AUGUSTA — A legislative committee split Tuesday on a bill that would allow a judge to order individuals to temporarily surrender their guns if they are deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
On a 7-4 vote, Judiciary Committee members endorsed the bill, which would allow police or family members to seek a “community protection order” against a person “who presents an immediate and present danger of serious bodily injury or death.” If approved by a judge, the protection order would require the individual to relinquish any firearms for 14 days initially but that time frame could be extended up to six months after a District Court hearing.
Known as a “red flag” law, the bill is one of several dozen under consideration nationwide that supporters say would help keep guns out of the hands of individuals who are suicidal or prone to violence against others. But the proposals have run into opposition, both in Maine and nationally, from sportsmen’s groups, the National Rifle Association and other gun owners’ rights groups.
The bill is the only gun-policy measure still alive in the Legislature during a year when mass shootings – particularly the killing of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school – have sparked national debate over gun control.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, had originally proposed a 21-day gun forfeiture period but reduced it to 14 days in response to concerns. Dion also changed the bill to restrict who can request a temporary protection order, to spell out the evidence judges should consider when reviewing a request, and to give individuals an additional chance to get their guns back during a six-month forfeiture.
The bill endorsed by the majority of the committee on Thursday, L.D. 1884, also includes language suggested by Attorney General Janet Mills enhancing the court’s ability to order some individuals undergoing outpatient psychiatric treatment to temporarily relinquish their guns.
“With this bill we can provide the general public the same protection we give family members of domestic abuse survivors in dangerous situations,” Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff who is also a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement. “As when someone takes out a protection order against an abuser, it will have to be shown that the public is in persistent and immediate danger for a community protection order to be obtained. We’ve come a long way in recent years towards ending domestic violence. It is time to do the same for violence in our schools and our communities.”
The bill will have to overcome concerns on the House and Senate floor, especially among Republicans.
“I think we need more time to look at this,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, who co-chairs the committee. “For myself, I will not be supporting it. I support the intent and I would hope that this comes back to us and that we can answer some of those questions. I think they are broader than this bill.”
At the same time, the committee unanimously approved Keim’s suggestion of the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Community Safety to examine some of the issues that the “red flag” bill seeks to address. The 10-member commission would be charged with exploring “appropriate methods to identify individuals who pose a significant risk of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or others and to intervene to diminish the risk without unnecessarily infringing on the civil liberties of those identified individuals.”
The bills now go the full Legislature for consideration.