AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Senate President Troy Jackson’s son and former chief of staff are lobbying for a gun control group with an aggressive agenda just as the Legislature nears pressing debates in the wake of the Lewiston mass shooting.
Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, will be one of the key figures in the gun debate. He has long been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, consistently opposing gun control proposals. But his tone has changed since the shooting that left 18 dead and 13 injured at a Lewiston bowling alley and bar on Oct. 25, cracking the door to new gun laws.
The Maine Gun Safety Coalition chose The Resurgam Group, a lobbying firm run by BJ McCollister, Jackson’s former chief of staff, to champion its priorities in the State House. Jackson’s son, Chace, works for McCollister’s company and is also working on the issue.
While there is no evidence the elder Jackson’s posture has changed since their hiring, it adds a new layer to the state’s gun debate. The coalition’s agenda includes expanded background checks and 72-hour waiting periods before gun purchases, two items that the Democratic-led Senate under Jackson rejected last year.
The Maine Gun Safety Coalition hired McCollister and Chace Jackson in December to “manage the overall strategic initiative to advance gun safety reform,” David Farmer, a coalition spokesperson, said. Their work includes both State House and external advocacy and the shooting “demands that we make every effort to make reforms,” Farmer said.
“There’s no turning away,” he said. “There’s no hoping for the best.”
McCollister and Chace Jackson referred a reporter to Farmer for comment. Compensation details are not yet publicly available, as a lobbying registration submitted Jan. 10 to the Maine Ethics Commission indicated their work had not exceeded eight hours a month.
Christine Kirby, a Troy Jackson spokesperson, said her boss and lawmakers are working internally on post-shooting proposals. She reiterated Jackson believes Maine “must find a better way to keep our families and communities safe while also respecting the rights of the many responsible gun owners across this state.”
Kirby did not directly answer questions on whether Jackson had talked with his son or McCollister on gun issues in a Friday statement but said Jackson is “always willing to meet with groups on both sides of an issue.” She cited Jackson’s meetings with both the pro-gun rights Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and health care providers advocating for gun control since the Lewiston shooting.
The Senate leader represents one of the most rural areas of the state. He has long been supported by the NRA, winning its endorsement as recently as the 2022 election, and also received an award last year from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
But he has signaled openness to policy changes in response to the Lewiston carnage, as have Democrats like U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd District, and Gov. Janet Mills to varying degrees after previously opposing policies pushed by gun-control advocates.
Jackson, who first won election to the Legislature in 2002 as an independent and became Senate president in 2018, helped defeat several gun-control bills last year by voting against 72-hour waiting periods for gun purchases, expanded background checks and a bump stock ban.
After the Lewiston shooting, Jackson submitted a bill titled an “Act to Address Mass Shootings and Gun Violence in Maine.” The specifics of it have not been released. His spokesperson said the bill has been transferred to Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and that no updates were available on Friday.
The Maine Gun Safety Coalition’s legislative priorities remain the same, Farmer said, also including assault-style weapons ban and a “red flag” law that has one less step than Maine’s existing “yellow flag” law by not requiring a medical professional — in addition to a judge — to agree a person is dangerous before the judge lets police confiscate the person’s guns.
The coalition also supports increased funding for mental health services, but Farmer said that is “not a replacement” for gun reforms. Mills has not revealed her hand on 2024 gun proposals but will discuss the Lewiston shooting next week during her State of the State speech.
Her office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the governor will share more details on gun-related proposals. But Mills and her staffers have met with both Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine leader David Trahan and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, since the Lewiston shooting.
Meanwhile, Republicans remain largely opposed to gun control bills. Sen. Eric Brakey of Lewiston’s twin city of Auburn, said Jackson son’s lobbying is a sign that “historically pro-[Second Amendment] Democrats” are finding the influence and money of gun-control advocates “hard to resist.”
The Maine coalition’s agenda mimics that of Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s largest gun violence prevention group with ties to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
During a press briefing Thursday on Everytown’s 2024 priorities, Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, said lawmakers are “working steadfastly to get legislation ready for consideration as we continue to build the support” for changes that have not succeeded in recent years.
“We’re at a turning point that we cannot and will not let pass by,” Carney said.