Maine — where people are killed by guns at a higher rate than any other northeastern state / Ethan Strimling

Photo via Maine Teen Coalition for Gun Reform

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on April 20, 2023


Despite constant warnings from so many that guns are simply too numerous and accessible in Maine for us to avoid the tragedies so many states in America experience, Maine just had its 10th mass shooting since 2011.

A lone gunman, another troubled young white male, has been charged with shooting seven people on Tuesday, killing four, including his parents and two of their friends. It is a tragedy unbearable to comprehend, made even worse when we realize that the suspected shooter is a person barred from having a gun. A gun that police say the shooter was able to obtain, despite multiple felony convictions.

Although this is the worst mass shooting in Maine in decades, it is far from the only one. According to excellent reporting in the Bangor Daily News, this is actually our 10th mass shooting since 2011. 

To date, mass shootings in Maine since 2011 (defined here as two or more people shot in a single incident) have resulted in 28 dead, including 5 children, with another 10 injured. 

And lest we think gun deaths are few and far between here, a popular myth pushed by the extremist Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — which attacks state-level gun control legislation in a similar way as the NRA at the national level — Maine actually has the highest per capita gun death rate in the northeast, according to the CDC. Maine had 12.6 gun deaths in 2021 per 100,000 people. Vermont had 11.9. New Hampshire had 8.3. Connecticut had 6.7. Rhode Island had 5.6. New York had 5.4. New Jersey had 5.2. And Massachusetts had 3.4.

Yes, you read that right. Gun deaths per capita in Maine are more than double the per capita rates of New York and New Jersey and more than triple the rate in Massachusetts.

Not coincidentally, the three northeast states that have the highest gun death rates — Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont — also have the weakest gun control laws in the region, according to both gun rights and gun control groups.

With the recent mass shooting in Bowdoin, our history of mass shootings over the past decade and our per-capita gun death rate, it is time, once again, to take our heads out of the sand about gun control in Maine. 

While the police have remained tight-lipped about the weapon(s) used, the size of the magazine, and how the accused came into possession of any gun, there are likely four laws that could have prevented this tragedy.

  1. Universal background checks on all transfers of guns. Currently, convicted felons can purchase guns privately without a background check. Maine House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) has a bill to end this absurdity in state law. 
  2. A seven day waiting period for the purchase or transfer of any gun, anytime, anywhere. Currently Maine has no waiting period for a gun purchase or transfer of ownership. The suspected shooter was released from prison last Friday and was clearly emotionally distraught. Within four days, according to the criminal charges against him, he had a gun and had shot seven people. A seven day waiting period likely would have given the family time to get help, not to mention time for people to find out whether the suspected shooter was trying to get a gun.
  3. Criminal liability for anyone who sells or gives a gun to a felon. Current law only has criminal liability for someone who “knowingly” sells a gun to a convicted criminal, ensuring a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality among those who sell, lend, or give guns to others.
  4. Require that all handguns in Maine are registered and that all new handguns use “smart” technology. We likely have tens of thousands of handguns in Maine, but we have no idea where they are or who owns them. Through facial, finger and palm recognition technology, smart guns ensure that only the registered owner of a handgun gun is able to fire the weapon. If the suspected Bowdoin shooter had stolen someone else’s handgun, smart technology would have stopped him from using it.

With initial reports saying there were “bullet holes everywhere” at the scene in Bowdoin, it is likely some kind of assault weapon or high capacity magazine was used, so including a ban on both will likely need to be added to this list. 

Regardless, Maine is the most dangerous state in the northeast for gun deaths. Let’s do something about it.


Ethan Strimling served ten years as Mayor and State Senator for Portland, Maine.

Maine News: Advocates rally for tribal sovereignty as Mills signals opposition to long-sought reform / by Evan Popp

Around 100 people rallied in front of the State House on Wednesday to celebrate the progress that has been made this legislative session on recognizing the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki and to call on Gov. Janet Mills to sign multiple bills that would ensure the tribes are treated like other Indigenous nations around the country. 

