AUGUSTA — A proposed alternative to a controversial “red flag” gun confiscation law received support from law enforcement, gun safety groups and sportsmen Wednesday.

The question now facing lawmakers is whether to pass one, both or neither of the bills that supporters predict would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people – by very different means.

So-called red flag bills have been adopted in more than 15 states and allow police to obtain court orders to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. But gun owners’ rights groups in Maine have raised concerns about the proposal’s constitutionality and potential violations of due process rights.

Gov. Janet Mills’ staff worked with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, police and various groups to craft a proposal that would use existing “protective custody” laws for police to seek a medical determination of whether a person is a threat.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the alternative bill is “not about gun control,” but about offering police, doctors, the courts and families another tool to try to help help someone in crisis.

“Protective custody could be the first step in a moment of awakening for the individual in crisis and their extended family,” Trahan told members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “What happens next could be the difference between hope and crushing despair.”


Derek P. Langhauser, chief legal counsel to the governor, testifies before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about L.D. 1811, a proposed alternative to the “red flag” gun confiscation law. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The bill, L.D. 1811, would allow police to take individuals into protective custody based on concerns about their mental health and potential to harm themselves or others. If a medical professional agrees an individual poses a threat, police would then order that person to temporarily surrender his or her guns. A judge would then hold a hearing within 14 days to decide whether to return the guns or continue withholding them for one year, although the individual could petition the court once during that period for their return.

The original red flag bill still pending with lawmakers works differently. It would create a new “extreme risk protection order” that allows police to seek a court order to temporarily seize guns without taking the person into protective custody. Police could issue such an order based on sworn affidavits from family or household members alleging the person poses a threat.

As with the alternative presented Wednesday, the red flag bill would require a judge to review the case within 14 days to decide whether to eliminate or extend the confiscation order for up to a year.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association supports both bills. Testifying Wednesday for the association, South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said the alternative takes “a different approach” by using the protective custody law that officers already use to involuntarily commit individuals deemed to pose a threat.

“This bill provides a less restrictive alternative to involuntary hospitalization for a person who may not warrant hospitalization but who, nevertheless, as evaluated by a medical practitioner … poses a significant enough threat that they should not have access to firearms for a period of time,” Googins said.

Maine consistently records among the lowest homicide rates in the nation, with just 18 reported by the Maine State Police last year. But the state’s suicide rate is higher than the national average, with suicide by firearm listed as the most common cause of violent death in Maine from 1999 to 2016, according to federal data.


The alternative is intended to be a compromise to help keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals through a process that supporters believe is more protective of gun owners’ constitutional rights. It also likely has better odds of passage than the original red flag bill, L.D. 1312, given the opposition it has met from Republicans and some Democrats representing rural districts.

Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, testified that the alternative offered by the Mills administration and SAM “would be a dramatic step forward for gun safety in Maine.”

But Bickford urged lawmakers to also pass the red flag bill because it would give families more options for removing firearms from a dangerous individual.

“This is not an either-or situation,” Bickford said. “Both bills can become law … and work in tandem with each other to save lives.”

Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee asked probing questions of bill supporters on Wednesday, making it difficult to gauge the likelihood of passage. The red flag bill earned an endorsement from the majority of members of the committee, but it could face more difficult odds on the House and Senate floor.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a work session on the alternative bill on Thursday in hopes of finalizing work on the measure before the Legislature’s expected adjournment later this month.

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