A police officer walks along a rural road during a manhunt for the suspect of Wednesday's mass shootings, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Lisbon, Maine. The shootings took place at a restaurant and bowling alley in nearby Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

We need more red flag laws

Yet another public mass shooting has traumatized the nation, after 18 were murdered in Lewiston, Maine last night.

Each new shooting prompts fresh despair that our divided country can’t come together to stop gun violence. But we have and we can.

First, here’s what’s leading the Washington Monthly web site:

What can we do to reduce gun violence? States can build on the federal gun safety package, passed with a bipartisan vote in 2022, and enact red flag laws. Such laws allow court orders that prevent people who pose a risk to themselves or others from buying and possessing guns.

Back in April, after The Covenant School shooting in Nashville, I wrote for the Monthly about the effectiveness of red flag laws. One researcher estimated for every 10-to-20 red flag orders issued, one life was saved.

The 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act provides funds to states that adopt red flag laws. When the law was signed in June 2022, 19 states already had red flag laws.

Nearly all are blue states, but Republican-led Florida adopted a red flag law after the Parkland school shooting.

When I addressed the issue last April, that number hadn’t yet budged. But in May, Michigan and Minnesota—two states with new Democratic state government trifectas—joined the red flag club.

Since 2019, Maine has had a Democratic trifecta. But it does not yet have a red flag law. Instead, Maine—a mostly rural state with a longstanding gun culture—adopted in 2019 a more cumbersome “yellow flag” law, which requires police or concerned family and friends to obtain a formal medical opinion in addition to a court order.

In turn, few yellow flag orders have been issued in Maine, though, according to the Portland Press Heraldas of late the number had been increasing.

What we know about the Lewiston suspect suggests he could have been thwarted by a well-implemented yellow or red flag law, as he recently spent two weeks in a mental health facility and threatened to shoot up a National Guard base.

In April, I urged the authors of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to finish the job:

One source of pressure should come from the Republicans and Democrats in Washington who passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, including the lead Senate negotiators Kyrsten Sinema, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis. These people supposedly want their handiwork to succeed and not be remembered as a toothless bill.

Neither U.S. Senator from Tennessee backed the gun safety bill. But both Maine senators, including Republican Susan Collins, were co-sponsors.

The heavily Republican Tennessee state legislature has refused to act, despite the Republican governor supporting a red flag law and convening a special legislative session to address the issue.

But Maine should set an example, and replace its yellow flag law with an easier-to-implement red flag law.

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Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.