The event featured speeches from members of the Wabanaki and lawmakers supportive of tribal sovereignty along with songs and dancing and a group of Indigenous people in a circle drumming together. 

Wednesday’s rally comes as the Wabanaki have secured big victories in the Maine Legislature on bills to reinforce their sovereignty. However, challenges lie ahead, as Mills has signaled that she may veto the most sweeping of those measures, LD 1626, which would reset a relationship with the state that Indigenous leaders have long argued is fraught with paternalism and unfair treatment.

“It’s up to her — she has an opportunity to change her mind and be a decent person,” said Darrell Newell, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, of Mills. He added, “We hope the governor will sign [these bills] into law. Maine will be a better place for it.”  

Significant victories for Wabanaki 

LD 1626, which would provide the Wabanaki with rights similar to those enjoyed by other tribes around the country, passed the legislature last week and is now awaiting funding approval from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee before being sent to Mills’ desk. The bill would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 to strengthen tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognize the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirm the Wabanaki’s right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. Despite an unprecedented level of support for the bill, Mills has threatened to veto the legislation. 

Another priority bill that has passed the legislature this session is LD 906, a measure to address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, known as Sipayik. Lawmakers passed that bill last week with strong bipartisan support. 

The measure was then recalled from Mills’ desk and an amendment was approved by both chambers that says the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s jurisdiction when it comes to drinking water does not extend beyond its territory and that the tribe can’t exercise jurisdiction over nonprofit public municipal corporations in enforcing ordinances related to drinking water. The bill was passed by both chambers and is now before Mills for consideration. 

A sign at the rally Wednesday | Beacon

A third bill, LD 585, seeks to facilitate better tribal-state relations, implement tax benefits on tribal land and legalize and establish a regulatory framework for sports wagering on Wabanaki territory. An amendment to the bill approved by the House and Senate clarified “any licensed casino is eligible to receive a facility sports wagering license” but that a commercial track in Bangor is not eligible. LD 585 is a compromise between Mills and the tribes. However, while supportive of the bill, the Wabanaki do not view it as a substitute for the sovereignty provided by LD 1626 and LD 906. 

Like LD 1626, LD 585 has also been passed by both chambers and is awaiting funding approval from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) before being sent to Mills’ desk. Lawmakers and proponents of tribal sovereignty expressed concern about the status of LD 1626 and LD 585 early Wednesday afternoon. With the legislature set to adjourn after Wednesday, advocates feared those bills could die before getting to Mills’ desk if there wasn’t enough time for AFA to approve funding for them. However, later Wednesday, both the House and the Senate passed an order to extend the legislative session, providing more time for the bills to be approved by AFA and sent to Mills.

‘Unprecedented support for tribal sovereignty’ 

The rally Wednesday featured a large number of speakers, including Passamaquody language and cultural teacher Dwayne Tomah, who noted the avalanche of support that the tribal sovereignty bills have received. Both LD 1626 and LD 906 had marathon public hearings, with a litany of people speaking in support of the bills. Over 1,500 people testified in favor of LD 1626 alone. Tomah also noted that many legislators have lined up behind the tribal sovereignty bills.

“Historically, this is unprecedented,” Tomah said. “It’s unprecedented the amount of support that we’re receiving from this building and also the amount of support we are receiving from the people of Maine. The people of Maine, their voices are being heard. This is a long time coming historically.” 

Multiple lawmakers also spoke at the rally. Rep. Thom Harnett (D-Gardiner) called on Mills to sign the tribal sovereignty measures, saying it is a matter of fairness and justice. 

“The time for words is over. It’s action that we need right now. It is all the words you have given us that resulted in these bills being put on the governor’s desk and the action we need is for them to be signed,” Harnett said. 

