AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills used her State of the State address Tuesday evening to propose a package of gun safety measures in the wake of last year’s mass shootings in Lewiston, including expanded background checks, a strengthening of Maine’s yellow flag law and a new felony for people who sell firearms to those who are prohibited from having them.

The proposal comes in the wake of the mass shootings that killed 18 people in late October – the worst in the U.S. last year – and also includes new investments in mental health, the creation of a program to track data on violence and a fund to pay for medical expenses of people injured in the shootings.

Mills said her proposal was informed by conversations with lawmakers from both parties and advocacy organizations.

Gov. Janet Mills arrives to deliver her State of the State address in Augusta on Tuesday evening. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Out of these discussions, tonight I am announcing that I will be filing legislation to address these three areas of concern – legislation that would implement meaningful public safety protections, that would honor the rights afforded by our state and federal constitutions to safe and legal gun ownership, and that would uphold our state’s longstanding outdoor heritage,” she said.

The Lewiston shootings has prompted widespread calls for more gun safety legislation. Hundreds of people filled the State House on the opening day of the session, demanding action, while national gun control groups, such as Everytown for Gun Safety, announced that Maine is one of three states it is hoping will pass laws this year.


Gun safety advocates and Democratic leaders lauded Mills’ proposal Tuesday night – though some questioned if it could go further – while a top Republican said he wanted to see more details and gun owners said there are some aspects they do not support.


Following the Oct. 25 shootings, members of law enforcement have said that they were unable to take gunman Robert Card into protective custody in order to initiate Maine’s yellow flag law and remove his weapons.

The law, which passed in 2020, allows police to seek court orders to remove firearms from people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The governor’s proposal would make it easier for law enforcement to take someone into protective custody when they pose a likelihood of harm to themselves or others, allowing officers to seek the approval of a judge in “unusual circumstances” to do so. If deemed dangerous by a medical practitioner and judge, law enforcement could then remove a person’s weapons, pending a full hearing before a court.

“This will remove a barrier by providing law enforcement with another tool to ensure that someone is taken into protective custody and their weapons are removed,” Mills said.


The governor is also looking to require background checks in private gun sales that are advertised, such as on Facebook, Craigslist or at a gun show. Those sales would need to be checked against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the same system that licensed firearms dealers use to see if a person is prohibited from purchasing weapons. That has long been a loophole in state law.

And her proposal would update the Maine statute around private gun sales or transfers that are not advertised.

Currently under Maine law, it is a misdemeanor if someone intentionally or knowingly sells a firearm to someone who is prohibited from having one. Mills’ proposal would add the term “recklessly,” making it illegal to recklessly, intentionally or knowingly sell a firearm to someone who is a prohibited person. It also would make that kind of sale a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“What does all of this mean in practicality?” Mills said. “It means if you’re transferring a firearm to a relative or a friend who you know is allowed to own one, you have nothing to worry about. Nothing changes. This longstanding tradition in Maine remains the same.

“But it also means if you are selling to a stranger, you should visit a licensed firearm dealer to check the NICS system, and make sure they are not a prohibited person.”

In addition to climate change and a spate of recent storms that caused damage and flooding throughout the state, the Lewiston shootings was the central focus of Mills’ hour-long speech delivered in the House chamber of the State House.


She read the names of all 18 people who died in the shootings aloud and received a standing ovation when she referenced the heroic actions of three of the victims – Jason Walker, Michael Deslauriers, and Joe Walker – who tried to stop Card.

“For the sake of the communities, individuals and families now suffering immeasurable pain, for the sake of our state, doing nothing is not an option,” Mills said.

Her proposal doesn’t go so far as to address everything sought by gun control advocates and some members of Mills’ own party. The Maine Gun Safety Coalition has been advocating for universal background checks, a 72-hour waiting period on firearms sales, a ban on assault weapons and a red flag law, which allows family members to petition a judge to take away guns.

Gov. Janet Mills said she “will be filing legislation to address these three areas of concern – legislation that would implement meaningful public safety protections, that would honor the rights afforded by our state and federal constitutions to safe and legal gun ownership, and that would uphold our state’s longstanding outdoor heritage.”Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But the Democratic governor said her proposals “represent progress, and they do not trample on anybody’s rights. They are practical, common-sense measures. They are not extreme or unusual. They are not a cookie-cutter version of another’s state’s laws; they are Maine-made and true to our culture and our longstanding traditions while meeting today’s needs.”


Mills’ proposal, which is being finalized and is expected to be released in full in the coming days, also would establish an injury and violence prevention program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as a central hub for violence and injury data.


The proposal also would establish a statewide network of “crisis receiving centers” to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis rather than having them go to the emergency room or jail.

The Mills administration, with the support of the Legislature, already opened one such center in Portland in 2022 and has announced plans for a second, hybrid crisis receiving center in Kennebec County that also will offer substance use treatment.

Mills said she will seek to establish a new crisis receiving center in Lewiston, with funding to be proposed in her upcoming supplemental budget proposal. Her proposal also asks the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to expand existing crisis receiving centers into a broader network around the state.

And the governor pitched $5 million to create a fund to cover medical costs for those injured in the October shootings.

Mills also spoke about Maine’s recovery from recent storms that caused flooding and destruction across the state. She is proposing a $50 million investment in the Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund for recovery and rebuilding, as well as $5 million for the Community Resilience Partnership, which helps communities plan for the impacts of climate change.

