Sweeping gun legislation approved by Maine lawmakers after mass shooting

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature passed sweeping gun safety legislation including background checks on private gun sales, waiting periods for gun purchases and criminalizing gun sales to banned people before suspending it Thursday morning, nearly six months after the deadliest mass shooting in state history.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and the Democratic-led Legislature pushed for a number of gun and mental health proposals after the shooting that killed 18 people and injured another 13, despite the state’s strong hunting tradition and the support for gun owners.

“Maine has taken important steps forward in preventing gun violence and protecting lives in Maine,” said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, who praised lawmakers for listening to their constituents.

The governor’s bill, which passed early Thursday, would strengthen the state’s yellow flag law, strengthen background checks for private gun sales and make it a crime to recklessly sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from having guns . The bill also funds violence prevention initiatives and opens a mental health crisis shelter in Lewiston.

The Maine Senate also narrowly gave final approval Wednesday to a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases and a ban on bump stocks that can turn a weapon into a machine gun.

However, a proposal to establish a ‘red flag’ law was not acted upon. The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, would have allowed family members to petition a judge to take guns away from someone in a mental health crisis. The state’s current “yellow flag” law differs by putting police in charge of the process, which critics say is too complicated.

Lawmakers pushed through the night and into the morning as they neared their adjournment date, which was Wednesday. But it didn’t come without some eleventh-hour drama. Lawmakers had to approve a contentious supplemental budget before casting their final votes and did not wrap up the session until after dawn.

The Oct. 25 shooting by an Army reservist in Lewiston, Maine’s second-largest city, served as a tragic backdrop to the legislative session.

Police were alerted by family members that the shooter was becoming delusional and had access to weapons. Last summer, he was hospitalized for two weeks while training with his unit. And his best friend, a fellow reservist, warned that the man was “going to commit a mass shooting.” The gunman committed suicide after the attack.

Republicans accused Democrats of using the tragedy to play on people’s emotions and pass controversial bills.

“My big concern here is that we are making progress on gun legislation, which has always been on the agenda. Now we are using the tragedy in Lewiston to push this, when there is nothing new here,” said Republican Senator Lisa Keim. “It’s the same old ideas that have been rejected year after year. Using tragedy to advance legislation is wrong.”

But Democrats said voters were pleading with them to do something to prevent future attacks. They said it would be an abdication of responsibility to ignore their pleas.

“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,” the governor said in late January as she laid out her proposals in her State of the State address. Those present responded with a standing ovation.