Maine mass shooting, manhunt reignites gun debate as lawmakers mull firearms law changes

As the hunt for Robert Card intensifies in Maine, the gun debate has been reigniting, with lawmakers mulling changes to firearms laws.

Card, a 40-year-old Army reservist with a history of mental health problems, is at the heart of a state-wide manhunt, according to authorities. He’s accused of opening fire at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston, Maine, Wednesday, killing 18 people and wounding more than a dozen. It’s the year’s deadliest mass shooting in the U.S.

The FBI is examining his cell phone for clues about where he may be and a possible motive for the attacks, as hundreds of law enforcement officers look for the “armed and dangerous” trained marksman.

“We’re going to put all the resources we have at any tip that we can,” said Chief Ryan McGee of the Lisbon Police Department.

The attacks have reignited the gun debate nationally. Police say Card is another active shooter to use an AR-style rifle, a gun many Democrats want to ban.

“We would just save a ton of lives if we said you know what these weapons belong in the hands of law enforcement and military, not civilians,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a democrat from Connecticut.

Just hours before the Wednesday evening attacks, Senators on Capitol Hill voted 53 to 45 on a bill to give veterans deemed ‘mentally incompetent’ to have easier access to guns. Republican Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana is the sponsor.

“We shouldn’t take away a person’s gun without a judge, not a bureaucrat at the VA, ruling that person incompetent,” he said while taking the floor.

Right now, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA, automatically reports military veterans who are found to be incapable of managing their own finances to the FBI’s national background check database. That could make them legally prohibited from buying a gun. If this bill becomes a law, it will reverse that.

Georgia senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, opposed the bill. Florida’s senators, Republicans Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both voted in favor of it. So did independent Senator Angus King from Maine.

The proposal must pass through the Senate and the House, then the president, before it becomes a law.

“Maine has a tradition of firearm ownership and use,” King said after the shootings. “And all of a sudden we’ve got one individual out of 1.3 million who has just terrified the region.”

Meanwhile, there’s a call for strengthening background checks to include mental health.

Card reportedly had a number of issues like hearing voices and threatening to shoot up a military base. He was treated but never criminally charged. Florida has red flag laws that could possibly stop someone like this from owning a gun, but Governor Ron DeSantis suggests committing more people with mental health issues might be the answer.

“I do think a commitment, an involuntary commitment would have done the trick,” DeSantis said from the campaign trail in New York on Thursday. “But I think what’s ultimately effective is holding people accountable either through mental adjudication if they’re, if they’re crazy or convicting them when they’re committing crimes.”

Florida’s red flag law has been used more than 8,000 times since it passed in 2018 after the Parkland massacre.

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