Earlier this month, I introduced LD 22, “An Act to Impede the Transfer of Firearms to Prohibited Persons,” to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. The legislation is a recommendation from the Deadly Force Review Panel, which provides an annual report to the Judiciary Committee.

Anne Carney

The panel is an independent review process for deaths and use of deadly force involving law enforcement officers. Among several actions, the panel must make recommendations for improving standards, including changes to statutes, rules, training, policies and procedures designed to ensure best practices that increase public safety and law enforcement officer safety.

The use of deadly force by law enforcement officers is a complex subject. I’ve listened to each of the Deadly Force Review Panel’s annual presentations to the Judiciary Committee, read the annual reports and considered each of the case-specific reports. Every situation is tragic for the family who called law enforcement for help with a loved one in crisis. Every situation is tragic for the law enforcement officer deeply impacted by the necessity of using deadly force that could result in the death of another person and also by the possibility of a homicide charge. Every situation is tragic for the victims in harm’s way during the crisis, underscoring Maine’s unmet need for services for individuals requiring mental health treatment and behavioral mental health services.

In its January 2023 report, the panel noted that, in the 20 cases of law enforcement use of deadly force it had reviewed, “More than half [of the individuals] have been involved in domestic violence incidents, and more than a third have threatened suicide.”

The panel acknowledged that mental health concerns are a common factor in these cases. The panel asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent access to firearms by people already prohibited from having them: “In many of the cases the Panel reviewed, the individual against whom deadly force was used discharged a firearm at another person or responding law enforcement officers. The Panel observed that several of these individuals were in mental health crisis and/or suffering from significant substance misuse. Some of these individuals had a prior violent criminal history and some were convicted felons, prohibited by both federal and state law from possessing firearms.”

The panel proposed statutory language to deter friends, acquaintances, family members, or other people from selling or giving a firearm to another person when they know the other person is prohibited from having a firearm for any of the reasons already set by Maine law. Those reasons include being convicted of committing a felony or found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity of committing a felony; being the subject of a domestic violence restraining order in certain situations; being the subject of specific types of orders related to mental health and substance use disorder; and being a fugitive from justice.

In essence, the bill would prevent a person from intentionally selling or giving a firearm to someone who they know is not legally allowed to have one. Adding this barrier will help protect the public, people who are experiencing a crisis, and law enforcement officers who are called to respond to a crisis. During the public hearing, the Maine Sheriff’s Association commented, “Many bills do not offer the potential for all parties to agree, [but] LD 22 has all sheriffs in agreement that this bill makes good sense.”

I’m grateful that the members of the panel put so much time, effort and care into every report. They are truly dedicated to our state to have accepted this volunteer role – and to take it very seriously. The Deadly Force Review Panel requested this legislation as one step we can take to reduce the use of deadly force. This bill is now under consideration by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Anne Carney represents Maine Senate District 29, which consists of Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough. She can be reached at 207-287-1515 or Anne.Carney@legislature.maine.gov.

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