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With backing of Democratic leaders, Mills officially unveils gun safety legislation

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With backing of Democratic leaders, Mills officially unveils gun safety legislation

Feb 21, 2024 | 5:29 pm ET
By Evan Popp
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With backing of Democratic leaders, Mills officially unveils gun safety legislation
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Gov. Janet Mills gives a speech at the Augusta Civic Center (Jim Neuger/Maine Morning Star)

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday officially unveiled legislation meant to address gun violence and strengthen the state’s mental health care system — an initiative that comes in response to a mass shooting in Lewiston in October.

Mills’ bill received support from a series of prominent Democratic leaders in the Legislature, including Maine Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland). 

LD 2224 is officially sponsored by Sen. Peggy Rotundo and Assistant House Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, who both represent Lewiston, where 18 people were killed and 13 were wounded in an October shooting that rocked the state and led to renewed calls for addressing Maine’s weak gun safety laws. 

“Violence is not a simple problem, nor is the remedy a single, simple measure,” Mills said in a press release. “The proposals in this bill are not extreme or unusual, or a cookie cutter version of another’s state’s laws. They are practical, common-sense measures that are Maine-made and true to our culture and our longstanding traditions while meeting today’s needs. They represent meaningful progress, without trampling on anybody’s rights, and they will better protect public safety.” 

What’s in the proposal? 

The multipronged bill would create a injury and violence prevention program within the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to collect data about violence to help officials reduce homicides and suicides. The program would be funded with $1 million from the governor’s supplemental budget proposal.   

The measure also seeks to strengthen Maine’s mental health care system, which advocates have called broken, by creating a network of crisis receiving centers to provide prompt and needed care. The initial one funded through the bill would be created in Lewiston. The governor’s supplemental budget allocates $950,000 in one-time funds and $450,000 in ongoing money to the Lewiston project for this initiative. 

Finally, Mills’ proposal seeks to prevent dangerous people from having guns. Law enforcement’s inability to remove weapons from Robert Card before he carried out the mass shooting in Lewiston is “a gap that must be addressed,” Mills said during her state of the state address last month, when she first publicly discussed her proposed reforms.

Maine’s yellow flag law, which is the state’s current mechanism to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone who is deemed to be a danger to themself or others, has been used almost every day since the shooting — about 15 times more than it had been used in the preceding three years. 

Mills wants to strengthen the law by allowing police to get protective custody warrants to use at their discretion to take dangerous people into custody and remove their weapons. 

The governor’s bill would also require background checks for private sales of firearms and make it easier to prosecute anyone who sells a gun to someone not allowed to have one. This sort of illegal sale would become a felony, not just a misdemeanor, under her proposal. 

Reaction to Mills’ proposal

Mills’ bill doesn’t go as far as certain lawmakers called for in the wake of the Lewiston shooting, with some floating ideas such as an assault weapons ban. The governor, a Democrat, has a complicated history on the issue of gun control, supporting some reforms in the past but opposing bolder steps. 

Still, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition — which has called for universal background checks, a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases, a red flag law to prevent someone having a crisis from getting a gun, and a ban on assault weapons — called the governor’s proposal a start.

“It is urgent that Maine reform its lax gun safety laws. We are grateful that Gov. Mills and the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are willing to move forward on meaningful gun safety reform,” said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “We know that gun violence is preventable, and this legislation is a vital first step.” 

“While we have concerns about the provisions regarding Maine’s yellow-flag law, we are anxious to get to work creating a real Extreme Risk Protection Order in Maine,” Palmer added, referring to creating a “red flag” law, a stronger version of a yellow flag law. 

Democrats in the House and Senate expressed support for the bill Wednesday. 

“Whether through domestic violence, suicide or mass shootings, gun violence affects us all,” Talbot Ross said. “The epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership and action. I commend Governor Mills for her careful consideration and her willingness to put forward necessary reforms that are right for Maine.” 

“The tragic events of October 25 are still foremost in the minds of the people of Lewiston,” Rotundo said. “…The Governor’s bill is a thoughtful approach to addressing gun violence and mental health care. I am determined to finish this legislative session with legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of Maine people and help prevent gun violence from hurting our people.”