Sen. Susan Collins floated the possibility of a federal version of a Maine law that would allow law enforcement to take guns from people deemed a threat to public safety after 21 people were killed in a shooting at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday.
Maine’s own “yellow flag” law has been used sparingly since it was enacted in 2019. But such laws have been on the short list of state-level gun control measures that have managed to gain bipartisan support with guns becoming an increasingly polarized issue.
The law enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2019 allows law enforcement to petition the court to seize guns or other weapons if a medical professional determines that a person with a mental health condition poses a significant threat to themselves or others.
It was backed by both gun control and gun safety groups but is less aggressive than an earlier “red flag” bill pushed by those groups that would have allowed family members to petition the court to seize weapons. As of last fall, 19 states and the District of Columbia had adopted broader “red flag” laws, according to Pew Research, with the majority of those laws being enacted after a deadly 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
As of January 2021, the Maine law had been used only 13 times, according to the attorney general’s office. Lack of funding for remote assessments was one barrier to the law’s use, officials acknowledged last year. Critics also argued the law did not ensure people whose weapons were seized would get mental health treatment. Data on how frequently the law has been used in the past year was not available from the attorney general’s office on Wednesday morning.
It is not clear how a “yellow flag” law would work federally. After the Parkland shooting, a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and including Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, backed legislation to dedicate federal funds to help states implement “red flag” laws.
Maine’s law would not have qualified for federal funding under that bill since it does not allow family members to seek an order barring access to firearms. The bill never advanced to the Senate floor.