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What to know about Maine's gun laws after Lewiston mass shooting

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Maine's gun laws have been thrust into the spotlight following the mass shooting in Lewiston.

Maine's laws regarding firearms have been thrust into the spotlight following Wednesday's mass shooting in Lewiston, in which a gunman armed with a rifle targeted a bowling alley where a children's league event was taking place, as well as a local bar, killing 18 people and wounding 13 others.

The state's constitution declares: "Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned." However, subsequent legislation has qualified that right, in many cases making Maine's gun laws less strict over the years due to changes originating both from the state legislature and a major voter referendum. Still, there remain several provisions intended to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.

PHOTO: Jim Jones does some pricing calculations while a customer fills out their background check materials before purchasing a handgun at the gun show at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, on Jan. 16, 2016.
Jim Jones does some pricing calculations while a customer fills out their background check materials before purchasing a handgun at the gun show at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, on Jan. 16, 2016.
Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, FILE

Who can own a firearm in Maine?

According to state law, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to purchase a handgun in Maine, nor is it legal to "knowingly" sell a handgun to a minor. It's also illegal to sell a firearm other than a handgun to a minor younger than age 16. Even so, there are exceptions – parental consent, for example, or active duty military service.

It's also illegal in Maine for certain persons to possess a firearm, including people convicted of certain crimes, such as domestic violence, people who have been judged to be mentally incompetent for various reasons, and other criteria.

Anyone purchasing a handgun or other firearm in the state of Maine also must sign an "acknowledgment that the person was provided a basic firearm safety brochure" by the licensed dealer, which the dealer by law is required to provide.

Additionally, most residents older than 21, and those who are 18 and above who also are in the military, are allowed to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Maine became a permitless carry state after its legislature passed a law to that end in 2015.

MORE: Maine shooting live updates

Even so, permits are required to carry concealed in places where it is otherwise prohibited. Maine residents can also apply for a permit to carry with them when they Travel to other states that recognize reciprocity with Maine – that is, states that recognize and honor the gun laws and rights of others.

The state's Division of Weapons and Professional Licensing said it processed in "excess of 3,961 permits" in 2020.

Background checks

Democratic Maine state lawmakers have repeatedly tried to pass laws that require universal background checks for all firearm sales, but have failed.

In 2013, the state legislature passed a bill that would have created a fine for anyone who didn't properly vet a potential firearm customer who was prohibited from possessing a gun, such as a convicted felon. However, then Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, vetoed the measure.

Three years later, Maine voters in the 2016 election were presented with a referendum that would have required background checks for all firearm sales, with the exception of those intended for "hunting, self-defense, lawful comPetitions, and shooting range activity."

PHOTO: The sign outside Bob & Tom's gun shop in Mattawamkeag, Maine and a show of support for defeating a ballot initiative to require background checks for firearm sales in Maine, Oct. 7, 2016.
The sign outside Bob & Tom's gun shop in Mattawamkeag, Maine and a show of support for defeating a ballot initiative to require background checks for firearm sales in Maine, Oct. 7, 2016.
Katie Zezima/The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

In the end, 394,157 voters –51.8% of total voters – voted no, according to election results.

PHOTO: Store owner behind the counter at his small gun shop, HF Firearms, next to his home in Levant, Oct. 7, 2016.
Store owner behind the counter at his small gun shop, HF Firearms, next to his home in Levant, Maine, Oct. 7, 2016.
Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, FILE

Where firearms are prohibited in Maine

Maine's laws specify several places where firearms are prohibited. For example, schools K-12, colleges, demonstrations and government buildings, including courthouses, ban civilians from bringing firearms, according to state law. They are not banned in hospitals, places of worship or gambling sites.

Employers are allowed to ban firearms from their buildings, but they cannot prohibit them from being stored in vehicles in their parking lots.

Bars and restaurants that serve alcohol must have proper signage that states firearms are not allowed on the premises in order for the prohibition to be legal, according to the law.

MORE: Witnesses recount scramble to survive when gunman opened fire in Lewiston, Maine, bowling alley

Restrictions

Certain people with criminal and medical histories are prohibited from legally owning or possessing a firearm in Maine, including convicted felons.

Individuals against whom protective orders were issued due to harassment, stalking or threats must surrender their weapon and forego possession during the duration of the order under Maine law. The state also bars persons who were involuntarily committed to a hospital by a court that determined the subject presents a "likelihood of serious harm" from possessing a firearm.

Former Military members who were dishonorably discharged, undocumented citizens, and a person who is "an unlawful user of or is addicted to any controlled substance" are also barred from legally possessing a firearm, according to the law.

PHOTO: Guns on a rack for sale at Craig Taylor's table at the gun show held in the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine on Jan. 16, 2016.
Guns on a rack for sale at Craig Taylor's table at the gun show held in the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine on Jan. 16, 2016.
Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, FILE

'Yellow flag' law

In 2019, the Maine state legislature passed a so-called "yellow flag" law, following years of calls from gun control advocates for the state to pass "red flag" laws that have been enacted in other states.

Most red flag laws allow family members, law enforcement, teachers and other specified parties to petition a judge to have a person's firearms confiscated if they are determined to pose a threat to themselves or others.

Maine's yellow flag law only allows law enforcement members to make a similar Petition and they must take the person into protective custody before the Petition is made, according to the law. The law also mandates a medical evaluation before the case can be presented to a judge.

MORE: Maine shooting timeline: How the mass shootings in Lewiston unfolded

Prohibiting child access to firearms

Maine does not have a secure storage law that mandates firearms be stored in a locker or similar secure device. However, it recently amended its laws to attempt to prevent children from gaining possession of a loaded weapon.

In 2021, Maine's state legislature passed a child endangerment law that, among other things, makes it a crime to leave a loaded firearm unsecured in the presence of a child under 16 years of age.

The gun owner has three options to abide by the law: store the weapon in "a locked box, locked gun safe or other secure, locked space"; have the weapon "stored or left in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure"; or secure the firearm with "a trigger lock or similar device that prevents the firearm from discharging," according to the law.

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