Maine Shooting

A police officer guards the road to a recycling facility where the body of the gunman in the Lewiston mass shootings was found on Oct. 27 in Lisbon. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The state’s yellow flag law has been invoked 14 times to take away someone’s access to weapons since the Lewiston shootings on Oct. 25, according to a Maine Attorney General’s Office report.

The law – which has come under scrutiny because it was not used to remove guns from Robert Card before he killed 18 people in Lewiston – has now been used a total of 95 times since it went into effect in 2020. The flurry of incidents since the shootings means about 15% of all yellow flag actions occurred in the past two weeks.

In three cases since Oct. 25, Robert Card’s name was invoked by the subject of the yellow flag action.

Police agencies can use the law to take away weapons from people who have mental health crises and present a danger to themselves or others. It requires a mental health evaluation and the approval of a judge.

Records provided by the Office of the Attorney General include basic descriptions of cases, but do not identify the people involved.

On Nov. 10,  Auburn police reported that a “20-year-old man attempted suicide by stabbing himself in abdomen; said he was going to be ‘the next Robert Card.’ ”


The following day, on Nov. 11, Lewiston police said that a “50-year-old man with a history of suicidal/homicidal ideations told family he was going to do (what) Robert Card did, but with a knife.”

And on Nov. 12, Brunswick police invoked the yellow flag law after a “29-year-old man claims he’s being ordered to kill his parents or son; referenced Robert Card, the Lewiston mass shooter.”

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the nonprofit Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services Maine, said it’s possible the Oct. 25 shootings could have led people already struggling with mental health to feel even more despondent.

“Whenever you have a community event, it is triggering to those already struggling with mental illness and brain disease,” Shaughnessy said. “They are already on edge.”

Shaughnessy said they have seen increased calls to the state’s centralized crisis line since the shootings. Meanwhile, Maine has a shortage of access to mental health services.

“We could be seeing more incidents arising as a response to the community trauma from the Lewiston shootings, and more law enforcement stepping up to try to do the yellow flag process,” Shaughnessy said.


Many of the cases since the shootings include suicidal threats, but there were also homicidal threats or a combination of the two. The Androscoggin Sheriff’s Office reported that on Nov. 7, a “44-year-old suicidal man concerned he will be the next mass shooter. Drinking heavily in the context of financial stress and infidelity. History of removing firearms when depressed and suicidal.”

Maine is the only state in the nation that has a yellow flag law, while 21 states have red flag laws, which give law enforcement more flexibility to remove weapons when people suffering from mental illness make threats to themselves or others. In Maine, unlike the red flag states, people must be in protective custody by police and undergo an evaluation by a mental health professional before police can seek a court order to have someone’s weapons taken away.

Twenty-eight states do not have a yellow flag or a red flag law on the books.

Ben Strick, vice president of adult behavioral health with Spurwink, which provides telehealth services to do the mental health evaluations required under Maine’s law, said police departments have learned more about how to use the law. Usage also has ramped up since Maine contracted with Spurwink for the telehealth services about a year ago.

“Beyond a doubt, this law has saved lives,” Strick said. “We have seen an increase in police using the law. We’ve doubled the number of mental health assessments during the past year.”

While some details about events leading up the Lewiston shootings have yet to be made public, the yellow flag law was not used to restrict Card’s access to guns in Maine, nor was New York’s red flag law invoked this summer when Card was in a psychiatric facility for two weeks after making threats in that state.


While Maine’s yellow flag law has been criticized as too burdensome for police, the shootings have focused attention on it as the primary tool to restrict gun access during a mental health crisis in this state.

Strick said Spurwink conducted a voluntary training session Monday and it was attended by 200 law enforcement officials.

Shaughnessy said while usage of the law may have increased, yellow flag laws are still inherently weaker than red flag laws. The red flag laws take a “safety first” approach to removing weapons when law enforcement identifies an immediate risk, but then still follows up with mental health services and court hearings to determine whether someone should regain access to their guns.

“The red flag law has been tried and tested in many other places and worked very well,” Shaughnessy said. “Our attempt at some type of compromise is probably not the best way.”

Shaughnessy said many Maine police departments have never used the yellow flag law despite it being on the books for three years – even larger departments, such as Portland and Bangor.

Lawmakers will be considering several reforms to Maine’s gun laws in the coming weeks, with the legislative session to begin in January, including scrapping Maine’s yellow flag law for a red flag law.

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