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Legislators pay respects, eye gun laws as they reconvene following Maine’s deadliest mass shooting

Jan 2, 2024, 10:05 PM | Updated: Jan 3, 2024, 2:46 pm

FILE - The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine. Honoring victim...

FILE - The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine. Honoring victims, survivors and first responders following the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history is the first order of business for lawmakers returning to work Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the state House. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The father of one of 18 people killed in Maine’s deadliest mass shooting delivered an impassioned plea for action Wednesday as state lawmakers convened for the first time since the tragedy, taking time to read the name of each victim aloud.

Honoring victims, survivors and first responders was the first order of business for lawmakers who’ll be taking up gun control proposals and potential changes to the state’s so-called yellow flag law, which allows a judge to remove guns from someone in a mental health crisis.

His hands shaking and his voice raw with emotion, Arthur Barnard told a rally of gun control activists that it was time to fix “careless” laws, stop playing the blame game and work together to prevent future tragedies.

“This is not about taking guns, OK? This is about doing the right thing. And finding the right politicians who are willing to do the right thing more than they’re afraid of losing their job,” said Barnard, whose son Arthur Strout was gunned down while playing billiards with friends.

Eighteen were killed and 13 injured when an Army reservist with deteriorating mental health opened fire Oct. 25 at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston.

The shootings happened little more than a month after a deputy tried to check on the reservist, the first step to putting someone in protective custody under the state’s yellow flag law. But the man didn’t open the door, and the deputy didn’t have authority to force his way in, a sheriff said.

Legislative leaders including Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross have talked about revisiting the yellow flag law and updating Maine’s existing gun laws like background checks, but have not publicly revealed details. Aides have said they want to get stakeholders together to try to build support before offering specific language.

On Wednesday, lawmakers devoted time to acknowledging the loss in both the Senate and House chambers.

In the Senate, a chorus from Lewiston High School sang the national anthem and Democratic Sen. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston warned her colleagues against forgetting what happened in her hometown.

“The world may have moved on but for the people of Lewiston, the surrounding communities and many others in Maine, the healing is just beginning. The pain, the trauma and the anguish remain,” she said.

In the House, Democratic Rep. Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston told her colleagues that she remains overcome with sadness. “Nothing has been the same since that night. And nothing will ever been the same again,” she said.

The remembrances and tributes set a collective tone for the session, but gun control remains a divisive issue. Second Amendment supporters made their presence known Wednesday, mingling in the Hall of Flags as Barnard and others spoke at a rally hosted by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.

Holding a leatherbound copy of the U.S. Constitution, Robert Duhaime, a boatbuilder from Surry who also owns a gun range, was extremely skeptical that lawmakers can do anything to prevent gun violence.

“Show me what laws would have done anything to prevent this tragedy in Lewiston. Show me one,” he said. “We already have so many laws on the books.”

Also on the future agenda was a request by state Rep. John Andrews, who sits on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, to impeach Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who denied Republican former President Donald Trump a spot on the state’s primary ballot over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The proposal faced long odds in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, the first hurdle being securing enough votes to proceed, followed by an impeachment vote in the House and a trial in the Maine Senate.

Several GOP lawmakers tried to raise the issue from the floor but were rebuffed by the Democratic house speaker.

Lawmakers also planned to consider bills carried over from the last session, including a proposal to give greater sovereignty to Native American tribes in the state and another to amend the Maine Constitution to enshrine the right to an abortion, along with hundreds of other old and new bills.

Lawmakers also will have to decide how to deal with a supplemental budget that’s expected to top $100 million.

As for gun control, Max Zachau, a lifelong Maine hunter, urged fellow hunters to join him in standing up for “better laws.”

Shotguns used by waterfowl hunters are limited to a maximum of three rounds, even as some assault rifles carry high-capacity magazines, he noted.

“The fact that we give a flock of ducks a better chance to escape than what we give to a classroom full of school kids tells me that our regulatory system is woefully inadequate,” Zachau said.

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Follow David Sharp on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @David_Sharp_AP

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Legislators pay respects, eye gun laws as they reconvene following Maine’s deadliest mass shooting