Sister of Maine mass shooting victim calls lawmakers’ 11th-hour bid for red flag law ‘nefarious’

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The sister of one of the victims of the deadliest shooting in Maine history accused lawmakers of acting “nefariously” by pressing at the 11th hour of the legislative session for a so-called red flag law that could be used to take away guns from someone experiencing a psychiatric crisis. Others, however, said such a law could have saved lives.

Testimony stretched into a second day as a legislative committee heard public testimony Tuesday on the proposal that aims to let family members or others petition a judge to initiate the process of temporarily removing someone’s guns during a psychiatric crisis instead of letting police handle the process under the state’s existing “yellow flag” law.

Jill Walker, a licensed clinical social worker whose brother Jason was killed during the mass shooting, delivered an impassioned plea for lawmakers to reject the proposal. She said the yellow flag process is adequate, if used properly.

“I am disturbed that some members of the Maine Legislature have seized the opportunity to nefariously use the Oct. 25 tragedy for a political end,” Walker told the Judiciary Committee. “It’s my personal opinion that this was rushed,” she added.

But a statement read aloud on behalf of Jennifer Zanca, who was shot in the arm while trying to escape the carnage, indicated she believes a red flag law could have made a difference.

“I understand it’s a loaded topic and my friends have different opinions, but this is where I stand: The states that have safe gun laws, including waiting periods, background checks and red flag laws, have the lowest incidence of gun violence. The statistics are clear. It seems reasonable that we put these measures in place because it works,” Zanca’s statement said.

The red flag bill — subject of public testimony on Friday and on Tuesday — is among a number of proposals introduced in response to the Oct. 25 shootings by an Army reservist at a bowling alley and at a bar and grill in Lewiston. The Army and police were aware that the 40-year-old gunman had become paranoid and delusional, leading to his hospitalization. A fellow reservist warned that he might commit a mass shooting.

An independent commission said Maine’s existing law should have been invoked to take Card’s weapons. The “yellow flag” law requires police to initiate the process of removing someone’s guns in a crisis by taking them into protective custody, getting them evaluated and presenting findings to a judge. “Red flag” proposals allow an individual to directly go to a judge to initiate the process.

Critics contend someone rights could be trampled by taking police out of the equation.

Kathleen Szostek of Dixfield told the committee that the red flag proposal “lulls us into thinking we’re doing something about gun violence when we’re potentially trampling on the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

“This nation was founded on innocent until proven guilty. This bill is so wrong. Imagine how it could be weaponized in this divided environment,” said Szostek, who contended that the existing law “would work just fine if it was followed.”

Sheldon Bird of Bath took lawmakers to task for inaction on gun violence.

“The basic opening argument against any type of firearm restriction goes like this: ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,'” Bird said. “This is specious at best, fraudulent at worst. If it were valid, then we would have no higher death rate than any other civilized country. Guns are a unique factor in the U.S. violence situation.”

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