Kathleen McFadden, a volunteer with the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action, speaks to volunteers from the Maine chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, in the Maine State House Hall of Flags in Augusta on Wednesday. After the speeches, volunteers in red shirts went upstairs to lobby legislators to support gun safety bills. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers spent hours Wednesday workshopping a series of firearms bills following a morning rally at the State House in which gun safety advocates called for stronger laws – including expanded background checks and waiting periods on sales.

The Judiciary Committee did not vote on any of the proposals discussed Wednesday, which included a 72-hour waiting period on firearms purchases, another banning bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices, and another bill, from Gov. Janet Mills, that contains an expansion of required background checks to include advertised, private sales. The governor’s proposal also would update the state’s yellow flag law to make it easier for police to take people into protective custody.

The committee mostly asked questions of its legislative analyst and others Wednesday. After the committee votes at a later date, the bills will face votes in the House and Senate.

The bills represent the most significant legislation being considered this session for gun safety reform, an issue that has taken on special urgency in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston on Oct. 25 that left 18 people dead and injured 13 others.

L.D. 2224, the bill from Mills, also would expand access to mental health crisis centers across the state, beginning with a new clinic in Lewiston, and would upgrade, from a misdemeanor to a felony, the intentional sale of a firearm to a person prohibited from having one and add the term “recklessly” to the pertinent statute, making it illegal to recklessly, intentionally or knowingly sell a firearm to someone who is a prohibited person.

The committee focused its questioning Wednesday on the yellow flag and background check aspects of Mills’ bill. The lawmakers also asked questions about red flag laws, which allow a family member or police officer to seek a court order to take away someone’s guns, at least temporarily, but did not specifically discuss an amendment that Rep. Sally Cluchey, D-Bowdoinham, has submitted for a red flag law.


Sgt. Colleen Adams of the Sanford Police Department told the committee about the process for utilizing the state’s current yellow flag law, and the challenges it can present to law enforcement. Adams said law enforcement must try to determine if someone is mentally ill and look at other criteria, including whether they are a danger to themselves or others and their ability to get into harmful situations.

“We struggle a lot with not being able to marry the two sections of protective custody and then being able to marry it with the weapons restriction,” Adams said.

David Moltz, a psychiatrist, also spoke to the committee and echoed concerns that mental health advocates raised last week that the state’s current yellow flag law stigmatizes people with mental illness by tying mental illness to the potential for violence.

Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action, speaks Wednesday to volunteers from the Maine chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, in the Maine State House’s Hall of Flags in Augusta. After the speeches, volunteers in red shirts went upstairs to lobby their legislators to support gun safety bills. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The vast majority of people with mental illness don’t pose a threat to anyone else,” Moltz told the committee. Instead, he said other things such as a life crisis like divorce or the loss of a job, or a past history of violence, are better indicators of someone’s potential for committing a violent act.

The committee also heard Wednesday from Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, the sponsor of L.D. 2119, which originally would have established a process through the state’s judicial system for people to file waivers of their rights to purchase or receive firearms in an effort to reduce suicides.

Doudera told the committee she is replacing the bill with a proposal for a task force to study the idea after the state’s judicial branch said it wasn’t something they felt was in their mission to do.


“I really believe this is something that can be a tool in the tool box for suicide,” Doudera told the committee. “I hope you will agree. But as much as I would love to get a way to do it in place, I think it does merit a pause and a study.”


Lawmakers also heard an initial analysis of two other bills: L.D. 2086, which is being amended by sponsor Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, to ban the possession of bump stocks, binary triggers and other devices designed to make a semi-automatic weapons fire more like a machine gun; and L.D. 2238, sponsored by Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, which would require a 72-hour waiting period for purchases.

Republicans on the committee questioned whether a 72-hour waiting period would reduce suicides, as advocates have suggested, and whether it would make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to defend themselves.

Experts told lawmakers that suicide is often an impulsive act, so the additional time increases the likelihood of a successful intervention, and that the presence of firearms in a home makes it more dangerous for a domestic violence victim.

Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, questioned the practical impact of banning the possession of rapid-fire devices and how a ban would affect people who currently own them – a question the analyst could not answer.


“What happens to people who already own a binary trigger if this is enacted? Are they instantly felons? Is there a plan to round them up?” Andrews said, adding the state should ensure legal representation to anyone prosecuted under the proposed law by the government.

Earlier Wednesday, more than 60 gun safety advocates rallied at the State House, urging lawmakers to expand background checks and waiting periods on firearm sales, ban bump stocks and make it easier to keep guns away from people who are deemed dangerous.

The rally was organized by Moms Demand Action, a nonprofit that has been advocating for gun reform since the Sandy Hook massacre.

“Lawmakers have the chance to pass policies that will save lives now,” said Moms Demand Action Executive Director Angela Ferrell-Zabala, who applauded grassroots activists in Maine. “It’s a testament to your commitment that we have arrived at this pivotal moment here today. And now we have the opportunity to take this fight over the finish line.”

Wearing bright red shirts, advocates fanned out into the hallways to lobby lawmakers to support a series of gun reforms that have historically faced an uphill battle in Maine. Each person was encouraged to take notes, so activists can focus their lobbying in the coming days on undecided lawmakers.



During a public hearing last week, gun safety advocates urged lawmakers to go further and ban assault style weapons. They pushed for a more streamlined extreme risk protection order process that would allow friends and family to petition a court to temporarily restrict access to firearms for people who are a risk to themselves or others.

Such laws, known as red flag laws, exist in 21 other states. Maine has an extreme risk protection order process, which is known as a yellow flag law because it requires someone to be taken into protective custody by police and to receive a mental health evaluation before seeking a court order.

Gun rights advocates say Maine’s existing law is more constitutionally sound because it includes due process for firearm owners, but gun safety advocates say the additional steps make the process cumbersome and stigmatize people with mental illness by wrongly equating mental illness with gun violence.

The Health and Human Services Committee also began discussing a bill from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, to address gun violence as a public health issue – a bill that builds off the proposals offered by Mills.

Talbot Ross’ bill, among other things, proposes at least a $17.5 million investment in mental health crisis systems in the state, including the expansion of mobile crisis units that could respond to incidents 24 hours a day in more rural places in the state. Her bill also would provide funding to create at least six additional mental health crisis receiving centers, in Androscoggin, Aroostook, Oxford, Penobscot, Washington and York counties.

Her bill also seeks to expand access to medication management services and includes a violence prevention office and a training program for gun dealers to recognize signs that someone is in a crisis. The measure received broad support in a hearing last week.

Any bills approved by the Legislature would still need to compete for funding through the budget process.

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