Three law enforcement officers watch over the fields of the Card family farm on Meadow Road in Bowdoin on Oct. 26. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

Some Maine lawmakers, including Senate President Troy Jackson, say they are reconsidering their opposition to gun safety bills in the aftermath of mass shootings that took 18 lives in Lewiston last week.

Jackson said Friday that he plans to keep an open mind about gun safety legislation when lawmakers reconvene in January and take up what’s expected to be a range of proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and a red flag law that makes it easier to take away guns from someone who poses a threat. He’s even reconsidering his votes earlier this year against background checks for private gun sales and a ban on rapid-fire devices that can make a semi-automatic weapon fire more like an automatic.

“There’s no doubt I’ve rethought those,” Jackson said. “Those were never easy votes to begin with, even before this. I never took them lightly. … I would imagine people will bring forward those bills again.”

As the shock of last month’s mass shootings in Lewiston gives way to grief and anger, state lawmakers are preparing for what could be a historic debate about what new laws could help prevent a similar tragedy in the future. Already, some Democrats are demanding more gun control and Republicans are focusing more on the lack of mental health resources in the state.

Any gun control bills will have to overcome a deep culture of gun ownership and a powerful gun-rights lobby that has blurred partisan lines on the issue. Rural Democrats in the state Senate blocked two bills that were passed earlier this year by the House of Representatives: a ban on rapid-fire devices, such as bump stocks, and universal background checks for private gun sales.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which advocates for gun safety legislation, is talking with lawmakers about potential bills in the upcoming session and held a rally at the State House on Saturday to demand reforms.


Lynn Ellis, legislative director for the coalition, said she wasn’t yet aware of any specific proposals that will be brought forward, but that the coalition continues to support universal background checks and a 72-hour waiting period on firearms sales. She said the group also supports two bills that are certain to generate debate because of the details of the Lewiston shootings: a red flag law and an assault weapons ban.

“If we’re going to ask for emergency legislation, these would be the bills because they’re directly related to saving lives and follow a gun violence prevention model,” Ellis said.

Mark Brewer, the chair of political science at the University of Maine Orono, said gun safety bills will likely continue to be a tough sell in Maine, a largely rural state with strong hunting and firearm ownership traditions. Maine is also a constitutional carry state, which means it does not require a license to carry a concealed firearm.

“Gun control advocates certainly face a difficult landscape in Maine,” Brewer said. “Opposition to gun control often crosses party lines in Maine, so it’s not just Republicans who stand in the way. It is certainly possible that the mass shooting in Lewiston will change the political landscape surrounding gun control, but by no means is this a guarantee.”

Some Democrats, who control the Blaine House and both legislative chambers, hope that the recent shootings will open minds to what they believe are common sense solutions, like universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.

Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, who sponsored a bill to ban rapid-fire devices, said she’s hopeful that meaningful gun legislation can be passed in the upcoming session.


“We can talk about common sense gun legislation and talk about our heritage at the same time,” Sachs said. “Those two things don’t have to be in conflict, and we can pass this legislation with the right focus. That’s my hope.”

The ability for rank-and-file lawmakers to propose reforms is limited, however, because the deadline for bills for the upcoming session has already passed. Leaders from the two parties will need to cull the roughly 300 bills already submitted before taking up any after-deadline proposals. It would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to revive any bill rejected last session, although the content of failed bills could be repackaged into new versions.

That leaves the fate of legislative proposals largely in the hands of Gov. Janet Mills and legislative leaders like Jackson, the Democratic Senate president from Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland. The governor can submit legislation at any time.

Talbot Ross provided a statement Friday saying work has already begun on reform proposals.

“We are all asking ourselves the same question: What can we do, how can we make it better?” she said. “I feel the deep responsibility to pursue every available policy recommendation to prevent this type of devastation from happening again … We cannot wait to begin this critical work. We have an obligation to honor the lives that were lost and do everything we can to end this cycle of violence.”

Talbot Ross said she intends to revisit existing laws such as the yellow flag law, as well as push for reforms such as expanded background checks. She said the Legislature needs to hear from experts in law enforcement and behavioral health “to have a serious conversation about addressing the disturbing violence that occurs with unregulated dangerous weapons and inadequate funding of mental health services.”


Any additional gun safety legislation will need the approval of Mills, who has worked closely in the past with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a powerful lobbying group for gun owners.

Spokespeople for Mills did not make her available for an interview last week to discuss her past opposition to gun safety measures, such as banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring universal background checks. Ben Goodman referred to Mills’ comments earlier in the week, saying that any bill would require the input of “diverse voices” and that “nothing is off the table.”

“As we begin to travel down the long and difficult road to recovery, make no mistake, I believe the people of Maine deserve a serious and robust conversation about gun violence and public safety at the State and Federal levels in the coming weeks,” Mills said. “I believe action is needed – what that action will be must be the product of a broad discussion among a diverse group of voices. The people of Maine deserve this.”

