AUGUSTA — A legislative committee considering a package of gun safety reforms narrowly voted Thursday to study whether the state should allow residents to voluntarily waive their rights to purchase or receive firearms.

The committee voted 6-5 in a party-line vote in favor of L.D. 2119, which now heads to the House and Senate for further votes. Democrats on the committee voted in support, while Republicans were opposed. Three committee members were absent.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, is one of four firearms bills the committee was scheduled to review Thursday. The other three were tabled after the committee spent time discussing an amendment from Gov. Janet Mills to a bill that includes mandatory background checks for private gun purchases.

“This amendment just arrived to us today and although it addresses some of the feedback we got … I don’t feel it addresses all of it and for those of us who plan to vote for some version of this bill, I want to be sure we tighten that up,” said Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, the committee co-chair. The committee voted unanimously to table Mills’ bill and two others that would tighten Maine’s gun restrictions.

In addition to requiring background checks on advertised, private firearm sales, the bills include proposals for a 72-hour waiting period on firearm purchases and a ban on bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices. Mills’ background check proposal also includes an update to the state’s yellow-flag law to make it easier for police to take someone into custody and confiscate their weapons.

The bills come in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Lewiston last fall, in which a gunman shot and killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a bowling alley and restaurant. The shooting has added urgency to calls for stricter gun laws in Maine, which have been the topic of significant feedback and input from advocates and opponents this legislative session.


Doudera’s bill originally would have set up a process for a person to voluntarily waive their rights to purchase or receive firearms, an initiative that advocates say would reduce suicides by keeping guns out of the hands of people in crisis. But she amended the proposal to call for a task force to study the proposal after the state’s judicial branch said it was not set up to oversee such a process.

The amended proposal creates a 13-member task force to study whether to move forward and set up the process.

Committee members spent about an hour discussing the proposal and asking clarifying questions before their split vote. Rep. Amy Kuhn, D-Falmouth, who made the motion to pass the bill, said the study and process could be a valuable tool to protect the safety of people in crisis and their loved ones.

But Republicans expressed concerns about the makeup of the task force, whether the process for voluntarily giving up rights would include firearms dealers providing suicide prevention resources and whether there would be a permanent record of people who have voluntarily waived their rights, something that could potentially make them a target for non-voluntary removal.

“A big part of this is to prevent suicide, yet nothing in this bill has the person who is taking in the firearms give resources for suicide prevention, mental health or anything,” said Rep. Jennifer Poirier, R-Skowhegan. “That’s pretty problematic for me.”

Rep. Rachel Henderson, R-Rumford, said she is concerned about the task force being appointed by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, given that Talbot Ross is a co-sponsor on the other gun bills the committee is taking up, which Henderson said she does not support. “I think for that piece I’m going to have to be out on this,” Henderson said.



The committee also spent time discussing L.D. 2224, the bill from Mills that would expand background checks and update the yellow flag law that allows police to take away guns after a process that involves protective custody and a mental health evaluation.

The proposed change would allow law enforcement, in unusual circumstances, to seek a protective custody warrant signed by a judge that would allow them to take a person into protective custody. Under the current law, police typically have to charge someone with a crime to take them into custody and begin the process.

The committee reviewed an amendment from Mills that a legislative analyst described as being a mostly technical amendment that involved slight changes to language.

They focused their discussion on various points, including the process by which a court may decide on weapons restrictions in the yellow flag process and Mills’ proposal to upgrade the sale of a firearm to a prohibited person to a felony crime before tabling that bill, along with the 72-hour waiting period and bump stock proposals.

Thursday’s work session came a day after the committee met with Francine Garland Stark, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, who pushed back on claims that have arisen previously about the proposed 72-hour waiting period making it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to defend themselves.

National research shows that the presence of a firearm makes it five times more likely for a domestic violence victim to be killed with a gun, Stark told the committee.

Democrats on the committee also met privately Wednesday with the deputy director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for a briefing about existing firearms regulations. The move prompted criticism from Republicans, who skipped an opportunity to also meet with the director because they believed it should have been held publicly.

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