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As has been widely reported, there were many warning signs that Robert R. Card II was in deteriorating mental health and had threatened violence long before he killed 18 people and injured 13 more at a bowling alley and restaurant and bar in Lewiston. Despite these troubling signs, Card was able to keep his guns, and perhaps even buy more before the Oct. 25 mass shooting.
New, in-depth BDN reporting by Maine Focus editor Erin Rhoda and investigative reporter Sawyer Loftus added new details to the troubling pattern of weak laws and gaps in information sharing that preceded the Lewiston shooting.
These gaps and laws will likely receive further scrutiny as part of a review convened by Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey that will begin next week. In addition, law changes and improvements that can better protect public safety and bolster our behavioral health system should be a priority for Maine lawmakers when they convene in January.
In addition, because Card’s case involves the U.S. military and multiple states, this highlights the need for better federal rules around information sharing about potential threats of violence.
Here is one example where better clarity in the law and improved information sharing may help in the future. While the U.S. Army forbade Card from possessing weapons while participating in military activities, it appears it did not share information to begin a process to ensure Card could not access his civilian weapons. An Army spokesperson declined to say whether the military told local Maine police that it had prohibited Card from using military firearms, citing an ongoing Army investigation.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Card was on a training mission in New York with his Maine-based Army Reserve unit when his behavior and comments raised alarms. He was first seen at an Army hospital in West Point before he was sent to a civilian psychiatric hospital in New York for more than two weeks before he returned to Maine.
New York has one of the country’s strictest red flag laws. Under that law, police and district attorneys in New York are required to petition for what is called an extreme risk protection order when they have credible information that someone is likely to cause serious harm.
While the military cannot initiate the state’s red flag law on its own, the Army could have asked police or a district attorney in New York to start the court process to seek to take Card’s personal weapons on a temporary basis.
If that process had been used, Card’s weapons could have been temporarily taken away, even if they were in Maine, Josh Horwitz, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions, told the BDN. New York law enforcement officers are even trained on how to file an application for an order against someone from out of state.
Much attention is likely to be focused on Maine’s yellow flag law, which is a weaker version of a red flag law. As lawmakers consider ways to strengthen it, they should include provisions to ensure relevant information is shared with authorities in other states if necessary. This is especially important because Maine has so many seasonal residents.
As the Lewiston shooting has tragically demonstrated, these issues of weak laws and information sharing gaps are not for Maine to tackle alone. Meaningful action to prevent future tragedies like this will require efforts in other states and at the federal level as well.