Maine Enacts Legislation to Curb Mass Shootings; Critics Argue More Measures Are Needed in Wake of Lewiston Tragedy

by Chloe Baker
Maine Gun Legislation

Just four years prior to the devastating shooting spree in Maine—a state known for its strong defense of gun rights—the governor had enacted a law designed to prevent such mass shootings. The incident on Wednesday night resulted in a minimum of 18 fatalities.

The legislation was termed a “yellow flag” law, setting it apart from the “red flag” laws increasingly adopted by other states to confiscate firearms from individuals perceived as dangerous. Reflecting Maine’s commitment to the Second Amendment, the law was even co-authored by a gun-rights organization. Despite this, critics argue that while the law is a preliminary step toward enhanced gun safety, additional measures—such as adopting a red flag law—could further save lives.

The recent massacre has brought renewed focus to Maine’s lenient gun regulations. Authorities have identified the assailant as a man who had been confined to a mental health institution for a fortnight during the previous summer and had conveyed auditory hallucinations and intents to attack a military installation.

It remains uncertain whether the yellow flag law was invoked in this particular case. However, advocates for gun control pointed to the tragedy as evidence of the inadequacy of Maine’s current gun safety legislation.

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Vice President Kamala Harris identified gun violence as the principal cause of death among American children and urged Congress to enact stronger regulations, including universal background checks, a federal red flag law, and prohibitions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Harris noted, “The dichotomy between preserving Second Amendment rights and implementing rational gun safety laws is a false one.”

Efforts by anti-gun violence organizations to tighten Maine’s gun laws have consistently been thwarted, despite Democratic control of both the legislative and executive branches of the state government.

These groups reiterated their commitment to redouble their advocacy efforts. Cam Shannon, chair of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, indicated that, at the very least, a prohibition on assault weapons is imperative to prevent future mass shootings.

According to Shannon, elected representatives need to “cease kowtowing to gun lobbyists and squarely confront the realities of the recent tragedy in Maine’s second-largest city.”

Maine is among approximately 20 states permitting permitless carry, meaning that no license is required to conceal a weapon in public. The state has a deeply ingrained culture of gun ownership linked to its long-standing hunting and sports shooting traditions.

Despite the longstanding argument that Maine’s lax gun laws have not led to high levels of violent crime, the recent mass shooting event has ignited fierce criticism. Lynn Ellis of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition described the situation as “exasperating.”

Past failures to bolster Maine’s gun laws include the defeat of a 2016 referendum aimed at expanding background checks and the rejection of legislation to mandate background checks for private gun transactions as well as implement a 72-hour waiting period for purchasing firearms.

Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, has expressed reservations about some gun control proposals in the past.

In 2019, a proposal for a red flag law was defeated, resulting in the adoption of the yellow flag law, which aimed to prevent suicides while respecting constitutional rights.

Unlike red flag laws, the yellow flag law requires that a medical practitioner first evaluate an individual as a threat before the police can petition a court to confiscate their firearms.

Critics have labeled the law as ineffective and unlikely to be utilized by families who fear traumatizing a relative by having them detained.

Questions linger as to whether the yellow flag law could have prevented the Lewiston tragedy or where the perpetrator acquired the weapon. Additionally, it is unclear whether federal laws prohibiting gun ownership following a formal commitment to a mental health facility were applicable in this case.

Lindsay Nichols, Policy Director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that there are flaws in the system that allow individuals with dangerous pasts to acquire firearms easily. Yet, she also noted that people with mental illnesses are not more prone to violence compared to those without a diagnosis.

Following the incident, state gun control advocates have begun mobilizing, and Maine’s legislative gun safety caucus convened. Democratic State Representative Kristen Cloutier, a former mayor of Lewiston, described the event as “both unreal and devastating,” reaffirming her commitment to stronger gun control measures.

“This tragedy has only fortified my resolve to take all possible steps to avert such calamities in other communities,” said Cloutier.

Reported by Whitehurst in Washington, D.C., and Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Maine Gun Legislation

What is the “yellow flag” law enacted in Maine?

The “yellow flag” law in Maine is a piece of legislation designed to prevent mass shootings by allowing law enforcement to detain someone they suspect is mentally ill and poses a threat to themselves or others. Unlike red flag laws, it requires a medical practitioner to evaluate the person as a threat before the police can petition a court to confiscate their firearms.

How does Maine’s “yellow flag” law differ from “red flag” laws in other states?

The yellow flag law requires that a medical practitioner first evaluate an individual as a threat before law enforcement can petition a court to seize their firearms. In contrast, red flag laws generally allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court directly to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.

What are the criticisms of Maine’s current gun laws?

