A group of law enforcement officers walk up Lisbon Street away from the Androscoggin River where they were searching for Robert Card, the gunman who killed 18 people in Lewiston last month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Use of Maine’s yellow flag law has skyrocketed in the month since 18 people were killed in a mass shooting in Lewiston on Oct. 25, and many departments are using it for the first time.

The law was used 36 times between Oct. 26 and Nov. 28, compared to 54 times in the previous 10 months, according to a list provided by the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

Six agencies used the tool for the first time in the last month, including the Portland Police Department (the state’s largest municipal department) and the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office, which has faced criticism for failing to invoke the law against Lewiston gunman Robert Card despite warnings from his family and fellow Army Reserve members about his declining mental health and violent threats he made.

The yellow flag law allows police to temporarily confiscate guns and other weapons from individuals after a medical professional deems them dangerous to themselves or others. It also prevents people who have been flagged from purchasing guns in most cases, though a loophole makes it easy to obtain weapons through private sales and gun shows that do not require background checks.

Portland had never invoked the law until this past week when officers used it twice to remove guns from men in their 50s who threatened to kill others.

Earlier this month, Portland Chief Mark Dubois told the Press Herald that his department regularly found ways to get guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals without using the yellow flag law. Like other law enforcement leaders, he said the statute is cumbersome for police to work with because it requires taking an individual into protective custody, often followed by a trip to a hospital emergency department, a mental health evaluation and ultimately a sign-off by a judge.


Without a more streamlined “red flag” law, which allows a judge to approve an order to seize a dangerous individual’s weapons without a mental health evaluation, Dubois said it was more effective for police to try other methods, like asking family members to confiscate weapons or persuading someone in a mental health crisis to surrender their guns. Those methods, however, do not put a person on a statewide list prohibiting them from buying new weapons.

Portland Police Chief Mark Dubois. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“The process needs to be simpler for police,” said Dubois, who endorsed the type of red flag that 21 other states have adopted.

He did not say the department would never use the yellow flag process, but said that it had not been necessary since he joined the department in midsummer.

Within 10 days of that interview, Portland police used the law twice.

On Nov. 23, officers used the law to strip weapons from a 55-year-old man who threatened to “obtain a gun and make a name for himself and go to prison for life,” according to the attorney general’s office. Three days later, the department used the law again to recover two handguns, two shotguns and an AK-47 from a 53-year-old man who claimed to have “died and come back as a divine entity” and threatened to attack police.

Dubois declined through a department spokesperson Wednesday afternoon to answer questions about why his officers chose to use the yellow flag law in those cases and whether the move marked a change in department philosophy.


Five other departments also have used the tool for the first time since the Lewiston shootings: Dover-Foxcroft’s department enacted the law once; Auburn, Presque Isle and Sagadahoc County each used it twice; and Piscataquis police used it three times.

Some of the recent cases involved threats of mass shootings, and three individuals specifically referenced Card, according to the list provided by the attorney general’s office. In other instances, police used the law to take weapons from people who made suicidal threats.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

According to experts, yellow and especially red flag laws are particularly well-suited to preventing firearm suicides, which make up most of Maine’s gun deaths each year.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said confidentiality rules prevented him from detailing the two recent cases where his department used the tool, but he said the attention the yellow flag law has received in the aftermath of the Lewiston shootings has contributed to its increased use around the state. More than 200 law enforcement officers attended a training session on the law this month.

Merry stopped short of endorsing a red flag law, but said he would support lawmakers looking into ways to strengthen the existing statute to make it easier for police to use.

“Now that we have some experience and we’ve seen some of the difficulties that have come up, maybe we can shore that up a little bit,” he said. “I hope we have learned some lessons from this unfortunate situation and we can find solutions that would prevent this from ever happening.”

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