LEWISTON, Maine — Gun violence was not directly on the ballot in Tuesday’s election, but Lewiston voters shared thoughts on what lawmakers should do about it nearly two weeks after Maine’s deadliest mass shooting.
Voters at the polls mirrored state and national debates about guns and mental health. But there were a few surprising diversions from the typical party lines when Bangor Daily News reporters spoke with more than two dozen residents at Lewiston and Auburn polling sites Tuesday to vote on state referendums and a large slate of local races.
The twin cities separated by the Androscoggin River have collectively grieved since a gunman killed 18 people and injured 13 at a Lewiston bowling alley and bar on Oct. 25 before being found dead two days later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was the country’s deadliest mass shooting in 2023 and the 10th deadliest one on record.
Voter sentiment covered everything from banning assault-style weapons like the one used by the gunman to enforcing laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people exhibiting warning signs, bolstering mental health care or ramping up Maine’s “yellow flag” statute.
Tyler MacNeil, 27, a Lewiston resident who works for an advertising firm, said while he thinks pistols and hunting rifles are fine, legislators should ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Five voters agreed on banning semi-automatic rifles modeled after the Colt AR-15. A federal assault-style weapons ban expired in 2004 after taking effect in 1994.
“It’s a lot easier to buy an assault rifle than it is to get a doctor’s appointment,” Auburn resident David Haines, 81, said, although he does not think policymakers will change things.
Back in Lewiston, Phillip Pendexter, 21, said he would like more people to exercise their Second Amendment rights to defend themselves in mass shootings. He repeated a popular line among gun-rights advocates: “Guns aren’t killing people. People are killing people.”
But Yvette Mercier, 74, said people with any sign of mental instability should not have access to guns. She said mass shootings will keep happening if lawmakers do not act, yet she feels they only care about themselves.
Lewiston City Councilor Larry Pease, who did not seek reelection Tuesday, said he thinks people in Maine often do not have anywhere safe to go if they are violent and struggling mentally. While Pease and his wife, Caroline, voted for mayoral candidate Jon Connor, a former Republican state lawmaker, Caroline Pease said guns should be taken off the market.
Rachel Dixon, a 56-year-old Lewiston resident who works at TD Bank, said families must take ownership to support struggling members. Dixon said she has a daughter with a schizoaffective disorder who had to go to California for treatment due to Maine not having enough beds.
While numerous voters largely agreed on a need to improve the mental health care system, they were split over whether Maine’s existing yellow flag law is sufficient or if a stronger “red flag” law is needed.
Red flag laws allow police and family to petition courts to confiscate weapons from people deemed dangerous, while Maine’s less-stringent yellow flag measure requires a medical professional to also deem the person a threat. Experts largely agree the yellow flag law should have been triggered in the case of the Lewiston gunman, Robert R. Card II, given the Army reservist’s warning signs in the months leading to the shooting.
Lawmakers have disagreed on the need to change the yellow flag law that Gov. Janet Mills and the gun-rights Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine worked to pass in 2019, with police chiefs who have relied on it saying it works.
“That guy shouldn’t have had guns,” April Shanaman, 51, who owns Auburn’s Lost Valley ski area, said while adding she supports the right to own firearms.
The mass shooting personally affected many in the tight-knit twin cities. Anne Carro, 70, a retired nurse from Lewiston, said her nephew survived getting shot during the rampage and lamented how police were aware Card was paranoid and had access to firearms.
“Just awful,” Carro said.