AUGUSTA — Earlier this week, I presented a bill to the Judiciary Committee to establish a community protection order, a measure that would allow police officers – and family members – to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from the homes of persons who display clear signs of threatening the lives of themselves or others.

Many hours of testimony followed, much of it heartfelt and urgent. There were responsible gun owners who raised objections to L.D. 1884, which I will consider in a moment. But powerful statements from Maine’s high school students, many of whom feel their safety is threatened in their schools and in their homes, convinced me that this bill takes the right approach and can be a first step toward greater safety, both public and private.

The students spoke, in personal and unmistakable terms, about the damage firearms have done in their lives. They talked about the devastation from the deaths of family members who used firearms to end their lives, and of those who threatened spouses and children, and sometimes acted on those threats.

SAFETY CONCERNS

We like to think of Maine as a safe state, and it is, compared to many others. But our rate of death by firearms is nearly twice as high as Connecticut’s and nearly 2½ times as high as in Massachusetts. And we cannot ignore the possibility that we could be the next state where a school shooting tragedy takes place.

Often in these incidents, there were clear signs something was terribly wrong but, legally, there was nothing that could be done. In three decades as a law enforcement officer, I saw individuals on a trajectory for self-destruction, and the only question was whether someone else would be swallowed into that coming storm and pay a price that no one should.

For some at-risk individuals, the psychological isolation of their lives sets up a cascade of emotional and irrational decisions that can often lead to the finality of suicide. Should we not have the option to separate them from firearms and remove the possibility of an impulsive, irrevocable and fatal act? I say we should.

Now, some would say the “blue paper” process for short-term, involuntary psychiatric commitment provides just such a resource. The truth is, it does not. There is a wide gulf between the perspectives of psychiatry and public safety, and their respective understanding of what constitutes an imminent threat.

Disordered, erratic and impulsively threatening behaviors do not necessarily satisfy the threshold for psychiatric commitment but nonetheless raise significant safety concerns.

A community protection order, by contrast, only removes firearms in a dangerous situation, and doesn’t compromise protected individual rights. Some critics of the bill claim that it violates due process, but the bill requires a judge to weigh the constitutional interests of the gun owner and the claim of a family member or the police that seizure of a firearm is necessary to prevent anticipated violence. I trust the integrity of the court in striking a proper balance between Second Amendment rights and the interests of the public in securing a safe community.

‘RED FLAG’

Police officers and family members can often identify an emergency situation well before a crime has been committed. Under this bill, they would have to convince a judge by clear and convincing evidence that firearms should temporarily be removed, for a period no longer than 21 days. Waiting for a crime to be committed often means that all we will have left will be our thoughts and prayers.

No law can provide absolute protection, but that should not deter us from taking reasonable steps to address potential threats to our collective safety; this bill will do that. Other states with similar “red flag” laws have seen measurable reductions in gun violence, both in the home and in public places. We can save lives, and we should.

We have reached a moment in our history, as a state and as a nation, when inaction in the face of preventable deaths by firearms should no longer be an option. This is not the time for a blue ribbon commission or a legislative study. It is time to act.

There is no convenient season to do the right thing. We can decide to protect our families, friends and neighbors without infringing on the legitimate rights of responsible gun owners. Unless we choose it to be so, it’s not an impossible goal.