Uzi and it's not against the law, then I ought to be able to."

The trio, all avid hunters from central Maine, spent the morning researching deeds at the Waldo County Courthouse in Belfast, and did not appear to be on board with all of the president's positions on gun control.

"I hunt with an assault weapon. It's just not dressed up like one. It doesn't hold 10 shots. I think they're addressing the wrong issue."

"I'm not opposed to background checks. I think that's a good thing. And I'm totally in favor of throwing a lot of money at mental health issues."

Bob Knowlton, who's from Oakland, says it's mental health problems that are at the root of mass shootings like the ones in Newtown and Aurora, Colorado.

After his speech, President Obama sat down at a desk and signed off on 23 executive orders. One calls for finalizing federal rules to make sure group health insurers don't treat mental health coverage differently than basic medical benefits. Another calls for a nationwide dialogue on mental health led by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Those steps, though, are easy compared to what it will take to get people like Frank Siviski to call their lawmakers and tell them to play ball on gun control. "We live in a whole different world. I mean this is NOT New York. That's why we live here. Thank god."

A recent poll, in the Portland Press Herald, offered some contradictory conclusions about Maine and guns. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed reported having a gun on their property, eight points higher than the national average. Fifty-one percent of Mainers support an assault weapons ban. And 79 percent back some restrictions on guns.

But Mike Morin, who lives in Augusta, questions those kinds of numbers. "I would be shocked in this state if you got an over population of people who would vote for stricter gun control," he says.

All three men say they will be paying special attention to how Maine's senators vote on any gun control measures. They say they'll remember a vote in favor of an assault weapons ban, the next time Susan Collins or Angus King are on the ballot. King's spokesperson released a statement saying he would be studying the president's proposals carefully.


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