AUGUSTA — Lawmakers struggled Friday to find a compromise on a proposal to allow police to temporarily confiscate the guns of individuals deemed to pose an “immediate and present danger.”

After discussing the issue for several hours, members of the Judiciary Committee appeared to be heading down two paths on the only major gun-related bill still alive this legislative session. While some Democratic committee members were keenly interested in expanding judges’ ability to order individuals to temporarily relinquish their guns if they posed a threat to themselves and others, other lawmakers appeared to be leaning toward establishing a blue ribbon commission to examine “community safety” issues.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, would allow family or household members as well as police to seek a “community protection order” against someone who “presents an imminent and present danger of serious bodily injury or death” to themselves or others. Known as a “red flag” provision, the protection order request would have to be approved by a judge who found clear evidence of the threat and would only last for 14 days initially but could be extended to up to 180 days after a District Court hearing.

The bill, L.D. 1884, drew strong support from police and gun control advocates but fierce opposition from some gun owners’ rights groups during a public hearing this month.

Dion, who is a former Cumberland County sheriff and Portland police officer, said he took to heart the serious concerns raised by gun owners’ rights groups in suggesting modifications to the bill. Those changes included reducing the initial forfeiture period from 21 to 14 days, restricting the categories of individuals that could seek a temporary protection order, and spelling out the evidence judges should consider when reviewing a petition.

“I’m comfortable this is the best that we can give you to begin your deliberations with,” Dion told committee members.

The bill could face a difficult road ahead, however, during what are supposed to be the final days of the legislative session. The bill was seen by some as having perhaps the best chance of passage at a time when gun control is once again a national topic following the fatal shooting of 17 people at a Florida high school in February. But while similar bills have passed in other states – including this week in Vermont, a state with among the nation’s least restrictive firearm laws – Dion struggled to overcome opposition from gun owners who portrayed it as an infringement on Second Amendment rights and ripe for abuse.

Among the initial opponents was the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

SAM’s executive director, David Trahan, told the committee Friday that his board had yet to review Dion’s revisions or a proposed amendment from Attorney General Janet Mills that would allow – but not require – a court to order someone undergoing outpatient psychiatric treatment to temporarily give up his or her guns. But Trahan credited Dion with doing “an amazing amount of work” to address gun owners’ concerns since the public hearing earlier this month.

“I appreciate what you guys are trying to do,” Trahan told the committee. “You are trying to make our communities safer. But I know this is a tough one.”

About a half-dozen states have enacted such “red flag” or “violence prevention restraining order” laws as a way to remove guns from the homes of people feared to pose a danger to themselves or others. Similar proposals have been introduced or revived in at least two dozen states following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Maine already has laws allowing police to confiscate the guns of individuals who have been accused of domestic abuse and prohibiting gun ownership for individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. But supporters contend Dion’s red flag bill would offer even more protections both for individuals threatened by someone behaving erratically – but not yet criminally – or to help deter gun-related suicides.

It was clear Friday that some committee members remained uncomfortable with the idea of forcing someone to relinquish their firearms, however.

Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, who co-chairs the committee, offered an alternative that would create a blue ribbon commission to study “community safety” issues this year. The initial language of Keim’s proposal calls for the commission to explore policies to identify people who pose a “significant risk” to themselves or others and “to determine when and how the state should intervene to diminish the risk posed while preserving to the greatest extent possible the civil liberties of the affected individuals.”

But some Democrats pointed out that Keim’s proposal did not specifically charge the would-be commission with investigating the “community protection orders” envisioned by Dion’s bill. And the four-page proposal contains the word “firearm” only three times, once when specifying that one member would be selected to represent “the interest of firearm owners.”

“I don’t want it to be gun-focused,” Keim said. Instead, Keim said she hopes the commission would examine “wholesale” solutions to help people and the community over the longer term “because taking away a gun is so temporary.”

Some Democratic members hinted that they weren’t interested in the commission as a replacement for Dion’s bill, however.

“I think it makes perfect sense to explore this, but we need action,” said Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Hallowell. “I want us to do something effective now. If we are doing both, I’m fine with that.”

The Judiciary Committee is expected to continue discussing the issues next Tuesday.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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