(The Center Square) — The debate over gun control has been rekindled following last week’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, where a U.S. Army Reservist who had been flagged for mental health issues killed 18 and injured more than a dozen others.
Robert Card, the alleged gunman in last Wednesday’s attack, was found dead Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot two days after opening fire in a crowded bowling alley and a bar. His family members had reportedly alerted local authorities that he was having mental health issues and was heavily armed, according to news reports.
The mass shooting was the deadliest since last year’s massacre at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, where a lone gunman killed 19 students and two adults before he was shot and killed by law enforcement.
But in Maine — a blue state with the nation’s lowest crime rate and a record of resisting firearm restrictions — the shooting has revived a thorny debate about gun control, with the outcome of the discussions anything but certain.
Democratic Rep. Jared Golden has shifted his stance on reauthorization of the federal “assault” weapons ban, calling on his colleagues in Congress to take action. The move was a stunning reversal for Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who has frequently opposed Democratic House leaders over gun control measures.
“I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war like the assault rifle he used to carry out this crime,” Golden told reporters. “The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure.”
Sen. Angus King, an independent, said Monday he is working on new federal legislation to ban the “most dangerous” and lethal aspects of military-style rifles used in mass shootings. But King reiterated his opposition to a bill pending in the Senate that would ban about 200 specific “assault” weapons and rifles with similar characteristics.
President Joe Biden and gun control advocates have urged Congress to pass an “assault” weapons ban in the wake of the nation’s latest mass shooting.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the lone Republican on the state’s congressional delegation, said Monday that she continues to oppose a federal “assault” weapons ban but would be open to setting restrictions on certain types of firearm components, like large-capacity magazines.
At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Janet Mills called for a “robust” conversation about gun control but didn’t commit to any new policies. Mills, a Democrat, supported gun control policies during the 2018 gubernatorial primary but has largely resisted them as governor.
“I’m not taking anything off the table,” she told reporters. “There are a lot of ideas out there. I’m willing to listen to all voices.”
House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, suggested that she will be pushing for new gun control laws in the wake of the mass shooting.
“We can and we must have a serious conversation about needed policy reforms to address the disturbing violence that occurs with unregulated dangerous weapons,” she posted on social media.
A likely target for the discussions is Maine’s “yellow flag” law that gun control advocates say limits the ability of authorities to take away a person’s weapons if they are considered a danger to themselves or others.
“It is incredible to me that a person who spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital after threatening to shoot up a military base could still be in possession of firearms,” state Rep. Grayson Lookner, a Portland Democrat, posted on social media. “Maine’s yellow flag law is clearly insufficient. We need a RED flag law now.”
But the talk of tightening gun control regulations in the wake of the Lewiston shooting prompted a sharp rebuke from the state’s Republican Party chairman Joel Stetkis, who accused Democrats of “seeking to capitalize on this tragedy by pushing for radical changes to Maine laws.”
“We will not play politics as this tragedy unfolds and families and communities grieve,” he said in a statement. “But when the time comes to defend the inalienable rights of the people of Maine, we will be ready.”