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Democrats in Maine set their sights on gun control early on. What they want are universal background checks, despite Maine voters having already put the kibosh on that one back in 2016.
To make matters worse, Democratic Governor Janet Mills put her stamp on that by saying the voters had already decided the issue. In other words, legislators could pass it, but Mills would veto it.
Universal background checks were a non-starter, and everyone knew it.
That didn’t mean there wasn’t a whole litany of bad ideas for anti-gun lawmakers to draw from. Instead of shrugging and working on other stuff, they shifted down to number two on their list, and that was red flag laws.
Red flag laws are as contentious as universal background checks, if not worse. After all, most people won’t be impacted by universal background checks since most people buy their guns from licensed dealers. However, red flag laws could impact every one of us.
Now, lawmakers have reached a compromise which may saddle the state with a red flag law after all.
Someone familiar with negotiations said on condition of anonymity that a drafted compromise would allow police to take guns from people in a format similar to existing “blue-paper” laws. Under that process, someone can be admitted involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital if a medical professional deems that person to have a mental illness that could cause harm.
A court hearing is required within 14 days to review those requests, and there would be a similar process under the pending deal. Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, who is working on the deal, and David Trahan, the executive director of the alliance, wouldn’t discuss details of the compromise, though Carpenter said it was “a bipartisan effort.” Spokespeople for Mills didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The new version is expected to appear in a bill as soon as next week. Because the bill will apply to people found to have mental illnesses, it is reduced in scope from Millett’s bill and the process used will be different than the one in a Mills-backed compromise vetoed by LePage in 2018.
This is hardly the worst potential red flag bill possible. It makes it extremely difficult to use the law to punish people because you want to. Linking the red flag bill to mental health tends to make it much more difficult to manufacture a threat and get the state to essentially swat someone you don’t like.
That said, it’s still an issue. The term “mental illness” is very broad. It tends to cover everything from psychopaths to people with a bit of depression. Between those two extremes is a vast space, most of which contain people who aren’t a threat to anyone. However, without specifics protecting these people’s rights, this law is little better than the red flag laws that allow anyone to disarm anyone else.
The truth of the matter is that the right to keep and bear arms is a right. It’s a right that needs to be respected and appreciated as what it is. Removing that right from anyone still is a serious matter that shouldn’t be entered into lightly, especially with such a vague notion as “mental illness.”
I hope that when the bill is formalized, it’ll be more restrictive than I fear it will be. We’ll have to wait and see.