AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Wednesday to endorse a package of gun safety bills proposed in the wake of the Lewiston mass shooting last year, including waiting periods and expanded background checks for gun purchases.

And the Judiciary Committee’s work isn’t done. A last-minute bill released Wednesday would put in place a new streamlined process for restricting access to firearms for people deemed to be a threat. The bill is similar to the red-flag process adopted in other states, eliminating the need for a mental health evaluation before guns are seized from a person believed to pose a risk.

People hold signs for and against increased gun regulations during a news conference on Jan. 3 in State House’s Hall of Flags. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The committee voted 8-6 along party lines on a bill from Gov. Janet Mills that would expand background checks to include private, advertised sales and update Maine’s existing risk protection statute, referred to as a yellow flag law, to make it easier for police to take someone into custody as a first step toward confiscating their firearms. Mental health evaluations would still be needed. They also voted 8-6 on a bill to ban bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices.

Democrats on the committee voted in favor, while Republicans voted against the bills and were joined in opposition by Passamaquoddy tribal Rep. Aaron Dana, who does not have a party affiliation.

The committee also voted 7-6 in favor of a 72-hour waiting period for firearms purchases with Rep. David Haggan, R-Hampden, absent. Rep. Adam Lee, D-Auburn, joined Republicans in opposing the bill after the committee rejected a provision he proposed to exempt people under protection from abuse or harassment orders from having to wait to buy a gun. Lee and Dana voted in favor of a different version that included the exception for domestic violence survivors.

The proposals will now advance to votes in the House and Senate. They come after weeks of work sessions, public hearings and testimony offered to the committee both for and against the bills, including some from advocates who argued that the changes to the yellow flag law don’t go far enough to boost public safety.



The bills and passionate testimony followed the Lewiston mass shooting on Oct. 25, 2023, in which gunman Robert Card Jr. killed 18 people and injured 13 others. The mass shooting prompted many calls for enhanced gun safety measures, even if they wouldn’t have stopped Card, who purchased his guns legally and outside the 72-hour window.

“We’ve heard from Maine people from across the state who are demanding we take action to protect their communities and that an improved crisis intervention order deserves full consideration,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said in a statement. “They have been clear that this vital tool to address the intersection of mental health crises and access to firearms needs strengthening.”

Talbot Ross unveiled a new bill, L.D. 2283, An Act to Enact the Crisis Intervention Order Act to Protect the Safety of the Public, on Wednesday.

The proposal creates a new process for family or household members as well as law enforcement to be able to petition a court to restrict a person’s ability to purchase or possess a firearm because they pose a significant risk of causing harm to themselves or others. The petition would require an affidavit supporting the allegations, but the person who poses the risk would not need to be taken into protective custody or undergo a mental health evaluation as is required in the current law for prohibiting access to weapons.

“This bill will ensure that those people who are a risk to themselves and others can receive the help they need, while preventing senseless acts of violence,” Talbot Ross said. “By streamlining the process in which law enforcement and concerned family members petition the court for temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a credible threat to themselves or others, we are empowering our communities to intervene in situations of potential harm.


“And by hearing this bill now, we are making it clear that we are responding to this epidemic with the urgency Mainers have demanded.”

Twenty-one states have passed similar so-called red flag laws that allow family members or police to seek a court order to seize weapons from someone at risk. Maine is the only state with a yellow flag law, which requires a person to first be held in protective custody and undergo a mental health assessment before having their weapons removed.


The committee spent about two hours Wednesday discussing the bills that are now advancing to the House and Senate, mostly asking clarifying questions. Republicans voiced concerns that the governor’s bill for expanded background checks could lead to the creation of a gun registry and described the proposal as a “back door” to universal background checks.

The bill expands requirements for background checks to include advertised private sales that are broadcast on television or the radio, over the internet, printed in magazines or newspapers or that are displayed on posters or signs. The bill would not affect unadvertised sales or transfers to family members.

“The language here, while not seeking to establish universal background checks in the sense it was proposed (in a 2016 referendum), it does seem to be … kind of a back door universal background check,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. “With background checks in general, they seem to present us with an illusion of safety and that government can protect us from certain events that we’re not necessarily being prevented from.”


He said that the proposals before the committee were unlikely to have prevented the Lewiston shooting, citing a report from the independent commission the governor tasked with investigating the shooting. The report said the existing yellow flag law could have and should have been used to stop Card.

“Expanding that law would not have made any difference in these circumstances,” Brakey said.

Lee’s proposed amendment for an exemption to the 72-hour waiting period for people under protection from harassment or abuse orders also drew debate from the committee Wednesday. But it was ultimately rejected by other Democrats who pointed to testimony they heard from domestic violence advocates who said that access to firearms is actually more dangerous for victims.

“I think what I heard from (advocates) is that it’s far more likely that someone who’s not trained and not really prepared to defend themselves is much more likely to be assaulted,” said Rep. Erin Sheehan, D-Biddeford.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.