People who killed their intimate partners or family members during the last five years in Maine have used firearms more often than any other method, according to a report released Wednesday that calls for stricter enforcement of the state’s existing gun laws.

The Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel studied 22 deaths between 2014 and 2019, a portion of the total cases in that timeframe. Forty percent of the perpetrators used a firearm, which follows national and statewide trends. The panel’s report included dozens of recommendations for policy changes to prevent future violence, including the creation of statewide policies for firearm relinquishment.

“While there has been meaningful progress, while we have seen the Legislature do some important work, there is still work to be done,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said Wednesday during a virtual news conference about the report.

Many of its sweeping recommendations were directed at law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, health providers, the child welfare system and others. But state officials and advocates also encouraged the broader community to contact domestic violence resources centers if they suspect or witness abuse. Those organizations are available 24/7 to talk about available resources, safety planning and other strategies.

“The panel observed that in so many cases, family, friends, neighbors and co-workers were aware of domestic abuse occurring,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “And many provided help, but others felt helpless to do anything.”

Also among the recommendations were echoes of past reports, including those related to firearms. The panel called for more consistent enforcement of firearms relinquishment orders that are granted with protection from abuse orders, as well as the development of statewide policies and procedures to make sure people who are prohibited from having firearms do not access them. For example, the panel suggested that when people are released from a correctional facility with the condition that they cannot use or possess firearms, the removal of any firearms should be documented. The report noted that the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse is working on that issue now.

The panel also recognized that some victims might purchase firearms to protect themselves and place themselves at greater risk.

“The Panel recommends that bystanders who receive disclosures from victims of domestic violence, or otherwise become aware that victims acquire firearms, should be aware that the presence of firearms may lead to increased danger for victims,” the report says. “The Panel encourages bystanders to assist victims in contacting community-based advocacy organizations to explore high risk safety planning in situations when victims are so afraid that they have acquired firearms for their protection.”

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday highlighted the state’s “yellow flag” law, which took effect last year and allows police to temporarily remove weapons from people who are at risk of harming themselves or others. The Maine Attorney General’s Office reported that there have been 17 such cases since the law took effect in July, but a spokesman said he could not provide any more detail about those incidents. The cases included in the current review predated that new law, but the governor said she believes it is already saving lives, including those who are impacted by domestic abuse.

“That bill is by far the most meaningful public safety legislation enacted in Maine in many years, and one that will go a long way in preventing suicide and violence against others,” Mills said.

The law allows police to remove firearms and other weapons from people based on a medical assessment of risk to themselves or others. It was an alternative to the more aggressive “red flag” laws in other states, where police can also remove weapons based on sworn affidavits from family or household members.

As she discussed the report, the governor recalled her own experience of domestic violence, when a former boyfriend drunkenly pointed a loaded gun at her head years ago. She left him but said she has never forgotten that night.

“I will always know I was one of the lucky ones,” Mills said. “Many, many others were not so lucky.”

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