Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Friday that expands background check requirements for gun purchases to include private, advertised sales and that updates the state’s “yellow flag” law to make it easier for police to take someone into protective custody.

The governor signed the legislation one day after the six-month anniversary of the mass shooting in Lewiston that left 18 people dead and 13 others injured.

“Violence is not a simple problem, nor is the remedy a single, simple measure,” Mills said in a written statement. “The measures in this law are not extreme or unusual, or a cookie-cutter version of another state’s laws. They are practical, commonsense measures that are Maine-made and true to our culture and our longstanding traditions while meeting today’s needs.”

The governor announced the legislation during her State of the State address in January as part of a package of reforms in response to the Lewiston shooting.

It was not yet clear Friday whether Mills will sign other gun safety reforms passed by the Legislature.

Lawmakers have given approval to bills that would require a 72-hour waiting period for firearms purchases and ban so-called bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices. On Friday, a spokesperson for Mills said she is continuing to review and consider those proposals. The governor has until Monday to decide if she will veto those bills, sign them or allow them to become law without her signature.


The law signed Friday will require background checks for advertised, private gun sales in the same way they are required for commercial sales at federally licensed firearm dealers. It does not cover unadvertised transfers of guns, such as between family members.

It also will make it easier to prosecute anyone who sells a gun to someone not allowed to have one under the new law, which upgrades an illegal sale from a misdemeanor to a felony. New laws take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

“This approach will mean that transfers of firearms to family members or trusted friends, as is common in Maine, will remain unchanged, but it will incentivize (background checks) for private, unadvertised sales to unknown individuals through the threat of increased risk of prosecution and prison time,” the governor’s office said in a written statement.

The law also updates the existing yellow flag law, which allows police to seek court approval to restrict someone’s access to weapons if a mental health evaluation finds they pose a substantial risk to themselves or others. It will make that easier by allowing police to seek a protective custody warrant from a judge, in unusual circumstances, in order to take someone into protective custody.

In the wake of the Lewiston shooting, law enforcement agencies said they were unable to enact the yellow flag law because they didn’t have cause to take shooter Robert Card into protective custody, which is a necessary step in the law.



A supplemental budget approved by lawmakers and signed by Mills also includes some elements of the governor’s legislative response to the Lewiston shootings. It includes a new Office of Violence Prevention at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study and promote efforts to reduce violence, as well as three new crisis receiving centers in Lewiston, Penobscot County and Aroostook County modeled after the state’s current center operated in conjunction with Spurwink in Portland.

The centers will provide behavioral crisis intervention and allow people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis to get immediate, no-cost care. The Department of Health and Human Services also will develop a plan to create a statewide network of crisis receiving centers.

The budget includes additional complementary measures, including funding for mobile crisis response teams to respond to people in crisis through 988, Maine’s 24/7 crisis lifeline, and additional funding for extreme risk protection order assessments conducted under the yellow flag law. And it creates a $5 million Maine Mass Violence Care Fund to provide coverage of physical and mental health expenses not covered by insurance for people impacted by mass violence.

Gun Safety advocates praised the new law.

“In the aftermath of last year’s horrific mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine lawmakers stepped up and passed critical legislation to prevent future tragedies — and now Gov. Mills is joining them by signing a bill that requires background checks on many private gun sales,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement Friday.

Gun Owners of Maine, a group dedicated to promoting and defending the gun rights of Mainers, submitted testimony last month on the governor’s bill saying they adamantly opposed an expansion of background checks and did not feel the yellow flag law needed to be amended, but rather needed stronger enforcement.


The Maine Gun Safety Coalition submitted testimony in support, saying it “is a good bill that will prevent firearms from getting into the hands of those who are prohibited from having them.”

But the coalition also asked for Maine to go further and enact a red flag law that would allow family members, in addition to law enforcement, to seek judicial approval to remove someone’s weapons and to do so without a mental health evaluation.


A red flag proposal from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, was voted out of the Judiciary Committee, but the bill never made it to a vote in either the House of Representatives or Senate.

Expanded background checks have been debated several times in the past in Maine. Voters in 2016 rejected a referendum to require background checks on private gun sales after a hotly contested campaign that drew heavy spending from national groups.

And just last year lawmakers in the Senate rejected a proposal for background checks on private gun sales that passed the House by one vote.

Mills and some lawmakers have said the Lewiston shooting prompted them to rethink their stances.

“The 18 funerals in Lewiston caused me to shift my position,” Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, told the Press Herald last week. “There’s been a lot of talk about that last session to this session. Something tragic happened in Lewiston. There were 31 families severely affected and a community and state that will always be affected. … I kind of almost knew the day it happened something different would have to happen.”

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