New bills from Maine lawmakers reveal responses to Lewiston shooting

Gun Rights

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legislators are proposing several bills that look squarely aimed at last month’s mass shooting in Lewiston, but they have not all fleshed out their ideas.

The Legislative Council, a 10-member panel of top lawmakers, has to authorize new bills for consideration in 2024. The Lewiston-related measures came after a normal filing deadline, so they have not yet been taken up despite the fact that they will receive lots of attention whether or not they are debated when lawmakers return to Augusta in January.

Only titles are available right now. The two top Democrats in the Legislature have vague bills focused on guns, while Republicans are targeting some of the other events in the run-up to the shooting. Here’s what we know about the response so far.

Top Democrats have vague catch-all measures in the works.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, has submitted “An Act to Address Mass Shootings and Gun Violence in Maine,” while House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, put forward “An Act to Strengthen Public Safety, Health and Well-being.”

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Jackson spokesperson Christine Kirby said his proposal will likely get transferred to Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and that he “believes that there must be a way to come together to prevent future tragedies from happening” while also “respecting responsible gun owners.” Talbot Ross declined to share more specifics when asked about her ideas on Thursday.

“Our goal would be to use it as a vehicle to do something meaningful in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston,” Kirby said.

Jackson and Talbot Ross have very different histories on these issues. He has routinely gotten high marks from the National Rifle Association, while she is a staunch progressive on these issues. Under Jackson’s leadership, the upper chamber killed a Talbot Ross effort earlier this year to expand background checks to private sales.

Republicans are targeting other events in the run-up to the shooting.

Minority Republicans in the Legislature look to be targeting some of the events leading up to the shooting perpetrated by 40-year-old Army reservist Robert R. Card II of Bowdoin, who was found dead two days after killing 18 people and injuring 13 others.

Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, wants to establish a “Yellow Alert,” similar to Amber Alerts for missing or abducted children, that would notify federal firearms dealers in Maine about statewide law enforcement alerts for “dangerous people or people in crisis.”

The alert would send the person’s name and photo to a gun dealer’s cell phone and email to keep them from selling to someone who may intend to harm others, Andrews said, mentioning the Lewiston gunman whose family and fellow reservists had reported concerns about due to his paranoia and arsenal in the months before the October shooting.

“We need more communication on all levels,” Andrews said.

Rep. James White, R-Guilford, who owns a gun shop, put forward a bill title regarding “prohibitions on certain firearms,” but he did not return a phone call and email seeking comment Thursday.

Another Republican, Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn, has a request she previously outlined that would repeal Certificate of Need requirements for mental health facilities in hopes of boosting services available to those in need, noting Card’s documented mental health issues.

Other after-deadline bill titles are not related to firearms but are clear, such as a measure from Assistant House Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, that would ensure donations received by victims of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in her home city are not taxable and a request from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, to create a “Lewiston Strong” license plate.

Two firearm-related bills are already on tap for 2024.

While gun-control advocates have called for legislation to ban assault-style rifles like the semi-automatic weapon used by the Lewiston gunman and to upgrade Maine’s yellow flag law to a so-called red flag law, no 2024 bills deal explicitly with those concepts.

But the Legislative Council advanced last week a bill from Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, that would require the destruction of any firearm forfeited to law enforcement, expanding the current law that only applies to forfeited guns used in murders or homicides.

The council also advanced a bill from Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, to allow people to put themselves on a list preventing them from purchasing firearms. The proposal is similar to laws in several other states that seek to prevent suicides.

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