Lewiston Police Chief Dave St.Pierre, just behind Governor Janet Mills, foreground left, listens to President Biden during his visit to Lewiston on Nov. 3. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The newly created White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention did not have long to wait before it was pressed into action.

The first-ever gun violence prevention office, which President Biden established in September, sent a team to Lewiston to help the community and the state recover from the tragedy that claimed 18 lives and left 13 others injured on Oct. 25.

During a conference call Wednesday afternoon with reporters from around the nation, its new director, Stefanie Feldman, who has been a longtime policy adviser to Biden on gun violence prevention, compared mass shootings like the one in Lewiston to hurricanes that destroy communities and to the response to those storms by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Gun violence is the ultimate superstorm affecting communities across the country,” said Feldman, adding that the federal government now has a government agency comparable to FEMA that it can use to swiftly help communities recover from mass shootings.

In the first test of its effectiveness since being formed about five weeks before the Lewiston mass shooting, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which is overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris, sent a team to Lewiston four days after the shooting took place.

Deputy Director Gregory Jackson flew into Maine on Oct. 29 at the request of Gov. Janet Mills. Jackson used federal resources to help arrange for funeral costs, trauma specialists in the schools and loans for businesses affected by the shooting.


Jackson said that until now, the only unified response coming from the federal government was via law enforcement. That was helpful, but it didn’t address, for example, businesses losing money because they had to close as police investigated or schools that reopened without enough trauma therapists for students. He sees his job as making it easier for states and cities to get help from the federal government as quickly as possible.

Biden Gun Violence Prevention

Greg Jackson Jr., deputy director of the gun violence prevention office at the White House, spent the last week in Lewiston helping the community recover from a mass shooting. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“Most governors and even city leaders see the federal government as a big machine – there’s so many different levers and processes and contacts,” Jackson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So me just being a navigator and being able to help cut through some of the government jargon or get the proper contact within 15 minutes versus two days was huge.”

Mills announced on Monday that the U.S. Small Business Administration approved her request to make emergency financial assistance available to Maine businesses directly impacted by the tragedy in Lewiston.

Last week, the Mills administration formally asked the federal agency to issue an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration for businesses in communities that closed in accordance with shelter-in-place orders in Lewiston, Lisbon and Bowdoin last month as law enforcement searched for Robert Card, the gunman.

The disaster declaration will make available low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to eligible small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small aquaculture businesses and private nonprofit organizations in Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties, as well as the adjacent counties of Cumberland, Franklin, Kennebec and Oxford.

Jackson participated in Wednesday’s virtual conference call. He told reporters that the Biden administration is building out a gun violence response system that will be prepared to respond to any gun violence incident across the nation.


Jackson said during the conference call that 18 deaths in one night overwhelmed the city of Lewiston as it would have done in any other U.S. community. He said the Office of Gun Violence Prevention provided “an historic level of support” for the Lewiston victims, their families and local school departments in the aftermath.

Card, 40, of Bowdoin, opened fire at two businesses in Lewiston before leading police on a manhunt that resulted in Card taking his own life. An Army reservist, Card was known to have been struggling with mental health issues.

The Office of Gun Violence Prevention said it will try to accelerate implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and Biden’s gun violence prevention agenda, which includes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as requiring background checks on all gun sales.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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