AUGUSTA, Maine — On the same day a Maine group was touting its new online gun safety training program, U.S. Sen. Angus King took to the floor of the Senate to call for stricter federal firearms regulations.

Both events took place just a week before a new Maine law goes into effect that will remove the requirement that those who want to carry a concealed handgun get a permit from the state or local authorities.

King and other U.S. senators, including New York’s Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, were reacting to the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where nine people were killed.

King and Schumer unveiled legislation they hope will gain support in Congress that would close what gun control advocates consider key loopholes in federal law that allow criminals and the mentally ill to more easily get their hands on firearms.

Primary among those changes would be requiring a National Instant Criminal Background Check for all firearm purchases in the U.S., including sales between private parties and those done at gun shows.

The proposed legislation also would strengthen the national background check system by making sure that all those convicted of domestic violence abuse are prohibited from purchasing guns by requiring states to submit all relevant records to the federal database. The changes also would make it impossible for an individual to purchase a gun without first clearing a complete background check, according to a release issued by King’s office.

The legislation would make it a federal crime for a person who is allowed to buy a gun to purchase one and then give or sell it to another person who is prohibited from having one.

King said he knows that America’s “epidemic of gun violence” cannot be solved with any single policy and even the most stringent policies would not completely eliminate gun violence.

“Nothing we do here today in the way of background checks or anything else is going to solve this problem entirely,” King said. “We must recognize that so we must move in a comprehensive way, not only at the federal level but at the state level as well. Not to compromise the Second Amendment, not to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, not to make it inherently more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain them, but to put into place solutions to deal with this epidemic of gun violence.”

On Thursday in Maine, the Gun Owners of Maine held a news conference in Augusta to unveil a new online gun-safety education program they’ve dubbed Statewide Access to Firearms Education and Resources, or SAFER.

The free online course is meant to help those who want to carry a concealed firearm begin what gun rights advocates said is the first step in what’s meant to be a continuing education program for gun owners.

Todd Tolhurst, president of the Gun Owners of Maine, heralded the pending change in state law, saying allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed handgun without a permit has long been a goal of his organization.

Tolhurst said the group knew if it was successful in removing the permit requirement there would be a growing need for gun safety education and training.

“Of course, an online computer-based course cannot replace human instructors,” said Tolhurst, himself a certified handgun trainer with the National Rifle Association. “But SAFER also allows students to interact with certified firearms instructors, to ask questions and better understand the course material.”

He said those participating in the online course also will have access to a staff of certified volunteer instructors. Tolhurst said at the completion of the online course participants are encouraged to seek additional hands-on training with a certified instructor.

State Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who championed the law change during the 2015 lawmaking session, said other states that have eliminated permit requirements for concealed handguns have seen an increase in people seeking firearms training.

Brakey, who attended the news conference Thursday, said Maine’s permit requirements, which included mandatory safety training, created an “artificial plateau.”

“Once you remove this mandate from government that says this level of training is when you have received enough training, you are now a certified firearms owner for now and for all times, once you remove that plateau it kind of helps break down this mind-set that firearms training is a one and done thing,” Brakey said.

He said the removal of training requirements actually led to more training taking place in Arizona, which removed its permit requirements in 2010.

State Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, said he supported the law change only after the Gun Owners of Maine agreed to create its training program.

“My concern and that of many others was that people would not receive appropriate instruction in the handling of firearms and Maine’s self-defense laws,” Corey said. He said he believed the SAFER program created what he saw as “an unprecedented commitment to firearms safety.”

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.