Maine lawmakers pass sweeping gun legislation following the Lewiston mass shooting

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature approved sweeping gun safety legislation including background checks on private gun sales, waiting periods for gun purchases and criminalizing gun sales to prohibited people before adjourning Thursday morning, nearly six months after the deadliest shooting in state history.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and the Democratic-led Legislature pressed for a number of gun and mental health proposals after the shooting that claimed 18 lives and injured another 13 people, despite the state's strong hunting tradition and gun ownership.

"Maine has taken significant steps forward in preventing gun violence and protecting Maine lives," said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, who praised lawmakers for listening to their constituents.

What the bill would do

The governor's bill, approved early Thursday, would strengthen the state's yellow flag law, boost background checks for private sales of guns and make it a crime to recklessly sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from having guns. The bill also funds violence prevention initiatives and opens a mental health crisis receiving center in Lewiston.

The Maine Senate also narrowly gave final approval Wednesday to a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases and a ban on bump stocks that can transform a weapon into a machine gun.

However, there was no action on a proposal to institute a red flag law. The bill sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross would have allowed family members to petition a judge to remove guns from someone who is in a psychiatric crisis. The state's current yellow flag law differs by putting police in the lead of the process, which critics say is too complicated.

Lawmakers pushed through the night and into the morning as they ran up against their adjournment date, which was Wednesday. But it didn't come without some 11th-hour drama. Lawmakers had to approve a contentious supplemental budget before casting their final votes and didn't wrap up the session until after daybreak.

The Oct. 25 shooting by an Army reservist in Lewiston, Maine's second-largest city, served as tragic backdrop for the legislative session.

Police were warned by family members that the shooter was becoming delusional and had access to weapons. He was hospitalized for two weeks while training with his unit last summer. And his best friend, a fellow reservist, warned that the man was going "to snap and do a mass shooting." The shooter killed himself after the attack.

Some survivors are skeptical of gun proposals

Survivors of the shooting had mixed feelings. Some wanted legislative action. Others like Ben Dyer, who was shot five times, were skeptical of the proposed laws.

"A sick person did a sick thing that day. And the Legislature and politicians are trying to capitalize on that to get their agendas passed," said Dyer, who contends law-abiding gun owners are the ones who would get hurt by the proposals while criminals ignore them. The state already had a yellow flag law but law enforcement officials didn't use it to prevent the tragedy, he added.

His feelings echoed the view of Republicans who accused Democrats of using the tragedy to play on people's emotions to pass contentious bills.

"My big concern here is that we're moving forward with gun legislation that has always been on the agenda. Now we're using the tragedy in Lewiston to force it through when there's nothing new here," said Republican Sen. Lisa Keim. "It's the same old ideas that were rejected year after year."

But Democrats said constituents implored them to do something to prevent future attacks. They said it would've been an abdication of their responsibility to ignore their pleas.

"For the sake of the communities, individuals and families now suffering immeasurable pain, for the sake of our state, doing nothing is not an option," the governor, a former prosecutor and attorney general, said in late January when she outlined her proposals in her State of the State address. Those in attendance responded with a standing ovation.

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