As Beacon previously reported, Mills, a Democrat, has used her veto authority to nix several legislative priorities popular within her party, including an attempt to close Long Creek youth prison and a bill that would have allowed voters to weigh in on replacing Maine’s two major investor-owned electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, with a consumer-owned utility. Earlier this year, Mills drew national headlines for vetoing a bill that would have allowed farmworkers to unionize.

If LD 1626 is indeed vetoed, Sen. Rick Bennett, a Republican from Oxford County, said he hopes the legislature will override the governor, arguing that government must create laws that are right and morally just. 

“I want to express my hope, my sincere hope, particularly to the members of my own party who have opposed the initiative, that they will reconsider,” Bennett said.

Still, regardless of the ultimate outcome, Ernie Neptune, vice chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, said getting the tribal sovereignty legislation passed through the legislature has been heartening and shows the power of persistence. 

“This legislative session has been monumental with regards to our sovereignty,” he said, adding “My brothers and sister: never give up. It is worth every bit of effort to fight for what you believe are your inherent rights.”   

Photo: Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House rally Wednesday | Beacon 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan@mainebeacon.com.

Beacon, April 21, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Maine News: Tribal sovereignty, housing, environmental bills among big votes taken in Augusta this week / by Evan Popp

The Maine Legislature voted on a number of important issues this week, ranging from high-profile tribal sovereignty measures to bills related to economic justice, health care, housing and the environment. Here’s a rundown of some of the recent decisions made in Augusta. 

Tribal sovereignty

The legislature this week took up multiple measures designed to reinforce the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki in what has been a multi-year campaign by Indigenous nations in Maine to be treated like all other tribes around the country. 

On Thursday, the House approved a bill that would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The bill, LD 1626, would change the Settlement Act to create “an enhanced process for tribal-state collaboration and consultation as well as a process for alternative dispute resolution.” Other aspects of the legislation include strengthening tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognizing the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirming the Wabanaki’s right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. The vote was 81-55 in favor of the bill. 

Also this week, the legislature approved another tribal sovereignty bill, LD 906. That bill would address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, known as Sipayik, where dangerous levels of toxic chemicals have been found. Along with LD 1626, Gov. Janet Mills has expressed skepticism about the water legislation. But given the bipartisan support LD 906 received in both the House and the Senate, advocates have a chance to overcome a potential veto from the governor. The bill now goes to Mills for consideration. 

Juniper Ridge 

Lawmakers this week sent a bill to Mills designed to close a loophole in Maine law that has allowed Juniper Ridge landfill to become a dumping ground for waste from surrounding states.

As Beacon previously reported, about 90% of the waste sent to a processing facility in Lewiston that ends up in Juniper Ridge is from out of state. The amount of waste going into Juniper Ridge is increasing every year, the coalition noted earlier this year, filling 32% faster than anticipated. A continuation of that would mean additional expansions of the landfill, which environmental advocates have argued would lead to increased pollution.

The bill to address the issue, LD 1639, was approved with strong bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate. 

Housing

The legislature took action on several housing bills this week. On Thursday, the House passed on a 78-51 vote a bill aimed at reforming zoning laws and cutting red tape to allow for development of affordable units. The Senate then approved the bill April 15 on a 20-13 vote. 

That bill, LD 2003, sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), was originally larger in scope. However, it was scaled back last month amid opposition from some groups. While advocates still support the bill and view it as a step forward, they argued the changes made to the measure represent a missed opportunity for a more ambitious effort to address the affordable housing crisis. 

It was a similar story with LD 1673, another affordable housing bill that was scaled back in the face of opposition. That bill cleared final votes in both the House and the Senate this week and was placed on the Appropriations Table for funding consideration. Originally designed to set affordable housing goals in each municipality, the measure was significantly amended to include non-binding goals and reduce the scope of communities covered by such goals. 

PFAS 

The House gave its final approval this week for a bill, LD 2019, that would prohibit a person from distributing a pesticide contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, which have been linked to a wide variety of harmful health impacts. The bill also bans the distribution of pesticides that contain intentionally added PFAS beginning in 2030. 

