Advocates for gun safety reforms and gun owners’ rights fill the Maine State House Thursday for public hearings on proposed gun law reforms. Photo by Randy Billings/Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gun safety activists and gun rights advocates packed the halls of the Maine State House on Thursday afternoon and delivered sometimes emotional testimony about proposals to regulate firearm purchases in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston.

Physicians, gun owners, activists and people touched by gun violence testified for more than six hours for and against the two most significant proposals before lawmakers: a 72-hour waiting period for firearm purchases and mandatory background checks on advertised private sales just like those required for commercial gun purchases.

South Portland resident Judy Richardson said the person who shot and killed her daughter, Darien, 14 years ago in Portland, remains at large. She said police recovered the weapon at the scene of a second homicide and traced it back to the owner of record, who had resold the gun without conducting a background check or keeping any records.

“That’s the gaping hole in the background check law and that’s how guns get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Richardson said.

Some also want more aggressive gun safety laws, including banning military-style semi-automatic rifles such as the one used to kill 18 people in Lewiston in October.

But gun rights advocates warned that the measures would restrict the rights of citizens without enhancing public safety.


Robert Duhaime, of Surry, told the committee that he was disappointed to have to appear before them to defend his Second Amendment rights. “All the tools were in place to prevent the tragedy in Lewiston,” Duhaime said. “To propose new laws, rules or regulations that wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy is asinine.”

It was the third day of public hearings on bills offered in response to the mass shooting in Lewiston to tighten gun laws and beef up the state’s mental health care system.

Democrats have framed their suite of reforms as a public health approach to not only address the threat of mass shootings, but also address Maine’s high rate of gun suicides and bolster mental health crisis response systems.

“This bill can’t and won’t prevent all homicides and suicides – no piece of legislation can,” said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who is sponsoring the 72-hour waiting period bill. “It can, however, lessen gun violence in the state and help to save lives and create healthier communities.”

Gov. Janet Mills proposed the background check for advertised private gun sales as part of her response to the Lewiston tragedy.

The hearing was held in a small room on the top floor of the State House, so the committee called in proponents and opponents in groups. Opponents of the bills milled about just outside the committee room, listening to testimony on their cellphones, while proponents watched the hearing in three overflow rooms. The committee heard six hours of in-person testimony before moving to witnesses who wanted to testify remotely.



Advocates for both sides made their presence felt at the State House, filling the lobby Thursday morning to speak with lawmakers as they made their way to the House and Senate.

Gun safety advocates arrived wearing orange ribbons and stickers reading “A Safer Maine” and “End Gun Violence” and pushed lawmakers to go further with gun safety measures by prohibiting assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and removing hurdles in the state’s extreme risk protection orders that allow police to temporarily seize firearms from people who are dangerous.

“Gov. Janet Mills and Democratic leaders in the Maine Legislature are listening to the people of this state, and they have proposed gun safety reforms that will make a real and lasting difference,” said Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which includes more than 60 organizations.

Gun rights advocates also made their presence known Thursday, wearing orange “Save the Second Amendment” stickers. Advocates had urged supporters to turn out Thursday, with action alerts being sent by the National Rifle Association, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Gun Owners of Maine and Women for Gun Rights.

Laura Whitcomb, president of the Gun Owners of Maine, said in an interview that any additional laws would only infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners, including hunters and people who may need to defend themselves from an imminent threat of violence. Someone who already has passed a background check should not have to wait three days to receive their firearm, she said.


“When you have women – or men – in domestic violence situations, making them wait three days to protect themselves is not looking out for the rights of women at all,” Whitcomb said. “Other issues we have, if you’re here hunting and you want to go buy another firearm because you had a malfunction with your firearm, you have to wait another three days.”

During the hearing, Francine Garland Stark, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, pushed back against concerns – echoed by Republicans serving on the committee – that a waiting period would put domestic violence victims at risk.

“I want to say unequivocally that the codification of a waiting period for a firearm purchase or transfer in Maine will not cause domestic violence victims to be less safe,” Stark said. “Access to firearms makes it exponentially more likely that a victim of domestic violence will be killed by their abusive partner without regard to who owns that firearm.”


Alicia Lawson, of Winthrop, told the committee that she was severely injured in a domestic violence incident when her daughter’s father punched her in the face. She said she became fearful after that but was empowered by a firearms training she took. A three-day waiting period would be “senseless and irresponsible,” she said.

“I urge the committee not to pass L.D. 2238,” Lawson said. “It would infringe upon our Second Amendment rights and put vulnerable women at risk.”


Other opponents of the bills also said they would restrict their rights, infringe on people’s abilities to protect themselves and not necessarily stop a shooting like the one in Lewiston.

Whitcomb, from the Gun Owners of Maine, urged the committee to look at what they could do to encourage the lawful use of firearms and protect people who lawfully use firearms.

“We would really like to see legislation protecting the rights of individuals if they choose to enter someplace that posts itself as gun-free,” Whitcomb said, adding that her group also is interested in legislation supporting the voluntary arming of people in schools as a way of stopping school shootings.

“How does adding another restriction like a waiting period upon law-abiding Maine citizens make any fruitful changes to the issues?” said Lewis Corriveau, of Sidney. “What about increasing funding to sheriff’s departments, the state police or police departments to enforce the existing firearms laws?”

Lauren LePage, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said many Mainers in rural areas do not have access to a speedy police response.

“To suggest that a female living alone in rural Maine should have to wait three days to purchase a firearm for her own self-defense … I don’t think that’s something the committee should take lightly,” LePage said.



Gun safety advocates urged lawmakers to streamline the state’s extreme risk protection order process to make it easier to separate someone in crisis from their firearms.

Maine’s law requires someone to be taken into protective custody and to receive a mental health evaluation from a physician before petitioning a judge for a weapons restriction.

Advocates urged lawmakers to remove those steps and adopt what is known as a red flag law, like those in 21 other states, that allows a family member to directly petition a judge for a weapons restriction order, without involving police.

“Families know their loved ones best and deserve an avenue to get dangerous weapons away from someone they love who is a threat to themselves or others,” said Dr. Joseph Anderson, founder of Maine Providers for Gun Safety.

Testifying on behalf of the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians, Dr. David Moltz said the current requirement for a mental health evaluation further stigmatizes people with mental illness, who are far more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators.


“There are several problems with this requirement,” Moltz said. “It’s stigmatizing and it’s inaccurate about mental illness. It excludes people who are a threat but are not mentally ill. It makes using the law more complicated and less efficient. It leaves out family members. And it is unnecessary. Mental health professionals do not have special skills in accurately assessing potential dangerousness.”


Proponents argued that studies have shown that waiting periods increase the likelihood that someone’s violent impulses will pass and that concerned family members or friends can get them help.

Studies have shown that states with waiting periods experience 51% fewer firearm suicides and 17% fewer homicides, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Rev. Jane Field, of the Maine Council of Churches, said a waiting period could have the saved the life her best friend, who was receiving inpatient and outpatient care for being suicidal. Her family dropped her off for a yoga class that was part of her outpatient therapy, but the woman instead walked to a gun shop and legally purchased a firearm, she said.

“The next day she used the gun to kill herself,” Field said. “We who have endured such heartache and loss are asking why in God’s name can’t we pass gun safety legislation that’s been proven to reduce the risk of gun violence?”

Mills’ proposal would extend background checks for all advertised private sales of firearms and would make it a felony for someone to knowingly and intentionally sell a firearm to someone they know is prohibited from possessing one.

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