When the Maine Legislature returned to Augusta on January 3 for the second legislative session, they were met by a rally of hundreds of their constituents calling on them to protect public safety by restricting access to firearms. Typically, a majority of Maine lawmakers and the governor have opposed stricter gun laws. The gun lobby is very strong in Maine.

In the past, gun control opponents have argued that gun deaths are much lower in Maine than in the rest of the country. Maine has the 39th highest rate of gun deaths in the country with an average of 163 deaths by firearms each year, according to the gun safety group Everytown for Gun Safety. 

At the same time, Maine has a high rate of suicide by gun, with 158 gun-related suicides in 2021, representing about 89% of gun deaths that year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Calls for stricter laws have intensified after a mass shooter killed 18 people and wounded 13 others on October 25, 2023, in Lewiston. 

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition (MGSC), which helped organize the rally at the State House, is calling on lawmakers to pass four bills aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. These include a bill to ban assault weapons like the one used by the Lewiston shooter. In addition, the organization is backing a so-called “red flag” bill that would permit law enforcement to temporarily take guns away from certain individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others. Supporters of the bill argue that if such a law were in place last year, it could have prevented the Lewiston tragedy. Another MGSC-backed bill would require gun buyers to wait 72 hours before buying a gun to let them “cool off” before acting on impulse and temporary emotions. 

Under current law, licensed firearms dealers like retail stores must conduct a background check on anyone buying a gun to ensure that felons and people convicted of domestic violence cannot purchase a gun, but private sales between people are exempt from the law. 

The Gun Safety Coalition is urging the Legislature to pass a bill to close that loophole and require background checks for all gun sales. In 2016 Maine voters defeated a similar proposal in a referendum by 52% to 48%, but proponents hope the Lewiston shooting changed some minds on the issue. House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross originally proposed a background check bill last fall but has since withdrawn it. 

Gov. Janet Mills, who has opposed most proposals to restrict access to firearms, has not made her positions public on each proposed bill, but her spokesperson told the Portland Press Herald on January 3 that the governor “believes action is needed” and is “not taking any option off the table.” 

In a sign of how dangerously polarized our country is right now, the State House had to be evacuated on January 3, the first day of the new legislative session due to a bomb threat that turned out to be a hoax. It was one of many bomb hoaxes aimed at state legislatures across the country, according to the FBI.