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Background Checks and a Strong Red Flag Law Might Have Prevented the Mass Shooting in Bowdoin where Four People, Including Shooter’s Parents were Killed, and Three Others were Wounded in Yarmouth on Interstate-295

April 21, 2023

BOWDOIN, Maine. — On Tuesday, four people were shot and killed in a home in Bowdoin — including the shooter’s parents. According to reports, after the shooter killed his parents and their friends, he then proceeded onto Interstate-295 in Yarmouth where he shot and wounded three people because he believed the cars on the highway were police vehicles. Although it has not yet been reported how the shooter obtained the weapons used in the shooting, according to reports, his criminal history prohibited him from possessing firearms. The shooter was released from a correctional facility four days prior to the shooting where he had served nearly two years for aggravated assault. Additionally, the shooter posted a video on Facebook prior to the shooting that indicated he might have been in a crisis. Maine does not require background checks on all firearm sales or have an Extreme Risk law — sometimes known as “Red Flag” law — that allows family members to seek court orders to prevent someone in crisis from accessing a firearm. 

While federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers, it does not require background checks for guns sold by unlicensed sellers, like non-dealers who sell guns online or at gun shows. This loophole enables people with felony convictions, domestic abuse restraining orders, and other people with prohibiting histories to buy guns with no questions asked. 

Ninety three percent of voters, 89% of Republicans, and 89% of gun owners support requiring background checks on all gun sales, and there’s a good reason why: background checks save lives. In 2016, Maine proposed a ballot initiative that would require background checks, but it narrowly failed. Each year on just one website, 1.2 million online ads offering firearms for sale are listed that would not legally require a background check to be completed. And nearly 1 in 9 prospective buyers who respond to these ads would not pass a background check.

In 2019, the Maine legislature nearly passed a robust Extreme Risk law. However, the bill was significantly narrowed before passage, creating a firearm access prevention process that was only available in cases where law enforcement officers encounter those with serious mental illness.In addition to law enforcement, strong Extreme Risk laws also allow family members of individuals in crisis, and others who recognize warning signs to take action and remove guns from people who are in danger of harming themselves or others, helping to prevent both homicides and suicides — and could save countless lives in Maine where the majority of gun deaths are by firearm suicide.

Extreme Risk laws include important due process protections and penalties for anyone reporting a false claim to ensure that only those who are a clear risk can be subject to an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO). ERPOs can help de-escalate emergency situations and are a proven way to prevent gun violence. In fact, 32 percent of the mass shootings in which four or more people were killed from 2015-2022, a shooter exhibited at least one warning sign before the shooting, highlighting the need for these laws. 

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now have Extreme Risk laws on the books, including red states like Florida which passed its Red Flag law shortly after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Following the recent shooting in Nashville, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, both Republicans, indicated support for gun safety measures, including those that would keep guns out of the hands of people in crisis who pose a risk to themselves or other, like an Extreme Risk law which could have temporarily removed the Nashville shooter’s access to guns and prevented the shooting. Extreme Risk laws have broad support from law enforcement and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle because they are a common-sense way to prevent access to a deadly weapon and prevent someone from accessing a gun who should not have one from harming themselves or someone else. More information about Extreme Risk laws is available here.

In an average year, 163 people die by guns in Maine and gun violence costs the state $2.3 billion each year. Learn more about gun violence in Maine here

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