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Portland Press Herald: Maine’s yellow flag law has been invoked nearly once a day since Lewiston mass shooting

By February 10, 2024March 4th, 2024News

This story was published by Portland Press Herald. View the story online through the link below or read a snippet copied from the article, below.

Maine’s yellow flag law has been invoked nearly once a day since Lewiston mass shooting

For years, Maine police departments made little use of a state law that allows them to take firearms away from people in crisis.  

Then, in October, a man who had been hearing voices and threatening violence shot and killed 18 people in Lewiston. In the three months since, Maine police have used the law an average of about once a day, taking guns away from people they believe might shoot themselves or others. 

Meanwhile, a group of mental health professionals who work for police departments in York County is aiming to improve the yellow flag law. They want their front-line experience to be considered when lawmakers consider reforms.

“We want to make the law more user-friendly for the officers, and make it so that it’s not overwhelming to try to use,” said Shannon Bentley, mental health first responder with the Sanford Police Department, and part of the group seeking change. “Officers aren’t mental health providers.” 

Bentley said the process “should be more streamlined” and easier to follow, and with not as many gray areas that can now sometimes make officers hesitant to invoke the law.

Gov. Janet Mills said in her State of the State address that she is looking to reform the law in the wake of the mass shooting, although specific legislation has yet to be introduced. Democratic lawmakers are also planning to unveil reforms to Maine’s gun laws in response to Lewiston, including potential changes to the yellow flag law.

“More police departments are using the law,” said Ben Strick, vice president of adult behavioral health with Spurwink, which does most of the mental health evaluations required under the yellow flag law. “The frequency has remained high, and we have not seen a decrease in acuity of cases. That is truly remarkable.”