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Maine Senate backs suite of legislation introduced after Lewiston shooting


Maine Senate backs suite of legislation introduced after Lewiston shooting

Apr 12, 2024 | 9:45 pm ET
By AnnMarie Hilton
Two gun safety reforms headed to Gov. Mills’ desk for signature
Hundreds traveled to the State House on Jan. 3, 2024 for a day of action organized by the Maine Coalition for Gun Safety. (Jim Neuger/Maine Morning Star)

The Maine Senate late Friday voted through a series of gun safety reforms that were introduced in response to the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. 

With the Senate’s support, a proposal to study policies that allow individuals to voluntarily waive their right to purchase a firearm will now head to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk while the rest will be taken up in the Maine House of Representatives in the coming days. 

A proposed red flag bill hasn’t yet made its way to either chamber but here’s where these other five gun bills stand after chamber sessions Friday. 

Headed to Mills’ desk

After approval from the House Thursday night, the Maine Senate backed a bill that would direct a 13-person task force to study the voluntary waiver of an individual’s right to purchase a firearm. 

Although the Judiciary Committee heard significant testimony in support of the original version of the bill that sought to implement the policy, Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland), who chairs the committee, told the chamber that aspects of the proposal needed to be vetted further and suggested an amendment to study the issue further. 

The proposal passed the Senate with a near party-line vote of 22-12 with Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) joining Democrats in support. The House 82-66 on party lines.

Red flag bill splits Maine Democrats, gets narrow approval to move forward to full Legislature

Democrats divided on Mills’ gun bill 

The Senate also took up LD 2224, the multipronged gun bill proposed by Mills in response to the shooting. 

While no Republicans supported the bill, it divided Democrats; ultimately, passing 19-15. 

The bill seeks to strengthen 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. It 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.

The bill would also create a way to better gather data about violence-related injuries and deaths to help identify patterns. To address mental health, the proposal would establish a statewide network of crisis receiving centers, starting in Lewiston, to help someone in crisis to receive prompt care. 

“This bill is filled with good intentions and has honorable aims and parts of it could do good work,” said Sen. Joe Baldacci (D-Penobscot), but he said he had legal, constitutional and ethical concerns that led him to vote against it. 

As he saw it, the bill gave broad authority — that Baldacci described as “astounding” — to law enforcement to take people into protective custody. Before the vote, he said that if the bill becomes law, legislators will have future conversations about how to roll it back. 

He said he also took issue with the bill equating mental illness with committing violence, calling it “completely erroneous and an insult to the mental health community.” 

Supporters call on lawmakers to go even further at public hearing on gun bills

That same concern has been raised by the medical community. During the public hearing, some even called for the removal of the mental health evaluation currently required under Maine’s yellow flag law before petitioning a judge to confiscate a person’s firearms.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo (D-Androscoggin) said the bill is important to her because she believes, had it been enacted previously, it could have prevented the tragedy in Lewiston. She said she can’t alleviate the pain and trauma her community is still grappling with, but she said, “I can vote for this bill, which will provide greater safety for Maine people in the future.”

Updated machine gun definition, 72-hour waiting period see support from Maine Senate

Another proposal that passed with a 19-15 vote would update Maine’s definition of “machine gun” to align with the federal definition and require that all guns forfeited to law enforcements be destroyed. Currently, only those used in homicides and murders are required to be destroyed. 

Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) said he wasn’t sure why that would be necessary and argued that the bill appears to be based on the assumption that firearms are bad and should be destroyed whenever possible.

The reason for destroying the forfeited firearms, Carney explained, is to prevent them from being sold cheaply and flowing back into the market to be used in future crimes.  

The Senate also supported a proposed 72-hour waiting period for certain gun purchases with a razor thin margin of 17-16, dividing Democrats and again getting no support from Republicans. 

“Why should we pass this?” Carney asked. “Because it will save lives,” she told her colleagues on the floor. 

Proponents of the bill say it provides a necessary cooling-off period, especially for people who may be at risk of dying by suicide. However, critics of the bill pointed out that suicide does not only happen with firearms and fear the bill would take away a self-defense tool for people experiencing domestic violence. 

Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland) drew on work he did with the Transportation Committee, describing a time the group didn’t hesitate to put a suicide barrier on a bridge that needed it. He couldn’t believe there was debate as to how many lives could be saved. “Pass the bill,” he said, “save some lives.”

Cooling off is a commendable goal, said Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford), but she said she couldn’t support a bill that would take away a self-defense tool for survivors of domestic abuse. She said both scenarios — domestic violence and death by suicide — are real and important issues, but she couldn’t back a bill that took “this tool away from a woman who wants to protect herself.”

Carney said had also been concerned about that but in the Judiciary Committee heard from advocates and research that it would not put survivors of domestic violence in more danger. She added that Maine has safety plans and other mechanisms to help keep those people safe. 

Senate rejects civil action bill

A proposal that would allow someone to bring a civil action against firearms manufacturers did not survive the Senate session on Friday. 

Carney said that it would only be possible in the event of a “terrible tragedy,” and that “this is not a situation where there will be a floodgate opened for claims.”

Regardless, the bill failed with a 13-20 vote. Baldacci also did not support this measure and was joined in voting against it by some Democratic colleagues, including Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook).

Brakey also spoke in opposition to this proposal, saying he feared that this particular bill would “(chase) firearm businesses out of our state,” taking thousands of jobs and state tax revenue with them. 

The bill was, however, supported by the House with a narrow 76-72 vote. It will return to the House for members to decide if they will stick with their original vote or concur with the Senate.