Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, speaks in favor of a proposal for a red flag law to keep guns out of the hands of people believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Supporters and opponents of a red flag law that would allow family members to petition a court to restrict a person’s firearms access without a mental health evaluation gathered at the State House Friday to voice their opinions on a last-minute proposal before lawmakers.

Proponents of L.D. 2283 told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee that Maine’s current law is too cumbersome and time-consuming to be effective when a person poses a threat to themselves or others. They said the proposal removes provisions that wrongly link mental illness to violent behavior and can be stigmatizing for those with mental illness.

Opponents criticized the proposal for removing due process and infringing on Second Amendment rights. They argued that the mass shooting in Lewiston in October could have been prevented if police had used the existing yellow flag law to remove the shooter’s weapons.

Laura Whitcomb, president of Gun Owners of Maine, was among the opponents who said the red flag law isn’t needed and would restrict gun rights without due process. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The red flag proposal from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, would modify and streamline the existing yellow flag process, which allows only law enforcement – not family or household members – to petition a judge to restrict someone’s access to weapons if they undergo a mental health evaluation to confirm they pose a risk to themselves or others.

“This crisis intervention order, also known as a red flag law, would be an additional tool for family members and loved ones who want to go directly to a court,” Talbot Ross told the committee during the public hearing. “I do not see them in competition. They are to be used in different circumstances. I believe it enhances public safety and gives family members another tool to be safe.”

Twenty-one states have red flag laws, while Maine is the only state with a yellow flag law. The Legislature rejected a red flag proposal in 2019, but the Lewiston shooting, in which family members had alerted police to concerns about gunman Robert Card’s mental health and access to weapons, renewed calls for such a law.


Widespread power outages and disruptions caused by this week’s storm delayed the start of Friday’s hearing a few hours. But it didn’t keep scores of people from testifying in person, in addition to more who joined online. The hearing began at noon and continued well past 6 p.m.


Physicians, mental health experts and gun safety advocates were among those who called on the committee to support the bill. The bill wouldn’t require a mental health evaluation, but a petitioner for a so-called “crisis intervention order” would have to submit an affidavit supporting their allegations and showing that the person in question is at risk to harm themselves or others.

“Maine families need a true (extreme risk protection order),” said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “Our communities can’t wait. We can’t wait for another tragedy.”

Palmer said the Lewiston shooting has been devastating for the state, especially the victims who lost their family members, and it has prompted people to testify at the State House in favor of laws that would prevent such a shooting from happening again. “It is clear where the people of Maine stand on this issue,” Palmer said.

Paul Cain, president of the Maine Medical Association, speaks in favor of the red flag bill Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Paul Cain, a retired surgeon from the Lewiston-Auburn area and president of the Maine Medical Association, said medical groups around the state are joining together to support the bill because the current yellow flag law unnecessarily stigmatizes mental illness and relies on law enforcement’s ability to take someone into protective custody. Only 3% to 4% of violent crimes in the U.S. are attributable to mental illness, Cain said.


“L.D. 2283 provides an appropriate balance between the Second Amendment rights of an individual and public safety,” he said. “It is a well-established approach that has been proven to work in other states.”

Jeremy Cluchey, a resident of Bowdoinham, said he is a gun owner and hunter who supports the bill because it is clear after the Lewiston mass shooting that more tools are needed to address gun violence.

“As we consider those tools, it is vital that we balance the need to ensure public safety with the constitutional imperative to protect individual liberties,” Cluchey said. “I believe that a true extreme risk protection order law like the one proposed by this bill strikes that balance well. It is a reasonable, common sense step our state can take.”


Opponents said the mass shooting could have been prevented using the existing yellow flag law. “We have these laws on the books and they do the job when implemented,” said Josh Raines, vice president of Gun Owners of Maine.

Raines also criticized the bill for focusing solely on firearms and not other weapons someone could use to harm themselves or others, such as knives or a vehicle. Talbot Ross presented the committee with several amendments to the bill they could consider, including one that would swap the use of the word firearms for a more expansive definition of dangerous weapons.


Josh Raines, vice president of Gun Owners of Maine, argued against the bill, saying police could have prevented the Lewiston tragedy if they had used the existing law. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Laura Whitcomb, president of Gun Owners of Maine, said the bill also doesn’t do enough to protect against false reports that could be filed to wrongly restrict someone’s access to firearms. The bill as written makes it a Class D crime to make a false statement in the affidavit that is required for a judge to grant the crisis intervention order.

Whitcomb said she would support making a false statement a felony. And she said there should be more due process protections for the person being accused.

“All of us can agree we don’t want firearms in the arms of dangerous individuals, but if the only way to take their firearms, according to the way this legislation is outlined, is by the words of one person, that’s not enough,” Whitcomb said.

Some opponents also have expressed concerns about what the lack of a mental health evaluation would mean. While police have said in the wake of the Lewiston shooting that the yellow flag law can be cumbersome and time-consuming because of the requirement for the mental health evaluation, law enforcement also criticized the red flag proposal.

“We have grave concerns about the omission of mental health professionals being included as part of this proposal,” the Maine Sheriffs’ Association said in written testimony. “When firearms are removed from the possession of a person that is suspected to be a danger, why does this bill fail to provide support to that individual?”

Joe Dobbins, of Hartford, waits for a hearing on a proposed red flag law at the Maine State House on Friday. Dobbins said he came to see freedoms taken away “cut by cut.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association raised a similar issue, along with a concern about how confiscated firearms would be stored. And the association said allowing family or household members to initiate a crisis intervention order could be overly broad.


“A household member can include a former spouse or domestic partner, a distant blood relative, or an adult related by affinity,” Jason Moen, the Auburn police chief and interim president of the association, said in written testimony. “This broad scope of those considered family or household members is problematic as it may lead to abuses of filing petitions.”


The red flag proposal was introduced late in the legislative session, which is scheduled to end April 17, in response to calls from the public, including at a public hearing on a different slate of gun bills, asking for stronger gun safety laws in the wake of the mass shooting.

Committee members listen to speakers during the public hearing Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Judiciary Committee already has given approval to other firearms proposals that were introduced and now face further consideration in the House and Senate. They include proposals for a 72-hour waiting period on firearms purchases, a ban on bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices, and a study on whether the state should set up a process for residents to voluntarily waive their rights to purchase or receive firearms.

Another bill, from Gov. Janet Mills, would expand required background checks to include private, advertised sales and would update Maine’s existing risk protection statute or yellow flag law to make it easier for police to take someone into custody as a first step toward confiscating their firearms.

In her State of the State address in January, Mills said she believes that the mental health evaluation is an important step that protects due process rights and strengthens the law, making it less likely to be struck down should anyone challenge it.

Neither the governor nor officials in her administration testified on the red flag bill Friday, and spokespeople in the governor’s office did not respond to emails or a phone message asking for the governor’s position on the bill.

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