The well-being of our children ought to be our top priority. As a parent and a lawmaker, I know these policies are highly personal, but they’re also critically important. It’s heartbreaking to read about the high rate of suicide in our state – especially youth suicide – when I know we can do more to prevent this tragedy. A common-sense “red flag” bill that balances the safety of our communities and the rights of responsible gun owners will save lives.

The effects of suicide ripple through our communities. Families and friends are left to mourn their loved ones and try to make sense of such a shocking tragedy. Mothers lose sons; students lose a beloved teacher or coach; teens lose their best friends; young children grow up without knowing their parent.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine’s suicide rate is far above the national average – and it’s climbing. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Mainers ages 15-34. Further, firearms are used in more than half of all suicides in the state.

These numbers and the stories I’ve heard from families are horrifying. They’ve left me asking: What can we do in the Legislature to help Mainers in need? When a family member sees someone they love on the brink of hurting themselves, where can they turn? When police are called to intervene for a person in crisis, what tools are available to help them keep the people they serve safe?

I have heard from law enforcement officers from all over Maine who say the legal tools that currently exist in our state just aren’t enough – they need and want more pathways to help people who are clearly exhibiting escalating, life-threatening behavior.

That’s why I put forward a bill, L.D. 1312, that allows family members and law enforcement to intervene in times of crisis and take action that reduces the risk of suicide and gun violence. This will would authorize them to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms until the person in crisis no longer poses an immediate risk to themselves or others. In working on this bill, it was important to me to meet with stakeholders from both sides of this issue, to create a bill that is effective and makes sense for Maine.

This bill would give family members and law enforcement officers a pathway to help a person who is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others, but also protects that person’s right to due process. It ultimately puts the decision in the hands of an impartial judge and requires the concerned parties to present a clear and compelling case. If the judge rules in agreement with the family or law enforcement officer, the person’s firearms would be removed on a temporary basis – long enough for them to get help, and pull themselves out of danger.

Maine has a long tradition of responsible gun ownership. The gun owners I am friends with and work alongside adhere to smart safety practices, as do the vast majority of Maine gun owners. This bill is not about them. This bill is about allowing the people who care about a person in crisis to keep that person safe.

This bill is about saving lives, not restricting rights.

We know policies like this work. When Indiana passed its red flag law, the state saw a 7.5 percent reduction in their suicide rate. Similar legislation has been passed in 15 states and signed into law by Democratic and Republican governors alike, including Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. Just last week, a similar bill was signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Red flag laws have bipartisan support because they’re a smart, commonsense policy that saves lives.

As Mainers, we may not agree on everything, but I’m sure we all want to keep children safe. That’s why I’ve sought input from across the aisle and reached out to gun-rights advocacy groups. I truly believe we can reach common ground and pass legislation that reduces suicide rates in Maine and protects our communities.

 

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