Gov. Janet Mills unveiled legislation Wednesday that she said will enhance public safety by tightening Maine’s gun laws and strengthening the state’s mental health system in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston in October.

But gun safety groups criticized the bill for not going far enough, particularly Mills’ proposed changes to the state’s yellow flag law, which allows police to temporarily remove weapons from people who may be a danger to themselves or others.

“Gov. Mills’ proposal would make it easier to get a yellow (flag) order by allowing courts to consider more kinds of evidence, and by making it easier for law enforcement officers to get mental health assessments for people in crisis,” said Olivia Li, legal counsel with Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group that advocates for gun reforms.

But Li said the bill “would not take many of the necessary steps to keep guns out of the hands of a person at risk of harming themselves or someone else.”

And Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which advocates for gun reform, called the measures that Mills unveiled a “good first step,” but said the proposed changes to the state’s yellow flag law need to be more substantial.

The director of the Maine Sportsman’s Alliance, which lobbies to protect gun rights and helped shape the state’s yellow flag law, did not respond to an interview request Wednesday afternoon.


Twenty-one states have passed red flag laws that allow family members or police to seek a court order to seize weapons from someone at risk. Maine is the only state with a yellow flag law, which requires a person to first be held in protective custody and undergo a mental health assessment before removing their weapons.

Mills spoke about the legislation during her State of the State address, saying her proposals would enhance public safety while respecting the right to bear arms and Maine’s strong traditions of gun ownership and access. The bill provides more details and specific funding requests that will now be reviewed by lawmakers.

In addition to updating the yellow flag law, the legislation also would:

• Establish an Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to gather and analyze data to help policymakers reduce suicides and homicides in Maine.

• Establish a statewide network of crisis receiving centers, starting with a new 24-hour clinic in Lewiston.

• Require background checks for advertised private firearm sales in the same way background checks are required for commercial gun sales by licensed dealers. Transfers of firearms to family members or trusted friends would not be affected.


National gun safety advocates have consistently criticized Maine’s yellow flag law, arguing that it’s too cumbersome to use. Gun rights groups have praised the law for maintaining due process for people who may lose their right to possess weapons.

Maine’s yellow flag law mandates that police place the person in protective custody to undergo a mental health evaluation before seeking a court order to remove guns. Red flag laws are more streamlined and easier to use – there is no mental health evaluation required and family members as well as police can seek the order.

Maine’s yellow flag law has been used 179 times since 2020, and police have invoked the law an average of once a day since the Lewiston mass shooting in which 18 people were killed.

The yellow flag law reform proposed by Mills would give police another avenue to seize weapons by allowing them to get a warrant to place a subject in protective custody if they determine there is a significant threat. A mental health evaluation would still be required.

Police have said they were unable to seize weapons from the Lewiston shooter before the tragedy because they did not have the power to force him into protective custody.

“This change will provide law enforcement with another tool to ensure that someone is taken into protective custody and their weapons are removed,” the Mills administration said in a statement.


Protective custody temporarily removes a person’s rights, and typically results in hospitalization for psychiatric evaluation.

In addition, the names of people who are temporarily prohibited from having weapons under the yellow flag law would be placed in a database so that police would know, when making a stop or responding to a scene, whether the person is prohibited from possessing weapons.


Rep. Sally Cluchey, D-Bowdoinham, said in an email that she appreciates parts of Mills’ legislation, especially expanded background checks and improved mental health services, but has concerns about the proposed changes to the yellow flag law.

“On her proposed tweaks to Maine’s yellow flag law, I am concerned that they will actually make it more difficult for law enforcement and families to remove firearms from people who are a danger to themselves or others, when what we need to be doing is making it easier to protect people,” Cluchey said. “Red flag laws have accomplished this fairly and effectively in many other states, and I am eager to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to improve on this aspect of the bill.”

Neither the Maine House Republican leaders nor David Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, responded to a request for an interview Wednesday afternoon.


Trahan had praised Mills after her State of the State address, when she initially laid out possible changes to the state’s gun laws.

“I think there was an expectation that the governor might have been more extreme in some of her proposals, and I think people were surprised she was trying to thread the needle the way she did,” Trahan said on Feb. 1. The Sportsman’s Alliance has not yet taken a position on Mills’ proposals.

The governor’s bill is sponsored by two Lewiston Democrats, Sen. Peggy Rotundo and Rep. Kristen Cloutier. It is co-sponsored by the Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate. Democrats have majority control of both chambers.

“The proposals in this bill are not extreme or unusual, or a cookie cutter version of another’s state’s laws,” Mills said in a written statement. “They are practical, common-sense measures that are Maine-made and true to our culture and our longstanding traditions while meeting today’s needs. They represent meaningful progress, without trampling on anybody’s rights, and they will better protect public safety.”

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