Critics argue that Maine’s gun laws are inadequate for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. They contend that while the yellow flag law is a step in the right direction, more comprehensive measures, such as a red flag law, are needed. The recent mass shooting in Lewiston has amplified these criticisms.

What did Vice President Kamala Harris say about gun violence?

Vice President Kamala Harris stated that gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. She called for stronger federal regulations, including universal background checks, a federal red flag law, and prohibitions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. She also noted that implementing gun safety measures does not necessarily conflict with upholding Second Amendment rights.

Have there been any recent attempts to strengthen gun laws in Maine?

Yes, although these efforts have largely been unsuccessful. Proposals to require background checks for private gun sales and to create a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases have been rejected. A proposal for a red flag law was also defeated in favor of the yellow flag law in 2019.

What is the public response in Maine after the Lewiston mass shooting?

In the wake of the Lewiston mass shooting, gun control advocates and the Maine Legislature’s gun safety caucus have begun organizing to push for stronger gun control measures. The tragedy has ignited public debate and is likely to influence future legislative efforts regarding gun control in the state.

What is Maine’s stance on permitless carry?

Maine is one of about 20 states that allow permitless carry, which means individuals can carry a concealed weapon in public without a permit. This reflects the state’s long-standing culture of gun ownership, which is closely tied to its traditions of hunting and sport shooting.

Are people with mental illnesses more prone to commit violent acts, according to experts?

No, according to Lindsay Nichols, Policy Director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, people with mental illnesses are not at a higher risk of being violent compared to those without a diagnosis. The focus, she suggests, should be on tightening restrictions to prevent access to guns by those who are dangerous, regardless of mental health status.

What is the status of the perpetrator involved in the Lewiston mass shooting?

The text indicates that the perpetrator had been confined to a mental health facility for two weeks during the past summer and had reported auditory hallucinations and threats to attack a military installation. However, it does not provide current details on the status of the perpetrator.

Who are the key stakeholders in the debate over gun control in Maine?

The key stakeholders include elected officials, gun rights organizations, gun control advocacy groups like the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, and the general public. Both sides are actively engaged in discussions and advocacy, particularly in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Lewiston.

More about Maine Gun Legislation

  • Maine’s Yellow Flag Law Explained
  • Red Flag Laws Across the United States
  • Vice President Kamala Harris on Gun Control
  • Maine Legislature’s Recent Attempts on Gun Control
  • Overview of Permitless Carry States
  • Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Maine Gun Safety Coalition
  • Federal Gun Control Legislation
  • U.S. Background Check System for Firearm Purchases
  • History of Gun Control in Maine

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Sarah_92 October 26, 2023 - 11:04 pm

Can’t believe this happened in Maine of all places. We always hear about Maine having low crime rates, but look what happened. maybe it’s time to reconsider those permitless carry laws.

MikeTheAnalyst October 27, 2023 - 3:23 am

It’s intriguing that the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine helped write the yellow flag law. Shows that it’s not just a one-sided debate. Both parties are trying to find a middle ground, but clearly, something’s missing here.

LawStudent October 27, 2023 - 4:05 am

Its all about balancing individual rights and collective security. But in this case, seems like the balance is off. A red flag law could’ve maybe prevented this tragedy, who knows.

JohnDoe October 27, 2023 - 4:56 am

Wow, this is eye-opening. Kinda makes you wonder how much these yellow flag laws actually do. I mean, if the guy was committed to a mental health facility, shouldn’t that have been a massive red flag right there?

LocalGuy October 27, 2023 - 5:50 am

Lived in Maine my whole life and never thought I’d see the day something like this would happen. heartbreaking and surreal. Time to take action and not just talk.

EmilyR October 27, 2023 - 6:18 am

Kamala Harris has a point. Why does it always have to be either-or? We can have gun rights and still have laws that protect people. Not rocket science people!

HealthcareWorker October 27, 2023 - 8:01 am

Mental health is such a gray area in these laws. You can’t just assume someone is dangerous because they have a mental illness, but at the same time, you can’t ignore warning signs. What a mess.

TonyG October 27, 2023 - 2:37 pm

Federal laws are one thing, but state laws need to catch up. There are loopholes that people can exploit, and that’s a big problem. No system is perfect, but this one needs an overhaul for sure.

CryptoTrader October 27, 2023 - 5:56 pm

Maybe we need blockchain to track gun sales and background checks, make the system more transparent and accountable, just sayin.

RachelM October 27, 2023 - 7:13 pm

Its sad that even with Democratic control, we can’t pass stronger gun laws. What are they afraid of? Losing votes? This is about saving lives.


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