Another mass shooting. Unfortunately, this time in Maine. Eighteen people killed and countless lives changed forever. Another community that will never again be the same.

While we still do not have all the facts, it appears that the shooter was on law enforcement’s radar. In fact, family members told police that the shooter was a threat. Law enforcement had issued a statewide alert to be on the lookout for the shooter after he made threats against a U.S. Army Reserve base. Also, it appears that the shooter received treatment over the summer through the military in New York State after his commanding officers were alarmed at his behavior.

It is important to emphasize that mental illness is not synonymous with violence and that the vast majority of people living with mental illness will never be violent toward others. However, when a person is making threats of potential violence, we cannot afford to ignore them.

How is it possible, in such circumstances, for a shooter to “legally” purchase a firearm? Does anyone think it was a good idea to allow someone with the shooter’s history and behavior to acquire more firearms? Unlikely, but the unfortunate reality is that policymakers in Maine have had opportunity after opportunity to enact laws that would prevent the shooter from buying firearms and did not.

Maine’s current statutes are weak. That is not a symptom of a broken system, rather that is by design.

In efforts to reduce access to firearms, 21 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted Extreme Risk Protection Order laws, often referred to as “red flag laws.” These measures empower law enforcement, family members and others to work with courts to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others.


Research and data have demonstrated the effectiveness of ERPOs in preventing suicides, addressing mass shooting threats, and protecting individuals from harm. ERPOs provide a standardized process that involves the courts, ensuring a thorough assessment of the situation and due process for all parties involved. This comprehensive approach stands in stark contrast to the limitations of Maine’s “yellow flag” law, which, while enacted three years ago as an alternative to ERPO, creates unnecessary barriers and limits effectiveness.

Maine’s “yellow flag” law requires a long process including a mental health evaluation to remove firearms from a potentially dangerous individual, which means that a potential shooter has to actually be in custody before disqualifying information can be entered into the background check system or a firearm can be removed. Additionally, the “yellow flag” law provides no avenue for family members who may want to directly petition the court based on a loved one’s dangerous behaviors. In this case, we know the family tried.

Here is the truly disturbing part. Even with the clear shortcomings in Maine’s “yellow flag” law it is actually an improvement over what most of the country has in place. Many states have no processes in place to recover guns from people who are dangers to themselves or others. This puts people at risk by creating hurdles to intervening quickly and effectively to save lives. States need a proactive process to respond to these immediate threats to our communities. ERPOs allow for a quick response to remove firearms from people who have proven to be a threat to themselves and others.

Maine also desperately needs an improvement to its background check system. Maine does not require a background check for a sale from a private individual. For example, no check is required for sellers and buyers who identify each other at a gun show or through an internet marketplace.

Research from our center shows that firearm purchaser licensing that includes comprehensive background checks, a fingerprint and waiting period save lives. And the reasons are obvious. We can build a system that identifies those who are too risky to have a firearm but if sellers don’t have to consult the system and buyers are not properly vetted, that system is limited. Eight states and Washington, D.C. have firearm purchaser licensing laws. Maine needs one, too.

This is not a partisan issue. ERPOs and firearm purchaser licensing are popular. Public polling from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions found 76% of Americans support ERPO laws including 72% of gun owners and 68% of Republicans. Similarly, 72% of Americans support licensing laws, including 76% of gun owners and 61% of Republicans.

Maine is not alone. Leaders in every state must work to implement evidence-based laws to protect their communities from gun violence. The tragedy in Lewiston serves as a stark reminder that the time for action is now.

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