Maine lawmakers pass sweeping gun legislation following the Lewiston mass shooting

Before adjourning on Thursday morning, the Maine Legislature passed sweeping gun-safety legislation, including background checks for private gun sales, waiting period for gun purchases, and criminalizing sales of guns to prohibited persons. This comes nearly six months following the state’s deadliest shooting.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, the Democratic-led Legislature and other lawmakers pressed for gun control and mental health measures after the shooting which claimed 18 lives.

Nacole Palmer of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition said that Maine has made significant progress in preventing gun-violence and protecting Maine’s lives. She praised legislators for listening to constituents.

What the bill would do

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The bill approved by the governor on Thursday morning would strengthen the yellow flag law in the state, increase background checks for private gun sales, and make it illegal to sell a firearm to someone who has been prohibited from owning a weapon. The bill funds violence prevention programs and opens up a mental health crisis center in Lewiston.

The Maine Senate narrowly approved Wednesday a 72-hour wait period before purchasing a gun and a ban of bump stocks, which can turn a gun into a machinegun.

A proposal to introduce a red-flag law was not implemented. The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, would have allowed family to petition a court to remove firearms from someone in a mental crisis. In contrast, the state’s yellow flag law places the police at the forefront of the process. Critics say this is too complex.

The lawmakers rushed to meet their Wednesday adjournment deadline. It wasn’t without drama in the 11th hour. The lawmakers had to vote on a controversial supplemental budget and the session didn’t end until well after dawn.

The tragic background for the legislative session was the Oct. 25, 2015 shooting of an Army reserve in Lewiston. This is Maine’s second largest city.

Family members warned police that the shooter had become delusional and was armed. He spent two weeks in hospital while training with his unit. His best friend, another reservist warned him that the man would “snap and do a massive shooting”. The shooter then killed himself.

Some survivors are sceptical of gun proposals

The survivors of the shootings had mixed emotions. Some survivors wanted legislative action. Some, like Ben Dyer who was shot five times, were sceptical of the proposed laws.

“A sick person did something sick that day.” Dyer said that the Legislature and politicians were trying to use this to push their agendas. He believes the proposals would hurt law-abiding firearm owners, while criminals would ignore them. He said that the state had a yellow-flag law, but police officials did not use it to stop this tragedy.

He echoed Republicans’ views who claimed that Democrats were using the tragedy as a way to manipulate people to pass controversial bills.

“My biggest concern is that we are moving forward with gun laws that have always been on the list. “We’re now using the Lewiston tragedy to force through gun legislation when there’s no new information here,” said Republican Senator Lisa Keim. It’s the old ideas that have been rejected for years.

Democrats claimed that constituents pleaded with them to take action to prevent future attacks. It would have been a breach of responsibility for them to ignore the pleas.

In late January, the former prosecutor, attorney general and governor of the state, who had outlined her plans in her State of the State speech, stated that “doing nothing is not an alternative for the sake of the families, communities and individuals now experiencing immeasurable pain and for the sake of the State.” The audience responded with standing ovations.