October 16, 2021

Order denies firearms to mentally ill

AUGUSTA – Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday ordered that the names of Maine residents found by courts to be mentally incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity be turned over to the FBI to keep them from getting firearms.

Baldacci issued his executive order after legislation intended to keep guns out of the hands of people who are considered dangerous because of their mental status was recalled from his desk because of technical flaws.

The governor’s action is intended to keep guns out of the hands of people judged to be a danger to themselves and others until the Maine bill can be modified during next year’s legislative session and a federal law dealing with the issue is completed.

“My most important job as governor is to protect the safety and welfare of all Maine people,” he said. “We must ensure individuals prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm are correctly reported to federal officials in a timely fashion.”

The governor ordered the Maine Department of Public Safety to work with the Judicial Branch to collect the names of individuals who are determined by a court as of Tuesday to be not guilty by reason of insanity or not competent to stand trial in criminal matters.

The department must then transmit that information into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database licensed firearms dealers can access which includes the names of people who are barred under federal law from possessing firearms.

Baldacci’s order is limited to people whose mental status as determined by the courts is public record. The order also creates a task force to take up the issue of reporting the names of those determined to be mentally incompetent but are protected by privacy statutes.

The panel must also monitor potential changes in federal law affecting the NICS and gauge Maine’s level of compliance, the order says.

Maine currently provides information relating to mental status and criminal background to police agencies, but not to gun dealers, the governor’s office said.

The task force will include representatives of state and federal law enforcement agencies, state human services, hospitals and advocates for the mentally ill. The Maine judiciary and Legislature are also invited to participate.

The issue of mentally ill people getting guns arose after the massacre at Virginia Tech this spring that left 33 people dead. In that case the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, had been judged a danger to himself by a court in 2005.

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