It’s been extremely painful and infuriating to learn that, in the months leading up to his killing 18 Mainers in Lewiston and then killing himself, so many people saw that Robert Card’s life was heading toward violent tragedy.

It’s been a horrible lesson for Maine, laying bare the inadequacy of our laws and the inability of our systems to handle cases in which someone clearly poses a threat to themselves and others.

More than anything, it shows the unacceptable cost of getting things wrong in a society awash with firearms.

The most striking aspect of the months leading up to the shooting in Lewiston has to do with Card’s deteriorating mental health. Card’s ex-wife and teenage son, his brother, his friends and commanding officers in his Army Reserve unit – they all recognized that Card was increasingly erratic, paranoid and prone to violence. They said they knew that he was hearing voices.

As we try our best to keep such a tragedy from happening again, it would be a mistake to focus too much on Card’s state of mind. Only a small portion of mass shooters have been diagnosed with a mental illness of any kind, and even fewer suffered a known psychotic disorder. Only a vanishingly small percentage of people with mental illness ever commit violence of any kind; such disorders are a poor indicator for predicting violent acts.

Instead, Maine’s review must focus on why no one in authority saw it as their responsibility to make sure Card wasn’t a threat, even as those close to him took steps to raise the alarm. By all appearances, both our laws and the systems in place to uphold and enforce them are at fault.


While it’s likely that Maine’s yellow flag law could have been used to keep guns away from Card, it’s also true that police have struggled to put this law into practice due to its cumbersome rules. No doubt, a red flag law, such as one rejected in Maine in favor of the lesser, weaker yellow flag law, would have been easier to apply.

Red flag laws also cover a wider range of dangerous situations, including those situations that don’t involve severe mental illness. Not only would they be helpful in stopping the next mass shooting, they are also far more likely to help a person contemplating suicide.

Whether or not other gun laws could have prevented the Lewiston shootings we cannot know for sure. But universal background checks, waiting periods, and bans on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons would, taken together, make it less likely that a dangerous person could obtain a firearm.

Even if good laws are in place, however, someone, or some entity, has to comprehensively and effectively implement them.

In Card’s case, his friends and family did a remarkably difficult thing: They came forward with their concerns, even though it may have meant getting someone they cared about in trouble.

That should have been enough to get Card the help he so desperately needed, and to ultimately keep the people in his life safe. Instead, no one in authority took on the responsibility of seeing it through. Maine’s yellow flag law wasn’t used, nor was New York’s red flag law once Card was committed to a psychiatric hospital there.


Ultimately, despite troubling sign after troubling sign that Card was planning to commit violence, the duty to monitor his behavior and make sure he didn’t have a gun was left to members of his family. In a country where there are more guns than people, and where the number of firearms in circulation spikes higher with every mass shooting, that is entirely unacceptable.

Maine law enforcement is undermanned at every level, a troubling set of circumstances that we are told is unlikely to change anytime soon. We understand the limitations that come when every office and every officer is stretched thin.

This bare-bones reality makes it even more important that departments have a protocol in place that details exactly how threats of gun violence are handled and sets out in black and white the manner in which that information is shared with the rest of the law enforcement community.

We need better gun laws. Until we pass them, we need a far higher standard of policing gun violence.

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