AUGUSTA, Maine — A meeting for Gov. Janet Mills, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and the gun-rights Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is one sign of the work underway to map out Maine’s responses to the Lewiston mass shooting.
While Mills and Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine leader David Trahan have long been close and worked on gun-related compromises in the past, the talks risk alienating progressives who want the kind of sweeping action that lawmakers here have long resisted.
Those are not the only talks going on after the state’s deadliest shooting on record. The Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a leading gun control group, is also communicating with Talbot Ross, a progressive Democrat from Portland, as well as Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who has gotten high marks from the National Rifle Association in the past.
Mills has not tipped her hand on ideas so far. The gun safety coalition wants an assault-style weapons ban, a red flag law, expanded background checks and 72-hour waiting periods before gun purchases, while Trahan wants to secure guns in the homes of people deemed dangerous and address other parts of the lead-up to the Lewiston shooting.
The separate, at-times-competing discussions make clear policymakers in a state long known as one of the country’s safest despite high gun ownership rates are still grappling with how to respond to gun violence.
Mills spokesperson Ben Goodman reiterated the governor is “not taking any option off the table,” but that any legislation “must be the product of a broad discussion among a diverse group of voices,” including lawmakers in both parties, police and public health officials.
Spokespeople for Mills and Talbot Ross did not share specifics of what their staffers discussed Wednesday with Trahan, but Trahan said they talked about several concepts, including ideas developed after 34-year-old Joseph Eaton allegedly killed his parents and their two friends at their Bowdoin home and then injured three people while firing at cars along Interstate 295 in April.
Eaton had a lengthy criminal record and was barred from possessing guns after leaving prison days before that shooting. After that, Maine lawmakers mirrored a federal ban on “straw purchases” of guns for people prohibited from having them and enhanced penalties for illegally possessing firearms.
Trahan wants more, including a “residence agreement” between the state and a property owner who is housing a person prohibited from possessing firearms. The homeowner would be required to remove or securely store dangerous weapons and could face criminal liability if the prohibited person obtains them. Probation-style checks of those homes would be allowed.
The gun-rights advocate’s other ideas relate to expanding a grant the Maine Department of Public Safety received to support the safe storage of weapons in homes, ensuring all Maine hospitals can conduct “yellow flag” evaluations and bolstering security at polling places.
Wednesday’s meeting “gives us a starting point on a package that may gain bipartisan support,” Trahan said, nodding to the political realities that have led to his close relationship with Mills.
Despite controlling both chambers, Democrats failed this year to pass additional gun-control measures to expand background checks, ban bump stocks and create 72-hour waiting periods on firearm purchases due to opposition from within their own ranks. Early in Mills’ tenure, she dissuaded members of her parties from advancing gun control measures.
Reconsidering Maine’s yellow flag law negotiated between Mills and Trahan, plus a failed bill to expand background checks to private sales and transfers are goals for Talbot Ross, who said in a statement that conversations must focus on “disturbing violence that occurs with unregulated dangerous weapons and inadequate funding of mental health services.”
Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, who co-chairs the Gun Safety Caucus, said she is not aware of Trahan’s proposals. Doudera has a bill for 2024 aimed at preventing suicides that would allow people to place themselves on a do-not-sell list for firearms.
“I’ve been trying to talk to David for several months now regarding my suicide prevention bill, but he doesn’t get back to me,” Doudera said of Trahan.
Gun control backers who have been frustrated with Mills on this issue are avoiding criticism at this key moment. Lynn Ellis, legislative director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said her group is having “regular conversations” with Jackson and Talbot Ross and previously has spoken with Mills.
“We are not, not at the table,” Ellis said.