A new bill submitted after the shootings in Lewiston could revive the state’s long-running debate about expanded background checks for gun purchases.

Legislative leaders still must decide whether to accept a list of bills submitted after deadline for the upcoming session that begins Jan. 3, including more than a half-dozen proposed in response to the mass shooting in Lewiston in which gunman Robert Card killed 18 people. A new bill added to a list posted this week was submitted by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and appears to be another attempt to expand background checks for private gun purchases, an idea that was most recently rejected earlier this year.

About two dozen after-deadline proposals were set to be considered by the Legislative Council on Thursday, but were removed from the agenda late Wednesday. No reason for the delay was listed, but it comes as the state is still struggling with the effects of a destructive wind and rainstorm that closed state offices and forced the cancellation of other meetings at the State House.

The bills, which will be taken up at meeting that has yet to be announced, include several related to firearms, public safety and mental health that were introduced in the wake of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston.

Background checks already are required for gun sales from licensed dealers. But no checks of criminal history or legal restrictions on gun possession are required for private sales.

Talbot Ross’ bill is titled “An Act to Require Background Checks Prior to Certain Sales, Transfers or Exchanges of Firearms.” No text has been submitted and the details are not clear. But the House speaker also sponsored a similarly titled bill last session that sought to expand background checks on firearms sales to include private sales.


L.D. 168, “An Act Regarding Criminal Background Checks for the Sale, Transfer or Exchange of Firearms,” sought to require criminal background checks for private sales with some exceptions, such as sales between family members and sales of antique or relic firearms. The bill passed by one vote in the Maine House but was defeated in the Senate.


Supporters of background checks for private sales argued that the bill would close a “dangerous loophole” that allows people who are prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms to do so. Opponents, however, said universal background checks unfairly burden law-abiding gun owners.

A spokesperson for Talbot Ross said Wednesday that the speaker’s new proposal has not taken final shape. She said the bill will not be the same as what was sponsored last session, but did not provide details on what the differences will be.

Expanded background checks have been a contentious issue in Maine for years. Maine voters rejected a citizen referendum to institute universal background checks in 2016. And the Maine House rejected a similar bill in 2019 on an 80-66 vote.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, an advocacy group for hunters and gun owners, said Wednesday that his organization would need more details on a background check proposal before taking a position, but expanding background checks is not something they’re focused on.


Trahan said that in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston the sportsman’s alliance is interested in finding out more about Card’s interactions with law enforcement and the military in New York, where he spent time in a psychiatric hospital over the summer, and why New York’s red flag law wasn’t utilized to seize weapons from Card, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.

“Until all those details come out, that’s where we’re putting our energy,” he said.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross talks during a press conference on Jan 17. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Trahan said Talbot Ross’ proposal last session for expanded background checks would not have prevented the Lewiston shootings. “We’re looking for policy that would prevent a Lewiston-type shooting in the future,” he said.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition has listed universal background checks as a legislative priority in the coming session, along with a 72-hour waiting period on firearms sales, a red flag law and an assault weapons ban.

“The Maine Gun Safety Coalition has an aggressive agenda to pass commonsense reforms this legislative session,” Nacole Palmer, executive director of the coalition, said in a statement. “As the tragedy in Lewiston shows, this is urgent. We have not seen the specifics of the speaker’s proposal, but we know she is a strong ally of this movement. We look forward to working with her to advance our priorities to pass comprehensive background checks, an assault rifle ban, 72-hour waiting periods, and a meaningful red flag law.”



Legislative leaders from both parties still have to approve Talbot Ross’ bill for it to be considered in the session that begins Jan. 3.

The Maine Constitution limits the second session to bills carried over from the first session, budgetary matters, new proposals from the governor, and emergency legislation that must be approved by the 10-member Legislative Council in order to be considered by the full Legislature.

The council has received more than two dozen proposals after the Sept. 29 deadline for bill titles for the coming session.

Two after-deadline bills submitted by Talbot Ross and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, in response to the Lewiston mass shooting already have been approved by the council.

A spokesperson for Jackson said this week that details of his bill, “An Act to Address Mass Shootings and Gun Violence in Maine,” are still being worked out. Jackson’s office also has said that he plans to transfer sponsorship of the bill to Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, as her community was directly affected by the shootings.

Mary Erin Casale, spokesperson for Talbot Ross, said this week that conversations with stakeholders regarding the bill by Talbot Ross that already has been accepted, “An Act to Strengthen Public Safety, Health and Well-being,” are ongoing and there were no updates to share beyond comments Talbot Ross previously made.

“I will say that the framing of the bill is to understand that this is a public health crisis,” Talbot Ross said last week. “We cannot afford to think of (gun violence) as only public safety and within the criminal justice system. We need to adopt a language and an approach that treats this as a public health crisis. That bill will use that lens to craft steps forward.”

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