Maine's Version of "Red Flag" Law Used 13 Times Since Passing

While many people who claim to be pro-gun don’t object to “red flag” or Extreme Risk Protection laws, few who actually understand either gun rights or red flag laws are particularly fond of them. After all, they take guns away from people with only the window dressings of due process. It doesn’t help that the only evidence anyone seems interested in providing that these laws work is simply to trot out how many times they’ve been used.

However, in fairness, Maine’s version of the law–what they call a “yellow flag” law–is a bit different. Still, they’re touting how many times it’s been used.

Instead of charging the distraught man with a crime and taking him to the Penobscot County Jail, the sheriff’s office and district attorney used Maine’s new “yellow flag” law to take him into protective custody and cut off his access to dangerous weapons for a year so he could receive mental health treatment.

Police and prosecutors have used that new law at least a dozen times since it took effect on July 1, 2020, following its 2019 passage in the Maine Legislature. It allows police and prosecutors, with a medical professional’s assessment in hand, to seek a judge’s permission to confiscate guns and other weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves and others in hopes of preventing mass shootings and suicides.

It’s a more limited version of “red flag” laws in other states that allow family members and police to petition courts to confiscate guns and other dangerous weapons from people found to be dangerous.

Maine’s law has the potential to save lives, according to authorities. But using it is time-consuming and resource-intensive, as it involves police, district attorneys, defense attorneys, judges and medical professionals. It comes with no additional funding attached that would make it truly effective, they said. Plus, it hasn’t always succeeded in ensuring that people who need mental health treatment actually follow through with it, said a lawyer involved in a number of yellow flag cases.

Now, I don’t like the idea of taking guns away from someone without the full due process of law, but Maine’s attempt at addressing this is better than most states.

For one thing, a medical professional is part of the process.

In most states, a judge has to make the determination based exclusively on what police or family think, none of which are necessarily trained to make a determination. Mental health professionals are better equipped for that sort of thing and Maine seems to be one of the few states that understands this.

Unfortunately, if they’re not funding this effort, it’s going to create problems. On one hand, I just shrug. On the other, though, I’m concerned that if this becomes too much of a problem, they’ll just try to reform the process by adopting a model similar to the red flag laws we see in other states. As bad as things are now, that would be much worse for Maine’s gun community.

Of course, the ideal is to get rid of it entirely and recognize that there are still laws that take people contemplating hurting themselves or others off the street and getting them some much-needed mental help and that perhaps those should be used instead. Somehow, though, I don’t see that happening.

Oct 24, 2021 2:30 PM ET