Maine Gun Laws: Red Flag Bill Rejected by Lawmakers in Favor of Amendments to Yellow Flag Law

The move comes after an eleventh-hour bill, which would have allowed police to confiscate guns based on hearsay, attracted national attention.
Maine Gun Laws: Red Flag Bill Rejected by Lawmakers in Favor of Amendments to Yellow Flag Law
Robert Card points a gun while entering a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Alice Giordano

Gun owners in Maine could be placed in protective custody if suspected of being mentally ill, as part of amendments to the state’s existing yellow flag law. Lawmakers in the rural New England state opted for these amendments over a controversial, last-minute proposal for a red flag law.

Working into the early hours of Thursday morning, the Maine Legislature, in a bicameral move, passed over the Democrat-initiated and nationally-watched red flag measure that would have allowed for the confiscation of someone’s guns based on hearsay.
That left standing the yellow flag amendments, narrowly approved by both the Maine House and Senate just days earlier.
The changes include swapping out the existing provision for taking someone into protective custody from “was mentally ill” to “may be mentally ill.”
It also allows police to establish probable cause based on their belief that the person “presents a likelihood of serious harm,” an assessment that only mental health practitioners had the authority to make under the existing law.
Under the new changes, police can also apply for a protective custody warrant not only for someone who already possesses a weapon but also based on the belief that someone “may acquire a dangerous weapon.”

The bill, slated for immediate enactment, also establishes for the first time in Maine background checks on private individual gun sales and makes it a crime to “recklessly” sell or transfer a firearm to a person who is prohibited from owning one.

Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin), who authored Maine’s Constitutional Carry law, told The Epoch Times that he finds the provision reckless in itself because it puts a private gun owner at risk of going to jail over something they may not have known was a crime.
“If you make a mistake and you transfer that firearm to your neighbor you are going down for a Class C Felony,” he said. You “lose your firearm rights for the rest of your life,” he added. He opposed both the red and yellow flag laws, but considers the yellow flag the “least political.”
“Maine is unfortunately treated like a very cheap date for well-monied people outside of our state,” he said. “That is using the state as a petri dish for their progressive policy experiments.” 
The litany of yellow flag amendments was sponsored by Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, who crafted them in the wake of the Oct. 25, 2023, bowling alley shooting by Army reservist Robert Card.  
Mr. Card killed 18 people and wounded several others when he opened fire at the bowling alley and bar.
His rampage came after both relatives and fellow reservists warned the local sheriff’s department that he was a danger and might harm someone. The department initially followed up on the warnings, but when they couldn’t locate him, dropped their search.
Ms. Mills in introducing the amendments back in February described them as Maine-made and representing “meaningful progress, without trampling on anybody’s rights.”
“Violence is not a simple problem, nor is the remedy a single, simple measure,” she said in the same statement. 
While some Republicans supported the change, most argued that no new changes were needed, just the enforcement of existing ones. 
Republicans opposed to any new measures have frequently argued that Mr. Card would have been stopped if law enforcement had applied the state’s yellow flag provisions. 
There was more of a bipartisan consensus that the now-abandoned red flag bill would have done little to prevent the Lewiston shooting. This is because, under the bill, guns would have been confiscated instead of the gun owner being put into custody.
According to an interim state report in an ongoing investigation into the Lewiston shooting, Mr. Card had a collection of guns in various locations.
Rep Katrina Smith (R-Palermo) told The Epoch Times she considered Ms. Mills’ bill to be “really pretty ugly,” but agreed it was better than the red flag law because it focused on mental health rather than just gun confiscation.
Mr. Brakey believes the tragedy has “taught all the wrong lessons.”
After the shooting, Democrats filled the legislative docket with an unusually high number of anti-gun bills, especially unprecedented in a state where shotguns visibly mounted in pick-ups are as common as logging trucks and April snowstorms.

Out of the new round of proposed gun restrictions, the one that Mr. Brakey said received no attention was the very bill he thought made the most sense in response to Mr. Card’s bowling alley rampage.

Introduced by Rep. Jim White (R-Guilford), the bill sought to establish liability for shootings in businesses that declared themselves to be gun-free zones. 
According to Mr. Brakey, Just-In-Time Recreation, the bowling alley where the shooting took place, had signs on the door declaring itself a gun-free zone and that patrons legally licensed to carry were prohibited from bringing their guns inside.
The bowling alley, which is listed as “temporarily closed” did not respond to inquiries. 
Social media posts show an outpouring of support for the business, which posted a statement expressing heartbreak for the victims and their families.
In a recent letter sent to David Trahan, president of The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the state’s largest gun lobby, Steven John Young, whose nephew Bill Young and Bill Young’s 14-year-old son Aaron were killed in the shooting, suggested that the day might have had a different outcome if the business had not implemented a gun-free policy.
“Bill did conceal carry, but unfortunately on the day he was killed he was following the request of the bowling alley and left his firearm at home,” Mr. Young wrote in his Feb. 27 letter to Mr. Trahan. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Epoch Times.
 “Would have the outcome been different had he been armed?” Mr. Young asked in the letter. “Who knows, but when the right to conceal carry is taken away I believe we will see more cowardly attacks like this one,” he said.
Mr. Young, a supervisor at Columbia University’s institute of comparative medicine, also noted that he and his nephew were veterans with extensive firearm training. He questioned why lawmakers think they have the right to interfere with citizen’s Second Amendment rights.
“As a veteran myself, I can’t imagine those rights ever being taken away by politicians that never served.” 
The  Maine Gun Safety Coalition, in lobbying for Ms. Mill’s updated proposals to the state’s yellow flag law and other anti-gun legislation, argued that gun restrictions are long overdue in rural New England because firearms are so plentiful and easy to obtain in Maine.
It cited the Pine Tree State’s nickname as the “Iron Pipeline” due to the flow of illegal guns into the state from New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.
“These guns are then sold on the streets in illegal transactions and contribute to gun violence and homicides in these cities,” the group said. “Thus, while those opposing background checks argue places like New York City and Boston suffer from gun violence problems despite the strong gun laws in those states, in reality, they suffer because states like Maine make it so easy to buy a gun.”
Alice Giordano is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times. She is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and the New England bureau of The New York Times.