AUGUSTA — In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. last year, Maine lawmakers have approved a slate of new gun safety measures that include expanded background checks, a 72-hour waiting period for firearms purchases and a ban on bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices.

But the Legislature failed to act on a proposed red flag law that would have given families, in addition to law enforcement, the ability to restrict a person’s access to firearms without the need for a mental health evaluation.

And it remains uncertain which bills Gov. Janet Mills will sign into law.

Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross presides over the House on Wednesday at the State House. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Eighteen people were killed in the Lewiston mass shooting on Oct. 25, and 13 others were injured. The massacre prompted a new wave of gun legislation that has for years been proposed and rejected in Maine.

Advocates for gun safety reform lauded the changes that were approved on Thursday morning in the final hours of this year’s legislative session, while also lamenting that the red flag law, a key proposal they had sought to enact, only made it to a committee vote and not the full body.

“We are of course disappointed the (red flag bill) did not advance,” said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “Maine needs a true extreme risk protection order. But we can’t lose sight of the incredibly meaningful steps we’ve made towards reducing gun violence in Maine with the three proposals that are advancing to the governor’s desk.”


Those steps include L.D. 2086, which would ban bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices, L.D. 2238, which puts in place a 72-hour waiting period on most firearms purchases, and L.D. 2224, a bill the governor brought forward that expands background check requirements to include private, advertised sales and updates Maine’s existing yellow flag law to make it easier for police to take someone into protective custody as a step toward restricting their access to weapons.

Ben Goodman, a spokesperson for Mills, said she plans to sign L.D. 2224 and “will review and consider” the other two bills.

The governor has 10 days from enactment by the Legislature, not including Sundays, to sign the bills, veto them or allow them to become law without her signature. Some opponents are already encouraging Mills to block them.

“Gun Owners of Maine feels that with the (bump stock ban) and waiting periods, the governor has no choice but to veto them,” said Laura Whitcomb, president of Gun Owners of Maine, a group dedicated to gun rights.

The group opposed all three bills as well as the red flag proposal, though Whitcomb said she realizes it’s unlikely the governor would veto her own bill.



Mills, a Democrat who comes from rural Farmington, has in the past taken a moderate stance on gun control measures. But the governor said in January that the October mass shooting prompted her to rethink her previous position.

She isn’t the only one. Several lawmakers who voted last session against similar proposals reversed course this year, helping to bring the measures to pass, even if they were by extremely narrow margins.

Senate President Troy Jackson, who has previously voted against measures banning rapid-fire devices, waiting periods and expanded background checks, said the Lewiston shooting forced him to reconsider.

“The 18 funerals in Lewiston caused me to shift my position,” Jackson said Thursday. “There’s been a lot of talk about that last session to this session. Something tragic happened in Lewiston. There were 31 families severely affected and a community and state that will always be affected. … I kind of almost knew the day it happened something different would have to happen.”

Rep. Ron Russell, D-Verona Island, voted last session against a bill to require background checks on private gun sales but voted this week in favor of the measure. Both versions of the bills exclude sales and transfers among family members and sales of antique or relic firearms.

A first-term lawmaker, Russell said he felt last year’s vote best represented his district’s desires. But when the governor announced her bill in January, Russell said it made sense to him. He also had had more time to talk to people at that point – some who also changed their position after the Lewiston shooting.


“With (the governor’s bill) in particular, I seemed to notice there was more support from responsible gun owners,” he said.

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, founder and co-chair of the Legislature’s Gun Safety Caucus, said the measures that passed this session will make a big difference in addressing gun violence, particularly suicides. After six years in office working on gun safety, she said she has seen a shift in how people approach the issue, though she said that’s not just because of the Lewiston shooting.

“I think there’s been a change, culturally, around our country because of the number, not just of mass shootings, but deaths due to gun violence,” Doudera said. “I think we’re seeing a realization that yes, we have the Second Amendment and it’s a right that’s important to protect, but the vast majority of people and the vast majority of Mainers want sensible regulations in place to help prevent gun violence.”


While advocates are celebrating the changes, opponents are worried about the implications.

Whitcomb, from the Gun Owners of Maine, is concerned waiting periods will force more people to try and skirt the system through private transfers and sales, and said that could hurt small businesses.


“There are huge unintended consequences for what amounts to a feel-good bill,” she said.

Whitcomb also criticized the process by which the waiting period measure obtained final passage in the Senate. Senate rules allow an absent member to “pair” their vote with a member casting a vote on the opposite side of the question with approval from the Senate president. But the vote of the absent member and the member with whom that member is paired don’t count toward the total.

Two senators who voted in favor of the measure, Sen. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, and Sen. David LaFountain, D-Winslow, were absent for the Senate’s final enactment vote Wednesday, but two Democrats who opposed the measure, Sen. Cameron Reny, D-Bristol, and Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, paired their votes with them.

Wednesday’s vote to give final approval to the bill also passed by just one vote, but could have failed 16-17 if the vote pairing did not take place.

“There needs to be light shed on how the Senate passed this with a pairing of votes that disenfranchises the constituencies of those four districts,” Whitcomb said. “If they hadn’t paired their votes, it wouldn’t have passed.”

Spokespeople for Senate Democrats said vote pairing is routine if a member is absent and pointed to a roll call last week where the Senate passed the measure 18-17 on an initial vote without vote pairing. Baldacci and Reny said Thursday they paired their votes as a courtesy to LaFountain and Pierce, who were absent for illness and a death in the family.


“Vote pairing is not unusual in the Legislature,” Reny said in an email. “I had a colleague with extenuating circumstances, and I did them a professional courtesy. I’m disappointed anyone would try to frame it differently.”


House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ red flag proposal had no such political battle in either chamber floor.

A spokesperson for Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said Thursday that the bill never made it to the House floor because of the time crunch at the end of the session, the final days of which were largely taken up by heated budget discussions.

Given the contentious debate over the budget and the late hour, Speaker Talbot Ross believed the legislation couldn’t receive the attention it deserves,” spokesperson Mary Erin Casale said in a statement.

“However, the Legislature was able to pass some of the most significant and effective gun safety reforms in decades. As she said at the beginning of this session, it was time to take meaningful action to save lives. While she is disappointed that the legislation didn’t advance, the speaker is incredibly proud of what was accomplished. She is also committed to the further work ahead.”


Both advocates and opponents say they are expecting to see debate continue on bringing a red flag law to Maine.

“While the Legislature has passed several egregious anti-gun bills, we are proud of the fact that our members and supporters turned out and defeated Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ ‘red flag’ gun confiscation bill,” Angelo Veltri, the northeast regional director for the National Association for Gun Rights, said in a statement Thursday.

Palmer, of the gun safety coalition, said she was disappointed to not see the proposal get to the full Legislature, but she isn’t giving up on it. Advocates say a red flag law would provide an important pathway for families to help loved ones in crisis and would streamline the path for restricting weapons without the stigmatization of mental illness that can occur under the yellow flag law.

“I think Maine has made considerable steps forward in terms of gun safety and I’m hoping that will be the next one,” Palmer said. “Certainly the eyes of the public have been opened to the need for a true extreme risk protection order. I’m hoping we will be able to pass one here in the next year or two.”

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