Earlier Tuesday, she delivered a written address outlining her budget priorities to lawmakers, including housing, child safety and welfare and addressing the opioid epidemic. She saved details of the gun control legislation for the evening speech to lawmakers.



The governor’s proposal was met with mixed reaction Tuesday night from legislative leaders and advocates. A Republican response issued after the speech did not mention the governor’s gun legislation proposal, but rather focused on issues such as inflation, immigration and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ decision that former President Donald Trump is ineligible for the Maine primary ballot.

“I wanted the governor to show leadership by publicly calling on the Secretary of State to let people decide whom they want to vote for,” said House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor. “I wanted the governor to lower the tax and regulatory burden on Maine people. I wanted the governor to commit to lowering electric rates.”

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said he wants to see the written legislation behind Mills’ proposal before weighing in. “The devil will be in the details on that stuff,” Stewart said. “We’ll dig in and do our job.  … Tonight was a speech, but a bill is a bill and I want to see what we’re actually talking about.”

As he left the House chamber, Faulkingham said he disagrees with Mills’ assessment that despite challenges, the state of the state is “strong.” “It’s pretty grim,” he said.

He also pointed to a 2016 referendum in which Maine voters rejected universal background checks, and said he doesn’t think that expanding background checks would be something voters would approve of.


David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsmans Alliance of Maine, said in an interview Tuesday night that, “I appreciated her tone and measured approach to an issue that has greatly affected all of us in Maine.”

He particularly liked the governor’s idea of establishing a statewide network of crisis receiving centers. “It’s a great idea,” he said.

But Trahan was less enthusiastic about her proposal to close gaps in the state’s yellow flag law and place more restrictions on private gun sales, whether they be advertised or a safe gun transfer.

Attendees applaud Gov. Janet Mills as she delivers her State of the State address in Augusta on Tuesday evening. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“We don’t support red flag laws or universal background checks,” Trahan said.

However, he said SAM would reserve final judgment until it can see the language of the bills that Mills will propose.

“I think all of us want to keep guns away from dangerous people,” he added.


Gun Owners of Maine said it has no issues with Mills’ proposal to establish an injury and violence prevention program at the Maine CDC or to establish a statewide network of crisis receiving centers, but the organization said Maine’s yellow flag law has no gaps.

“It needs to be enforced in order to work, when it is utilized it is effective. Anything more stringent is an abuse of power and devoid of due process,” President Laura Whitcomb said in a statement on behalf of the Gun Owners of Maine’s board of directors.

Whitcomb said Gun Owners of Maine does not support Mills’ proposal to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people through stricter regulation of private gun sales – whether the sale is advertised or transferred privately. Gun Owners of Maine said the governor’s proposal amounts to a universal background check.

“As presented, the suggestions are unenforceable, do nothing to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, and infringe on the rights of the law-abiding. Criminals do not submit to background checks. It is a stepping-stone to a gun registry and we will oppose it vehemently,” Gun Owners said in a statement.


Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said that he thought the governor was “very sincere and you could tell she had thought about this a lot and tried to come up with something that would reflect what Maine is.”


“As far as the policies, we’re going to have to look at them, but it sounds a lot like what we’ve been saying, which is that there has to be a way to come together to make it so people like Robert Card don’t commit an act like we saw in Lewiston,” Jackson said.

Referring to the 2016 referendum, Jackson said, “I think what we saw in 2016 was a lot of concerns about (transfers between) family members and things like that and that led to people voting it down.”

“I’ve been on that side of it traditionally, even though I don’t really understand why someone who is a law-abiding gun owner can’t go through a background check. … I want to see what the details are, and in the end, hopefully working with our colleagues across the aisle, we can come up with something that works in that regard.”

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said in a statement that Mills’ address “reflected her deep commitment and love of this state and its people, alongside a thoughtful response to the immediate challenges of gun violence prevention and recovery from extreme weather events.”

“While these subject areas could seem disparate, both demand a statewide response that minimizes harm, protects communities and enhances resilience,” Talbot Ross said.

The leaders of the Legislature’s Gun Safety Caucus, Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, and Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, applauded Mills for her proposal.


“Strengthening the existing yellow flag law and closing loopholes in our background check law will go a long way toward keeping our families and communities safer,” they said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, we look forward to digging into these proposals and partnering with the administration to find ways to address additional gaps in our laws.”

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition’s executive director, Nacole Palmer, said in a statement Tuesday night that the group is grateful to the governor for pursuing meaningful gun safety reform.

“The governor has proposed an important expansion of background checks that will help to keep guns away from dangerous people, and we look forward to working with the governor to create an Extreme Risk Protection Order process,” Palmer said.

“We are ready to work with the governor and members of the Legislature to pass comprehensive, meaningful gun safety reforms that are based on Maine ideas and will make us all safer. The governor has presented us with a place to begin, and we are ready to get started,” she added.

Mom’s Demand Action’s Maine chapter also issued a statement Tuesday saying the Lewiston shootings underscored the need to strengthen Maine’s gun laws.

“The proposals in Governor Mills’ state of the state are important first steps, but there is still a lot more work to do,” said Isa Morton, the deputy leader of the Maine chapter. “We hope the Legislature sees this as a starting point and can present Gov. Mills with legislation that will ensure the gun violence Mainers experience comes to an end.”

Staff Writers Randy Billings and Dennis Hoey contributed to this report. 

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