L.D. 2224: Strengthening Maine’s “yellow flag” law

An Act to Strengthen Public Safety by Improving Maine’s Firearm Laws and Mental Health System.
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The bill makes several changes to Maine’s yellow flag law, under which law enforcement officers can take weapons from people at risk of harming themselves or others.
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In her State of the State address in late January, Gov. Janet Mills proposed legislation that would strengthen Maine’s “yellow flag” law, expand background checks for firearms purchases and establish new mental health resources.

In the final hours of the session April 18, the Maine Legislature gave Mills’ bill, sponsored by Lewiston Democrat Sen. Peggy Rotundo, and two amendments, final approval.

Mills signed the bill, L.D. 2224, into law on April 26.

The bill makes several changes to Maine’s yellow flag law, under which law enforcement officers can take weapons from people at risk of harming themselves or others.

The law came into sharp focus in the months since the Lewiston mass shooting in October left 18 Mainers dead. (It’s worth noting that House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ bill, L.D. 2283, to establish a “red flag” law, never made it to a full floor vote.)

In addition to making it easier for law enforcement agencies to take a person into protective custody, it requires firearms sellers to run a background check on prospective buyers, including for private sales (but does not apply to sales or transfers between family).

It makes “recklessly, knowingly or intentionally” selling or transferring a firearm to a prohibited person a felony.

The bill also establishes an injury and violence prevention program under the Department of Health and Human Services, requires that the department help create a statewide network of crisis receiving centers, and provides funding for two public health positions under the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the full bill on the legislature’s website.

To get a sense of the debate, here are some excerpts from testimony:

For:

“Throughout Maine, many folks remain on edge knowing the very real possibility that another mass shooting could happen at any time. The epidemic of gun violence is a public health crisis, and we must act now to prevent future gun-related tragedies, and the long-lasting psychological and emotional trauma that follows.” ~ Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston

“Any and all actions that can be taken to reduce the senseless deaths from gun violence should be taken. A human life is precious. I want to assert here that my life is more important than someone else’s right to carry a deadly weapon wherever they wish. I should not have to live in fear, nor should my colleagues, nor should your children.” ~ Hannah Cyrus, Blue Hill

“In the interest of public safety, there needs to be a doable, effective and efficient process to quickly separate an individual in a state of mental crisis from their weapons so they cannot harm themselves or anyone else. The shooting in Lewiston was totally preventable. The victims did nothing wrong. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and what happened to them could happen to any one of us or to those we love.” ~ Cathy Harris, Mechanic Falls

Against:

“We do not feel that Maine’s current law needs to be amended, but rather enforced, when it comes to our current community protection and weapons restriction orders.” ~ Laura Whitcomb, Gun Owners of Maine

“There is no compelling reason to change Maine’s existing firearm laws. No changes to them would have prevented Lewiston or any other tragedies which are now part of modern society. Focus solely on repairing the broken mental health system in meaningful ways and improving law enforcement methods.” ~ Michael Parker, Strong

“Maine’s current laws need to be enforced, not added to. Further infringing on the rights of law-abiding Maine residents by expanding background checks in Maine cannot be enforced unless a gun ownership registry is formed, which is prohibited under federal law. This proposal would not have stopped the tragedy in Lewiston.” ~ Jed Kiernan, Anson

Correction: This story initially said there is an exception for sales between friends and family. There is only exception for sales or transfers between family members.

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Emily Bader

Emily Bader is a health care and general assignment reporter for The Maine Monitor. She joined The Monitor in April 2023 from the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, where she covered healthcare for two years and was a University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism Data Fellow. Prior to that, she was a staff writer for the Lakes Region Weekly in Cumberland County. Emily has earned several awards, including the Maine Press Association’s Bob Drake Young Writer Award in 2021, the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s Publick Occurrences Award in 2022 and most recently, the Maine Public Health Association’s journalism award. Emily was born and raised in Los Angeles and earned her bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Wellesley College.
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