Gov. Janet Mills in her recent state of the state address said: “For the sake of the communities, individuals, and families now suffering immeasurable pain, for the sake of our state, doing nothing is not an option.”

I agree, Gov. Mills, but to really save lives you must focus on policies that will actually save lives.

Three months after the deadliest mass shooting in Maine’s history, Gov. Mills set out proposals to expand the state’s “yellow flag law,” in an effort to prevent future horrific shootings like the one in Lewiston. Mills’ proposal would allow law enforcement to go directly to a judge to start the firearm removal process, rather than wait for a mental health evaluation, and require background checks for private gun sales.

There is no doubt that Maine’s laws must be improved, and I commend the governor for trying to make the state safer from gun violence. What is proposed, however, is an insufficient improvement to its lax gun laws. The state’s current fundamental issues would remain.

The expanded “yellow flag law” would still require a potential shooter to be in police custody before a firearm prohibition kicks in, and there still won’t be an avenue for family members or healthcare providers to directly petition the court based on an individual’s dangerous behaviors. Even if the proposed expansion effort was successful, Maine’s “yellow flag law”, would still create unnecessary barriers that limit effectiveness – in potentially life-threatening situations like the one we watched unfold last year. We can’t save lives with more half-measures.

Since the shooting in October, Maine’s “yellow flag law” has been used dozens of times. However, we know this law is clearly deficient and is very different than extreme risk protection order laws (ERPOs), commonly referred to as “red flag laws”, already enacted in 21 states and Washington, D.C.


ERPO laws empower law enforcement, family members and licensed healthcare providers, to work with courts to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are at elevated risk of harming themselves or others for any reason. ERPOs also will prevent someone subject to the law from purchasing or possessing firearms even if the person is not yet in custody. Research demonstrates that ERPOs can be effective in preventing suicides, addressing mass shooting threats and protecting individuals from harm. ERPO laws can save lives.

However, passing a real ERPO law is just the first step. Firearm purchaser licensing (also known as permit-to-purchase) is another data-backed strategy that is more effective than a simple background check. It enhances public safety by ensuring individuals seeking to purchase firearms undergo a comprehensive background check, fingerprinting, and training. These requirements also extend to private sellers, which, under federal law and current state law, is not required. States with these laws in place also have lower rates of firearm mortality – we see lower rates of homicide, including mass shootings, suicide and shootings by police. Firearm purchaser licensing laws prioritize public safety.

Research also shows firearm purchaser licensing laws have been found to reduce the diversion of guns for crime. Firearm purchaser licensing deters straw purchasing, providing an additional layer of process and accountability needed to deter both impulsive firearm acquisition and guns entering the underground market.

ERPO and firearm purchaser licensing laws would work together to make Maine a safer state. We saw the dangers of weak gun laws play out in the tragedy in Lewiston last year. Gov. Mills and legislators must do even more to strengthen Maine’s firearm laws, including passing a real ERPO and permit-to-purchase law, and put these life-saving policies to use. This is an urgent time to adopt comprehensive, evidence-based solutions to stop devastating but preventable gun violence in Maine.

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