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Maine’s gun laws need common-sense updates

What are we willing to do in order to keep our friends, family, and children safe? There are pathways forward. It is time to act.

Artist Miia Zellner of Lewiston, Maine, nailed hearts she made to trees on Main Street in downtown Lewiston on Oct. 26.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff


The unthinkable, the unfathomable, and yet shockingly predictable happened in Lewiston Wednesday night — at least 18 were killed and 13 injured in a mass shooting at a bowling alley and bar.

The shootings occurred blocks from Bates College, where I teach sociology and criminology. Last year, based on my research of mass public shootings and gun laws, I mentioned in an interview with Maine Public Radio that Maine so far had been “lucky” to have not had any mass shootings. Maine is lucky no more.

Maine is generally a safe state, with less than 30 homicides per year on average. Yet the state has a relatively high rate of gun ownership, especially relative to the rest of New England. Data show that about 47 percent of adults in Maine have a gun in their home, compared to 14.7 percent in Massachusetts.

The lack of violent crime along with the high number of guns in Maine may have lulled citizens into a false feeling of security — that a mass shooting couldn’t happen in a place like this, where people largely live in small towns and know their neighbors.


But Maine has some of the most lax gun laws in the country. The state does not require universal background checks, does not ban high-capacity magazines, and does not require a permit for concealed carry for those over the age of 21. The state received an F from the Gifford’s Law Center regarding the strength of our gun laws. And while some Mainers celebrate that as an indication of freedom, there are common-sense steps that can be taken to help make everyone safer without trampling on individual rights.

Data show that requiring permits for guns and banning high-capacity magazines are associated with fewer attacks and fewer victims.


Maine has a yellow flag law that allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate guns from those who are a threat to themselves or others. Unlike red flag laws, in which people can petition a court to have firearms taken away, Maine’s yellow flag law relies on a medical opinion before action can be taken.

The use of red and yellow flag laws nationwide would help states begin to make progress on prioritizing gun safety. The laws do not restrict people from obtaining or possessing firearms universally but rather focus on the dangerousness of the person being investigated.

As we know from research, it is common for mass public shooters to make their intentions known, either through direct threat or what is called “leakage,” where they discuss plans with someone prior to the attack. These are opportunities to intervene.

Unfortunately, red and yellow flag laws are not used with much frequency. This could be for a variety of reasons, including a state’s hesitation to infringe on gun rights or a simple lack of knowledge that these laws are in place. They need to be used more often.

We in the Lewiston community are heartbroken and desperate for answers. As I write this, the Bates College campus is on lockdown and the search for the alleged perpetrator has grown. We are taking care of each other in the immediate moment.

And then we must look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are willing to do in order to keep our friends, family, and children safe. There are pathways forward. It is time to act.


Michael Rocque is a professor of sociology at Bates College.