Mills worked with the Sportsmen’s Alliance to amend a proposed red flag law in 2019, which as first proposed would have allowed family members or police to directly ask a court to restrict firearm access for someone who is a threat to themselves or others. Such laws exist in 21 other states. Instead, Maine passed a yellow flag law, which only allows police to petition a court after they have someone in protective custody and the person has been evaluated by a medical professional.

Some lawmakers are focusing on changing that law in light of the Oct. 25 shooting. The shooter, Robert Card, a 40-year-old U.S. Army reservist, had been experiencing a mental health crisis for months and made threats to shoot up a Saco training facility. He had been committed to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks last summer while on a training mission in New York.

Both his family and his fellow reservists were worried that Card, described by colleagues as a skilled marksman, would follow through on this threat. And while his reserve commanders restricted Card’s access to service weapons, they never sought to restrict his access to private firearms under either New York’s red flag law or Maine’s yellow flag law.


Card used a semi-automatic military-style assault rifle to kill 18 people and wound 13 others at a Lewiston bowling alley and a bar, making it the deadliest shooting in state history and the worst in the country this year.

“I would certainly like to see a red flag bill,” said Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland. And, he said, “I think we need to look at the availability of assault weapons to the general public. I think there’s far too many of those guns out there that are far too available.”

The incident has led to some soul-searching among Democrats in the Legislature. Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, said he’s reconsidering his previous opposition to gun safety bills such as universal background checks. He also told the Bangor Daily News that he would support an assault weapons ban.

State senators blocked two gun bills last session with the help of Democratic leaders, including Jackson and Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic.

Both leaders, plus five other Democrats, Joe Baldacci of Bangor, Chip Curry of Belfast, David LaFountain of Winslow, Timothy Nangle of Windham, and Mike Tipping of Orono, voted against bills to establish a 72-hour waiting period on firearm purchases, a ban on rapid-fire devices and near-universal background checks on private sales. The waiting period bill was also opposed by the House.

Tipping said his votes were a reflection of his district’s priorities, noting it voted against a 2016 referendum to adopt universal background checks. He believes background checks, waiting periods, and banning rapid-fire devices should be sent to state referendum votes.


“I believe that sentiment might be changing across the state,” Tipping said, adding that he would consider a red flag law and limits on high-capacity weapons. “The devil is in the details but I would certainly support those kinds of safety protections.”

Baldacci, meanwhile, said Tuesday in a post to X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, that he would support a registry of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms, adding requirements that people at active domestic violence scenes surrender their firearms, and requiring law enforcement to ensure that prohibited people surrender their firearms and ammunition.

Baldacci, Curry, LaFountain, and Nangle did not respond to interview requests last week.

The leader of the Sportsmen’s Alliance and Republican lawmakers have said such policy discussions are premature. They, along with Mills, are urging advocates and lawmakers to wait until all of the facts of the Lewiston shooting are known before proposing any new laws.

James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine Farmington, said how the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine responds to the Lewiston shootings will be influential to lawmakers.

“They are a really key organization,” Melcher said. “Whatever proposals come about, if the Sportsman’s Alliance is in their corner, that will be something to watch closely.”


David Trahan, executive director of the alliance, has been mostly quiet since last week’s shooting, ignoring repeated interview requests from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Trahan spoke on a conservative program on radio station WVOM on Tuesday to accuse gun control advocates of politicizing the tragedy by advocating for gun control and a red flag law.

“The same critics today are the same critics that opposed (yellow flag) when it was first presented, so it looks opportunistic to me, to use a crisis and a tragedy like this to go after the law again,” Trahan said. “They’re asking the Legislature to come in in a special session before the facts come out so that they can pass a law like this based on emotion.”

Trahan said Mills has been “awesome to work with” on gun bills and urged gun control advocates pressuring Mills to “cut it out.”

Assistant Republican Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim of Dixfield said lawmakers should be focused on increasing funding and resources for mental health services, including increasing capacity in mental health institutions.

“We have seen a huge dearth of treatment facilities,” Keim said. “We have closed and gone away from that model of treating people. For all of us, we believe we need to make sure that when people need treatment, it’s available to them.”

National experts warn that focusing on mental health alone is not enough. People with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of crime and rarely commit violence against others. They say it’s more important to identify threatening behavior and ensure people who make threats don’t access firearms by enacting red law laws and universal background checks.

Jackson said he’s heartbroken for the Lewiston victims and that he feels compelled to act on their behalf.

“There’s a commitment to do something more,” Jackson said. “I honestly have to understand what we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And there are other considerations, and I want to be thoughtful of that so we don’t miss the opportunity to do something meaningful.”

Staff writers Rachel Ohm and Joe Lawlor contributed to this story.

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