Former Congressman Bruce Poliquin speaks at a press conference at the Bangor Waterfront on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said on Tuesday that he would have voted against the bipartisan gun and mental health bill recently signed into law, breaking with Rep. Jared Golden and the rest of Maine’s current congressional delegation.

It is a notable area of difference between Poliquin and Golden ahead of a competitive November rematch between the pair in the gun-friendly 2nd Congressional District. Golden backed the bipartisan bill, which was the first major piece of gun legislation to pass Congress in nearly 30 years.

The bill, which passed the House on Friday with the support of all Democrats and 14 Republicans, was negotiated by a group of senators including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. It lengthens the process for background checks for people younger than 21 and increases penalties for straw purchases — purchasing a firearm for someone prohibited from possessing one.

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It also allocates money for mental health services and provides funding for state laws allowing guns to be seized from people experiencing severe mental health crises, including both Maine’s yellow flag law and more stringent red flag laws in other states.

Poliquin said that he supported many of the bill’s components but would not have voted for it over the red flag provision, saying it raised concerns about due process and the 2nd Amendment.

“We should not have Washington try to push Maine down a different path,” he said. “We already have a yellow flag law that works.”

Poliquin spoke at the Bangor Waterfront on Tuesday alongside House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who came to Maine for a fundraiser with the former Republican congressman.

The bill will not force states to adopt red or yellow flag laws, but it will provide funding for those laws, including Maine’s yellow flag law. Poliquin said that provision was problematic, saying in his experience “nothing good happens” when the federal government starts putting money “in front of states’ noses.” He said he would have attempted to negotiate to have that provision removed so he could vote for the rest of the bill.

Golden backed the bipartisan bill last week, saying it struck the right balance between protecting 2nd Amendment rights and getting guns out of the hands of people who were a danger to themselves or others. He noted the bill was supported by Collins as well as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a prominent voice on gun rights issues here.

The Democratic congressman previously bucked his party in opposing more sweeping gun control legislation.