AUGUSTA — Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that an interim report about the mass shooting in Lewiston confirms there is no justification for any of the new gun safety laws being proposed by Democrats.

A commission investigating the mass shooting issued an interim report Friday afternoon that criticized the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office for not using existing laws to take the shooter, Robert Card Jr., into custody and remove his firearms months before the tragedy, after his family expressed concerns about his mental health and he assaulted a colleague and made threats. Card killed 18 people at two locations in Lewiston on Oct. 25, 2023.

In response to the mass shooting, Democrats have proposed a suite of bills, including a 72-hour waiting period and expanded background checks for firearm purchases and banning bump stocks and other devices intended to make semi-automatic weapons fire more like an automatic. Similar proposals were defeated in the Democratic-controlled Legislature last session.

“There is no justification at this point for these bills we’re seeing the Democrats put forward – again, even though they already killed them (last year) – in an attempt to restrict your Second Amendment rights,” Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said during a brief news conference at the State House. Stewart noted that the Maine Constitution says the right to bear arms “shall never be questioned.”

“Yet, here we are,” he said. “Unfortunately, some folks are using a horrific tragedy to try to justify a political agenda. And this commission does not suggest that is the right thing to do at this point and time.”

Gun Safety advocates, however, said the interim report does not weaken their resolve to pass significant reforms, saying the shootings highlighted the need for Maine to take steps that could prevent future gun violence. The Legislature shouldn’t focus only on what should have been done to prevent that tragedy, they said.


The commission’s interim report was unexpectedly released Friday evening – less than a week before legislative committees are expected to debate the proposed bills and potentially issue recommendations to the full Legislature.

The commission had originally said it might release an interim report by April 1. Kevin Kelley, the commission’s spokesperson, did not respond to questions about the timing of the interim report.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up the gun safety legislation, including an omnibus bill from Gov. Janet Mills that would expand background checks to advertised private sales, on Thursday.

Gun safety advocates said they are not giving up on passing a suite of bills and advocating for additional measures, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as a simpler extreme risk protection order process known as a red flag law, which would allow family members to petition a judge to temporarily restrict access to the firearms of someone deemed dangerous. Under Maine’s existing law, police must take a person into protective custody and secure a mental evaluation before petitioning a court for a weapons restriction order. It is known as a yellow flag law.

Mental health advocates told lawmakers during public hearings two weeks ago that the law unnecessarily stigmatizes people with mental illness by assuming a connection between mental illness and violence. And police have criticized the law as being too cumbersome to use.

Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said in an interview Monday that Maine’s law needs to be improved because people who are in crisis may not have a diagnosed mental illness.



Palmer said it would be a mistake to only look for ways that the Lewiston shooting could have been prevented. She pushed lawmakers to enact laws to help prevent another shooting.

“It would be a mistake to legislate to the last tragedy,” Palmer said. “None of us has a time machine to go back and do that. What we need are tools that will allow law enforcement and others to help prevent the next tragedy and we know what those tools are: an assault weapons ban, a true extreme risk protection order, background checks, a waiting period and a ban on bump stocks. That’s how we move forward from this tragedy in the best possible way.”

The commission’s 30-page report called the sheriff’s failure to take Card into custody “an abdication of law enforcement’s responsibility.” Police knew Card, an Army reservist, had been hospitalized for mental health issues, had 10-15 firearms, assaulted a friend, threatened to “shoot up” the Saco Army Reserve drill center and “get” the superiors who had ordered his mental health evaluation during a training mission in New York.

“This decision shifted what is and was a law enforcement responsibility onto civilians who have neither the legal authority to begin the yellow flag process nor any legal authority to seize weapons,” the commission concluded. “Even after delegating that responsibility to Mr. Card’s family, the SCSO failed to follow up to ensure that the firearms had been removed from Mr. Card’s custody and safely secured.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, believes the committee will take the commission’s interim report into account, as it will all the testimony received during lengthy public hearings, according to spokesperson Christine Kirby.


Kirby said Jackson also believes the gun safety measures pending before the committee seek to address all forms of gun violence, including suicides, while “protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners, like himself.”

Jackson also supports a red flag law, Kirby said.

“While the report finds that the yellow flag law should have been implemented, President Jackson feels strongly that there should be a pathway for close family members to begin the temporary firearm removal process in these scenarios,” she said. “This is especially important when we are talking about parts of the state that have a shortage of law enforcement officers and a lack of resources.”


Republicans dismissed any notion Tuesday that a red flag law would have empowered Card’s family to do more.

Sen. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford, defended the yellow flag law, saying that it was instead a lack of training on how to use that law that caused it to be underutilized.

Since the shooting, training efforts have increased and so has the use of the law, which took effect on July 1, 2020. It was used 81 times in the three-plus years before the Lewiston shooting, and then 117 times from Oct. 25, 2023, through Feb. 25.

“Going forward, we’re seeing a much more aggressive approach on training officers,” said Harrington, who works as a police officer. “Prior to Lewiston, there had not been enough training and it was underutilized. It just goes to show that we do have the tools in place that we need.”

Staff Writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report. 

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