House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross speaks during a House Democrats news conference in the Hall of Flags on Tuesday. The rally for “a safer Maine” was held to highlight the proposed gun safety legislation introduced by legislative Democrats last week. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Democrats in the Maine Legislature began their push Tuesday for gun safety reforms in response to the mass shooting in Lewiston last October, when a gunman used a semi-automatic, military-style rifle to kill 18 people.

Lawmakers and advocates, including some directly affected by the Lewiston shootings, gathered for a group news conference Tuesday morning to demand action to prevent future violence. And lawmakers later held the first in a series of public hearings this week on proposals to ban bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices, institute a 72-hour waiting period for firearm purchases and expand background checks to include advertised private sales.

Gun safety advocates have called the proposals a good start. But they also pushed lawmakers to go further and ban on assault-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines during the hearing Tuesday.

Advocates for gun owners’ rights already have come out against the existing proposals, which the Legislature rejected in past sessions.

“This is just the beginning,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said during the news conference in the Hall of Flags. “Ultimately, this debate isn’t a choice between reducing violence and protecting the Second Amendment rights of Mainers. It’s about the willingness of a responsible majority to do both.”

Dr. Joseph Anderson, the advocacy chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the founder of Maine Providers for Gun Safety, said during the news conference that words can’t articulate “the terror and destruction” that he and his colleagues witnessed while treating the victims of the shooting at a bar and a bowling alley on Oct. 25.


“To see the damage inflicted upon people from our communities at the hands of a lone gunman with an assault-style weapon is to stare into the darkest parts of humanity,” Anderson said. “No one who has seen what these weapons of war can do would want them on our streets.”

Arthur Barnard, father of Arthur “Artie” Strout who was killed in the Lewiston mass shooting last year, hugs Assistant House Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, who represents House District 94, which includes part of Lewiston, after a press conference in the Hall of Flags on Tuesday. The event was to highlight the proposed gun safety legislation introduced by legislative Democrats last week. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Arthur Barnard, whose son Artie Strout was killed in the shooting, urged lawmakers to take action on the proposed bills, saying that wildlife stand a better chance than a human being of escaping someone with an assault-style weapon.

“It’s time,” Barnard said. “Now is the time to act.”

Tuesday’s hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee focused on a bill from Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, to ban bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices that make a semi-automatic weapon fire like a machine gun, and another bill, from Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, that would allow people to voluntarily surrender their right to purchase or receive firearms.

During the hearing, Judy Richardson, whose daughter, Darien, was shot and killed while sleeping in her bed, said she has been advocating for tougher gun laws for the last decade. She urged lawmakers who have previously blocked new gun laws, including Senate Democrats, to join the cause.

“It’s too late for my family but we can prevent more tragedies,” Richardson said. “It’s way, way past time for our great state of Maine to take the necessary action to resolve this public health issue. I urge state lawmakers who have been reluctant to pass new gun safety laws to do so now.”


Gun rights supporters, including a representative from the National Rifle Association, criticized efforts to ban rapid-fire devices such as bump stocks and calls for a ban assault-style weapons, saying there is no universal definition of that type of firearm. They worried that the broad language in the bill aimed at rapid-fire devices could impact semi-automatic hunting rifles.

“We have some real concerns about this definition change because it could lead to major, major concerns down the road,” NRA lobbyist Justin David said, suggesting that it could impact certain devices used in sport shooting “and be a backdoor assault weapons ban.”

Jeff Zimba, a firearms dealer, said AR-15s have been vilified as a weapon of war but actually have less firepower than common hunting rifles. He said any attempt to define an assault rifle is “extremely subjective.”

“It’s so vague that not only any self-loading firearm, but almost any firearm could be considered a machine gun if this is enacted,” Zimba said. “When we start playing word games with legal definitions as a workaround to the traditional legislative process, it opens the door to all kinds of unintended consequences.”

While supportive of the bills, gun safety advocates, including families of shooting victims, doctors, teachers and faith leaders, urged lawmakers to go further and ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“There should be no private privilege to possess weapons of war,” Freeport resident Mark Segar said.


Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, pressed advocates for a definition for an assault weapon, leading to a testy exchange with a Portland resident and advocate for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.

“It’s what was used in the Lewiston shooting,” Todd Remage-Healy said. “You know very well what an assault weapon is, you don’t have to ask me. … It’s a goddamn machine gun is what it is. That’s what people are carrying around. Machine guns.”

Lawmakers will take up other gun safety proposals on Thursday.

The committee will consider a bill from Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, to adopt a 72-hour waiting period on firearm purchases and an omnibus bill from Gov. Janet Mills that would expand background checks to advertised private sales (transfers between family members and close friends are excluded), and create a new mental health crisis receiving center in Lewiston and a violence prevention program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Talbot Ross has proposed a bill that would invest $17.5 million into mental health crisis and violence prevention programs. The bill, which builds off initiatives in Mills’ proposal, received broad support at a public hearing Monday.

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