AUGUSTA — Lawmakers heard a full day of emotional, often conflicting testimony Monday on a controversial bill that would allow police to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.

To supporters, the bill is a common-sense measure that would allow family members or police to intervene before someone uses a gun to commit suicide or turns it on someone else, all while protecting the dangerous person’s legal rights.

“L.D. 1312 provides a tool to help law enforcement officers protect our loved ones from deadly tragedies,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth. “I have heard from law enforcement officials from across the state who say the tools we have in place right now just aren’t enough.”

But opponents portrayed the bill as an unconstitutional gun grab that could put police officers at risk without any mandatory follow-up evaluation or counseling to help individuals deal deal with their underlying issues.

“This law is a distraction,” said Dr. Art Dingley, a Farmington psychiatrist. “It’s a shiny object which diverts our attention from the true mission, and the true mission is to address the root causes of despair and violence.”

Fifteen states – including four in New England – have now adopted “red flag” laws that aim to give police and the court system an additional tool to temporarily confiscate guns. The measures have been signed by both Democratic and Republican governors at a time when lawmakers nationwide have struggled to find political compromise on how best to respond to mass shootings and gun violence.

The bill under consideration in Maine would create an “extreme risk protection order” that “prohibits and enjoins the restrained individual from purchasing, possessing or controlling or attempting to purchase, possess or control any firearm while the order is in effect.”

The order would initially last 14 days but could be extended to as long as 365 days if, after a hearing, a judge agrees there is “clear and convincing evidence that the restrained individual continues to pose a danger” to themselves or others. To deter false accusations, the individuals requesting an “extreme risk protection order” would have to sign a sworn affidavit and could face felony charges for lying to authorities.

Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier offered lawmakers an emotional example of a recent case in which he believes a “red flag” law may have made a difference.

Moshier told lawmakers about a man who had been sitting in the parking lot at the Ellsworth police station with the intention of committing “suicide by cop” by drawing his empty revolver on any officer who happened to arrive.

He changed his mind after seeing Moshier, who had helped him during a previous mental health crisis, and handed over his .38-caliber revolver after following Moshier into the station.

But not long after his release from mental health treatment, the man was back at the department demanding his revolver back.

“And just a couple of weeks ago, that individual took his own life using that very same revolver that we had in our possession,” Moshier told members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “A bill like this could have prevented that because we could have retained that firearm.”

Lawmakers considered a similar measure last year but eventually passed a watered-down version that temporarily prohibited gun ownership by individuals ordered to undergo “progressive treatment” for mental health issues. But former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, vetoed the bill.

Gov. Janet Mills supported the original version of last year’s measure when she was serving as attorney general.

“She worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to identify an approach that sought to balance the rights of the individual and the right of the public to be safe in our state,” Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said in a statement. “Governor Mills looks forward to engaging in the discussion and working with lawmakers and stakeholders to find common ground on this important issue.”

Maine consistently records among the lowest homicide rates in the nation, with just 18 reported by Maine State Police last year. But Maine’s suicide rate is higher than the national average, with suicide by firearm listed as the most common cause of violent death in Maine from 1999 to 2016, according to federal data.

“I think this is one piece in a puzzle,” said Dr. Deborah Hagler, a pediatrician from Harpswell. “You can’t address everything with one piece of legislation, but you can build up your armament.”

The Maine Medical Association as well as the Maine Chiefs of Police Association testified in support of the bill Monday. But other law enforcement leaders expressed concerns about the bill’s provisions.

Both Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen and Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols told lawmakers they believe the bill, as currently written, could put officers’ lives in danger. Nichols also said he believes law enforcement agencies already have tools to detain individuals or seize weapons that better respect their “due process” obligations.

“You are asking us to go to someone’s house and confiscate their personal property for a crime they have not yet committed,” Nichols said.

Many opponents portrayed the bill as a blatant attack on citizens’ constitutional rights, with some equating it to “tyranny” and evidence of why citizens need to be able to arm themselves against the government. Several speakers also pointed to the language in the Maine Constitution declaring that the right to bear arms “shall never be questioned.”

“I will not stand idly by as my right to property and the right to defend myself is cast aside,” said Sidney resident Laura Parker.

Others opponents urged lawmakers to instead work to improve the so-called “blue paper” provisions that allow courts to involuntarily commit individuals to a mental health facility. People who are involuntarily committed are also prohibited from possessing firearms.

But Kathleen McFadden, leader of the Maine chapter of the national organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said there are other rights guaranteed by the state and federal government.

“We talk so much about 2nd Amendment rights,” McFadden said. “I believe the language ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is important. It isn’t ‘liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness.’ I think our forefathers put forth the word ‘life’ intentionally and I ask you to consider that as well.”

The Judiciary Committee will hold a work session on the bill at a future date.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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