It didn’t even come to a vote.

The proposal for a red flag law – valuable, practical legislation that would allow family members to petition a court to restrict a person’s access to guns without going through a mental health evaluation – was neglected by Maine lawmakers in the session that ended last week.

Despite the utter heartbreak and outrage caused by the Lewiston mass shooting, despite the extraordinary intensity of the electorate’s interest in basic, sensible reforms that will make Maine more safe, our representatives simply stood by and let the clock run down. The failure to vote on L.D. 2283 should be a source of shame for all involved.

It takes a particular brand of gutlessness to allow the legislative session to unfold as it did in this instance.

Over the course of the session, what kind of bills did make it to a vote? Plenty of time was spent on the question of tax credits for the Sea Dogs’ stadium in Portland; a new process for the licensing of contractors; the creation of a five-member commission to study, yes, the design of the Maine state flag; on an altogether “duh” ban on unauthorized paramilitary activity; a weedy national popular vote proposal; an inside-baseball proposal limiting concept bills; and many more far less important, less emotive, less urgent measures.

Editorializing on the subject of gun control two months ago, this board reflected on what appeared to be “promising” developments in Augusta while cautioning against any complacency. We took the opportunity to print in alphabetical order the names of the 20 state senators who chose to vote against background checks on private sales in 2023 – every Senate Republican and nine of their Democratic colleagues.


That record matters. We know why the 2023 background check proposal fell through when it did; we know who wanted it to fall through. The fate of the red flag bill in the second regular session of the 131st Legislature will, incredibly, never be known. That works out quite well for some legislators and lobbyists; it works directly against the security of the state of Maine and the people who live here.

Twenty-one states have some version of a red flag law in place. By opting not to join them, Maine is consigning itself to a woefully inadequate policy. We would do well to remember that the “yellow flag” law in place here is not another designation for a common standard – Maine is the only U.S. state with this weaker, conditional version of the law that’s effective enough or good enough for almost half of states to have in place.

Passed in 2019 as a compromise (one negotiated with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which staunchly opposes red flag legislation – and most other gun safety measures), the yellow flag law sweats the concept of due process, making members of law enforcement and medical professionals responsible for a two-step process of protective custody and a mental health evaluation before any separation from weapons is broached. That’s an arrangement that’s challenging in a crisis.

“The people who are most vested in someone not hurting themselves are the people closest to them,” Jack McDevitt, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, told back in October. “They’re most likely to know someone is going through a difficult time. They’re also the people who care about the person the most.”

Reflecting on the specifics of the Lewiston shooting, Kevin Joyce of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office went further. The yellow flag law, Joyce said, “was useless for us.”

Had an effective red flag regime existed in Maine, the killer’s family – who both knew enough and spoke up – would have had a better, more direct route to weapon removal available to them. That should haunt anybody who continues to oppose this reform.

In general, Lewiston should not be used as a political cudgel; attempts to do that by both sides of the gun control debate are cheap and risk belittling both the tragedy and the gravity of the bigger picture. The devastation and the motivation brought about by the shooting, however, should.

“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,” was the appeal made by Gov. Janet Mills in her State of the State address in January. If only that was the case here.

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