Hundreds of gun control advocates flooded the Maine State House Wednesday as the 131st Legislature returned for its second session, putting pressure on lawmakers to change the state’s permissive gun laws in the wake of the Oct. 25 Lewiston shootings.
Proponents of stricter gun control measures packed into the Hall of Flags Wednesday morning before the House and Senate convened to call upon state lawmakers to strengthen Maine’s “yellow flag” law, increased background checks on firearm purchases, and a ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
Marked by their bright orange hats — part of a “Wear Orange” initiative by gun control advocacy organization Everytown for Gun Safety — protestors held signs reading “Proud to be pro life: Gun safety laws now,” “Gun violence is not a family value,” and “We can end gun violence.”
Gun control advocates outside of the State House chanted in support of “red flag” laws — a stricter version of Maine’s yellow flag law which grants law enforcement the ability to seek a court order temporarily restricting an individual’s access to firearms when they pose a serious risk of harming themselves or others.
Maine’s yellow flag law differs from the more stringent red flag laws — present in California, New York, Colorado, and several other states — in that it requires a medical professional assessment of the individual in question before their access to firearms can be restricted by the court.
Lewiston shooter Robert Card, a 40-year-old Army Reservist, was committed for two weeks in July 2023 at a psychiatric hospital in New York, due to his erratic and aggressive behavior with his fellow soldiers.
Card’s mental health condition, and a threat that he had made to “shoot up” an Army Reserve facility in Saco was made known to Maine law enforcement more than a month before the Oct. 25 shootings in Lewiston.
Despite these warning signs, a third party review of Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office’s (SCSO) response to the concerns raised about Card’s mental health — which included two unsuccessful welfare checks on Card in September — concluded that the SCSO “acted diligently” when encouraging Ryan Card, Robert Card’s brother, to facilitate a voluntary psychiatric evaluation of his brother and restrict his access to firearms.
The third party review also concluded that the SCSO did not have sufficient grounds to take Card into protective custody, which would have allowed for the initiation of Maine’s yellow flag law process.
One organization in attendance at the Wednesday rally was Be SMART, a subdivision of Everytown which advocates for secure gun storage in order to reduce deaths and injuries that can result when a child or teen has access to an improperly stored firearm.
Janie Sweeney, Group Lead of Be SMART’s York County chapter, told the Maine Wire that in the case of Robert Card, Maine’s yellow flag law should have been invoked to restrict his access to firearms instead of leaving that responsibility to his family members.
“They shouldn’t have left it to a family member, they should’ve taken care of that,” Sweeney said. “We can’t take the word of a family member, or a spouse, or a child, or an uncle — I mean, that’s not good policy.”
“So [the yellow flag law] failed when he was admitted into the mental health facility in the military, the military didn’t report it and put him on the yellow flag list,” she said.”[Card’s] family notified lots of people, they were very, very outspoken and aggressive about trying to get people to know he was in danger.”
“There are lots of holes that happened in the system, which is unfortunate, but it has brought to the surface where those holes are,” she added.
Pro-Second Amendment advocates at the State House Wednesday emphasized a message of increasing mental health access and resources, as well as the importance of responsible gun ownership for self defense.
Andee Reardon, a U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) and National Rifle Association (NRA) certified firearms instructor and owner of the East Coast School of Safety, was at Wednesday’s protest representing Maine’s chapter of Women for Gun Rights.
“I really want to bring mental health to the forefront of this discussion,” Reardon told the Maine Wire. “I think more gun laws on the books are not going to do anything — we already have thousands of gun laws on the books, they’re not being enforced.”
“What happened in Lewiston should have been stopped with what laws are already on the books, and it was not stopped, so I don’t think more laws are going to help anything,” she said.
Reardon said that she hopes state lawmakers look into what mental health resources are available to Mainers, and work towards “making programs to help keep people safe, not take their rights away.”