The measure also adds “any substance or mixture of substances intended to be used as a spray adjuvant” to the definition of pesticide.

The Senate also gave initial approval to the bill this week. The measure still faces a final vote in the chamber. 

In addition, the House this week approved another PFAS-related bill. LD 1911 would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to “require a person licensed to discharge wastewater to sample the effluent discharged for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and to report the sample data to the department,” among other provisions. The bill was then approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote. 

Criminal justice 

The Senate this week officially killed a bill that would have established certain motor vehicle-related violations as secondary offenses. The measure, LD 1479, sponsored by Rep. Victoria Morales (D-South Portland), sought to make such offenses enforceable only if an officer had detained a driver for the suspected violation of another law.  

Offenses that would have been classified as secondary by the bill include operating a vehicle after suspension for not paying a fine, not registering a vehicle if the registration has been expired for less than 150 days, and hanging an object from the rearview mirror, among other similar violations. 

Supporters of the legislation added that the measure was meant to address discrimination in who is stopped, with myriad lawmakers in the House saying drivers of color are often pulled over more than white drivers. Still, the Senate voted the bill down 27-3, with only Cumberland County Democratic Sens. Ben Chipman, Anne Carney and Heather Sanborn voting for the measure. That result came after the House voted against the bill last week. 

The Senate also took action this week on a bill dealing with the issue of solitary confinement in Maine. The bill, which the House passed to define the practice as confinement in a cell for over 22 hours in a day, was then amended in the Senate this week to simply remove the term solitary confinement from statute in a move that advocates said would obscure how the practice is used in Maine prisons and jails. 

On Thursday, however, the House voted to reject the Senate’s amendment and instead passed its own amendment to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland), that would require prisons and jails to send a report to the Maine Department of Corrections if a person is held in isolation for more than 22 hours in a day. 

Economic justice

The House and Senate this week passed a bill to direct the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to study the impact on the state of adopting “a corporate income tax system that requires worldwide combined reporting for income tax purposes.” The report on the issue would be due by February 1. 

The measure, LD 428, is an effort to start the process of eventually closing a loophole used by multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes in Maine. It will now go to Mills for consideration. 

The House this week also gave initial approval to a bill designed to improve labor standards on renewable energy projects. The bill, LD 1969, sets standards for pre-apprenticeship training programs by the Maine Apprenticeship Program, including the payment of “meaningful stipends” to participants.

The measure also requires that renewable energy projects of a certain size pay construction workers “the prevailing rate for wages and benefits,” among other stipulations. The bill was passed Wednesday by the House 81-57 and now moves to the Senate. 

Health care 

The Senate gave final approval Monday on a bill to close a loophole that has let insurance companies deny no-copay coverage of birth control. The measure, LD 1954, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), mandates insurance coverage of all birth control methods approved by the FDA. 

The legislation was passed unanimously in the Senate, sending the bill to Mills for consideration. 

In another unanimous vote in the Senate on Monday, the chamber sent to Mills a bill that would require the Maine Health Data Organization to document the 100 most expensive prescription drugs and the 100 most frequently prescribed drugs each year. LD 1636 also mandates the organization to determine the potential savings from subjecting such prescription drugs to a “referenced rate,” defining that rate as “the lowest cost from official publications of certain Canadian provincial government agencies and the wholesale acquisition cost.”

Climate 

The House gave approval this week to a bill, LD 2018, that would ensure the incorporation of “equity considerations in decision making” at the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies. 

The measure also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules so that “environmental justice populations and frontline communities are provided with fair and equitable access to the department’s decision-making processes.” 

The bill was then passed by the Senate and given final approval by the House. It now returns to the Senate. 

This story was updated April 15 to reflect the Senate vote on LD 2003. 

Photo: The Maine State House | Beacon

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan@mainebeacon.com.

Beacon, April 15, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/