After mass shooting in Maine, no certainty whether gun laws will change

By | October 31, 2023

On Sunday, Arthur Barnard will bury his oldest child, Artie Strout, 42, who was one of 18 people killed in the nation’s deadliest mass shooting so far this year.

Mr Barnard, 62, is devastated. But he is also furious. Why do five of his grandchildren no longer have a father? Why was the shooter able to legally purchase such a deadly military-style weapon?

“They’re not going to try to do mass shooting with a gun,” he said.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, on Oct. 25, the state is facing increased scrutiny. permissive gun laws. For example, Maine allows most adults to carrying a concealed weapon in public without license. Recent attempts to enact laws requiring universal background checks and waiting periods have failed.

Maine’s current law to take guns away from people who may pose a threat to themselves or others is also under consideration.

Notably, about six weeks ago, police in Maine received explicit warnings that the shooter had he said he would get into a shootout. But there is no indication in public records that law enforcement officials ever made contact with him about the matter.

Today, as some Maine residents try to assess what laws might need to be changed or revised, concrete proposals are few and far between and the prospects for new gun restrictions remain murky at best.

“Action is needed,” Gov. Janet Mills said Monday.

She stopped short of endorsing any specific policy measures, such as a ban on assault weapons. Instead, Ms. Mills, a Democrat, called for “a serious, robust conversation about gun violence and public safety.”

Maine has a strong hunting tradition and a high rate of gun ownership. The country has also long had one of the lowest murder rates in the country. There was 19 homicides by firearm in the state last year — just one more than the number of people shot and killed in Lewiston in a single day. (Firearms were also used 159 suicides last year, on 183 total number of gun deaths in the state.)

“Maine is supposed to be really safe,” said Robert Menges, 68, of Lisbon Falls, near Lewiston. “And we have joined the family of places where this has happened.”

To date, only one prominent Maine lawmaker has experienced a change of public mind on gun regulation. On Thursday, hours after the massacre, U.S. Representative Jared Golden reversed its long-held position on reviving a national assault weapons ban.

Mr. Golden was one of five Democrats to oppose the measure last July. On Thursday, he expressed remorse and said his opposition had been a “failure.”

“I recognize this dangerous world only too well, but I had convinced myself that we are safe from it here in Maine,” he wrote in a letter to his constituents on Sunday.

“Obviously,” he continued, “we are not. »

Artie Strout, who was killed in Lewiston at age 42, “was always looking out for everyone,” his father said.Credit…Andrew Cullen for the New York Times

Some Mainers, as well as many scholars and advocates, agree on the primacy of removing military-style weapons from the streets.

“The gun is central to all of this,” said Margaret Groban, a member of the association’s board of directors. Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “If someone was in a mental health crisis but didn’t have an assault weapon, this wouldn’t have happened.”

In particular, the shooter who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia purchased in 2020 some of his weapons in Maine. Many people in the state said they fear a mass shooting in Maine is only a matter of time.

“It’s one of the most permissive states in the country,” said Michael Rocque, a sociology professor at Bates College in Lewiston who studies mass shootings.

Other Mainers point to a failure of mental health services and alert systems.

Unlike states with “red flag” laws that allow families to directly ask a judge to remove guns from people who pose a danger to others or themselves, Maine has a “yellow flag” law that requires a longer, more complex and time-consuming procedure. process. Under the current version of the three-year-old law, written with input from a national gun rights group, three entities — police, a mental health clinician and a judge — must agree that an individual constitutes a danger before they can take a firearm. far.

“It certainly appears that, based on the facts that we have, the yellow flag law should have been triggered,” Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said last week, adding that the shooter “should have been separated from his weapons. .”

Ms. Groban, a former federal prosecutor, said the Maine law’s three-step requirement was “two steps too many.”

When it comes to possible changes to gun laws in Maine, Professor Rocque and other experts said they expect the biggest movement to be around people in crisis — if so long as there are changes.

“I think it’s possible that we could move toward a law that signals a red flag,” he said.

Many Maine residents are skeptical, however, given how deeply gun rights and the use of firearms for recreation and self-defense are ingrained in Maine’s laws and culture.

Jeffrey Evangelos, a four-term former state representative from the small coastal town of Friendship, said he did not expect to see stricter measures passed.

“Maine is a gun culture,” said Mr. Evangelos, an independent. “And the legitimate position of rural people is that they are hunters and law-abiding citizens who don’t want anything to interfere with their Second Amendment.”

In the days following the mass shooting in Lewiston, some nearby gun stores say they have seen an increase in sales.

Gage Jordan, owner G3 firearms in Turner, estimates that sales are up 80 percent over a normal weekday this time of year.

“New gun owners say, ‘I never want to be in this position,’” he said.

Many people in the area expressed surprise that no one returned fire when the shooting began in Lewiston. Gun advocates blame what they call “gun-free zones,” where people are not legally allowed to bring weapons. Often, these places serve alcohol.

Such zones “allow those seeking the least resistance to do more harm before being arrested,” said Laura Whitcomb, the association’s president. Maine Gun Ownerswrote in an email.

Among the two businesses hit by the shooter last week in Lewiston, Schemengees Bar and Grille had a sign on the door saying guns were not allowed. No such sign was visible on the door of the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley Tuesday. In both cases, there is no evidence that an opinion influenced the shooter’s choice of target.

As debates rage and families prepare to bury their dead, it’s unclear what will happen next.

State Rep. Vicki Doudera, a Democrat who led a successful rare effort two years ago to legislate safer gun storage, said Monday she was optimistic that other changes.

Struck by Rep. Golden’s reversal on assault weapons, some of Ms. Doudera’s colleagues are “looking at this and rethinking things,” she said, adding, “I know we’re going to make progress.”

Governor Mills, who can introduce a bill at any time, has the most direct route to introducing a bill when the state legislature reconvenes in January. Observers said she was generally reluctant to wade into the gun control debate, but might be freer to do so now, as a second-term governor who cannot run for office. a re-election.

If the governor does not file a bill, the path to legislation becomes more complicated because the deadline for lawmakers to submit bills for the current term has already passed. Lawmakers can only file a bill after the deadline if it is approved by six lawmakers in a 10-member bipartisan council.

Bobby Dombroski, 39, who lives in Waterville, favors stricter gun control measures. But he knows how concerned people are about the gun issue, and he knows how little has changed since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

“If the children are not dead, I don’t know what will happen,” he said.

The report was provided by Sydney Cromwell, Emilie Cochrane Nicolas Bogel-Burroughs And Chelsia Rose Marcius.

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