Progress on gun safety laws in Augusta was slow but apparently steady this past week, with heightened attention being paid to legislative reforms’ effect on mental illness.

Lawmakers spent hours Wednesday workshopping proposals that included the institution of a 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases, a ban on bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices, and the expansion of background checks to include private sales.

The background checks proposal from Gov. Mills would also expand access to mental health crisis centers across the state update the state’s yellow flag law to make it easier for police to take people into protective custody. Maine is the only state to adopt a yellow flag law.

We were struck by the testimony of psychiatrist David Moltz, who pointed out that Maine’s yellow flag law, in its current form (requiring protective custody and mental health evaluation), stigmatized mental illness by assuming a connection between mental illness and violence. A red flag law – which allows law enforcement, friends and family members to petitioned courts for weapons restrictions without the need for a medical assessment – is the accepted gold standard, already in place in 21 U.S. states and goes a long way toward lifting this stigma.

Moltz made another thoughtful contribution on 72-hour waiting periods in a letter to the editor published last week.

“A fact that is frequently overlooked in discussions of gun violence is that 89% of deaths by gun in Maine are suicides, and more than half of suicide deaths in Maine are by gun,” Moltz wrote. “Impulsiveness plays a part in many suicide attempts. … This impulsivity is why it is vital to legislate a waiting period.”

If advocates and lawmakers can keep dealing in specifics, particularly when it comes to mental health, the laws they pass – all of the above, ideally – will be stronger for it.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.