Sagadahoc Sheriff's Department Sgt. Aaron Schofield hangs "no trespassing" signs and a steel cable across the driveway at a home on the Augusta Road in Bowdoin on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, where four people were found dead on April 18. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Penalties for felons caught possessing guns would increase and so-called straw purchases on behalf of those people would be banned in Maine under measures that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The Senate had unanimously approved both bills without roll call votes last week, meaning they should soon go to Gov. Janet Mills. Both measures have gotten support from gun-rights groups, and they are likely to be the only major changes to gun laws passed in Maine this year after votes against stricter gun control measures.

The measure from Sen. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, would elevate the possession penalties for convicted felons from Class C to Class B crimes, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Penalties for several other offenders, such as fugitives, undocumented residents, and those who were dishonorably discharged from the military, would rise from Class D to Class C crimes, which carry up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The ban on “straw” purchases, in which a person buys a gun for someone prohibited from possessing firearms, mirrors a federal ban. It would carry penalties of up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Supporters of the amended bill from Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, said a state ban would give local police the power to also arrest offenders.

After passing out of committee in May, the measure was amended at the request of Republicans and two gun-rights groups — the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the National Rifle Association — to exempt antique firearms and muzzleloaders from the ban.

Lawmakers in Maine, which has a strong hunting culture, have defeated other gun control bills this month, including a 72-hour waiting period measure and a ban on various rapid-fire modification devices. Republican attempts to loosen gun laws have also gone nowhere.

current gun control measures

Mills, a Democrat, has been working with sportsman’s alliance Executive Director David Trahan on a yet-to-be-unveiled compromise package that Trahan said would likely include a straw purchase ban and more resources for Maine’s “yellow flag” law that allows police and prosecutors to seek a court order restricting the ability of people who have threatened to harm themselves or others to access weapons.

The gun control debate picked up steam in Augusta this year after Maine saw its worst mass shooting in several decades in April, when police said a man, Joseph Eaton, killed his parents and their two friends in Bowdoin before wounding a father and his two adult children on Interstate 295 near Yarmouth.

Trahan said a bill more directly tailored to the circumstances linked to the Eaton case will likely come next year and call for a novel arrangement with probation-style checks at homes in which violent felons are staying after their release from prison.

Eaton had been released from prison a few days before the shootings. In 2014, he wanted to move to Florida to live with his parents while completing probation for a crime committed in Maine, but court documents show the move was blocked because his father refused to give up guns in that home. He had also been convicted before for possessing guns as a felon, and he is charged with that as part of the April case as well.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...