DeSantis, Kristen Welker spar over Maine’s gun laws in wake of mass shooting

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NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker on Sunday sparred with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on the renewed debate over Maine’s gun laws in the wake of last week’s mass shooting that left 18 people dead and dozens injured.

Asked to respond to newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) argument that “the problem is the human heart — it’s not guns,” DeSantis said, “Well, first of all, I think this was a very tragic thing. And, you know, my heart goes out to all the victims, and it’s truly horrific. I think, in this case, there was a medical intervention, [a] health intervention. He clearly had problems. He was involuntarily committed.”

“He would not have been somebody that would have … been a prohibited possessor based on that adjudication,” DeSantis continued. “So, this is, I think an, an example where clearly this is a guy, very well trained, had a lot of skills, and then went off his rocker. There was an intervention, but it wasn’t enough.”

The suspected gunman, Robert Card, 40, was a U.S. Army reservist who enlisted in December 2002, an Army spokesperson confirmed to The Hill. Maine police confirmed Card had an ongoing struggle with mental health, which was likely connected to Wednesday’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine.

DeSantis said he would like to know “why there wasn’t more done” and claimed there has been a “major push” over the last 40 to 50 years for the “deinstitutionalization of people.” The Florida Republican said he would be “more aggressive” for those demonstrating a danger to society.

Welker then pointed to law enforcement’s new information overnight that revealed they received a statewide alert in mid-September to be on the lookout for Card after he made threats against his base and fellow soldiers.

“[Law enforcement chiefs] searched for him, they could not find him,” Welker said. “Yet, he was able to, in the days before the attack, walk into a store and buy guns. So, if you can’t find someone to institutionalize them, as you have called for, why shouldn’t there be a final line of defense in the form of a red flag law or some other blaring red sign that says to gun sellers, ‘Don’t allow this person to have a gun’?”

“Well, yeah, I don’t think you would even need a red flag,” DeSantis responded. “If somebody has a mental involuntary commitment and adjudication of that nature, that usually would go into the system, and that would be on a traditional background check.”

Maine’s “yellow flag” law came under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the mass shooting, with some gun control advocates pushing for stricter gun safety measures.

A “yellow flag” law was created a little more than four years ago in Maine that tried to align with Maine’s pro-Second Amendment mindset while still taking a step toward stronger gun safety measures. Under the rule, law enforcement can detain someone they suspect is mentally ill and poses a threat to themselves or others, The Associated Press reported.

It differs from red flag laws in that it requires a medical practitioner to first examine a person and deem them a threat before police can petition a judge to order the seizure of the person’s firearms.

DeSantis said he is against the idea that government can go to someone’s property and go through due process later on after seizing weapons. Noting he believes in “strong constitutional rights,” DeSantis said such rights come with responsibility, “and if you’re somebody that … can’t conduct themselves in society because of mental illness, then that should absolutely be taken into account.”

Welker then asked, “But if you can’t conduct yourself in terms of mental illness, shouldn’t there be a law in this case? Officials in Maine are saying a red flag law could have made a difference. It would have empowered authorities to raise that red light to gun sellers all across the state and say, ‘This is someone who should not be able to own a gun,’ that that final line of defense never kicked in because it didn’t exist.”

DeSantis shot back, “Well, no. When you do background checks, if someone has a criminal conviction, for example, that goes into the system. When they run a background check.”

Welker interjected stating twice, “But Maine doesn’t have strong background checks.”

DeSantis responded “no,” to which Welker asked, “Are you arguing for that?”

DeSantis answered, “No. Federal firearm licenses — everyone has to go through where they scrub this. So, the question is: What are you putting into the system? If somebody has a mental health involuntary commitment, then that can simply be put into the existing system. You don’t need additional things.”

DeSantis said some of the proposals in the “more blue states” are weaponized against people, bringing up a scenario in which people can make an anonymous call to a police station, prompting authorities to take the firearms.

“But that anonymous call … could have helped in this moment, could it not have, governor?” Welker shot back. “Couldn’t an anonymous call have helped in this moment to block this shooter from getting a gun, and going into these establishments, and shooting up 18 of his fellow citizens?”

DeSantis responded, “And he could have had that involuntary commitment just put into the normal system. That is something that would have been able to pop [up] on a background check. To then say that people should just be able to call—”

“But how can you commit someone you can’t find, governor?” Welker interrupted.

When DeSantis continued discussing involuntary commitment in a background check, Welker repeated the question.

“I would focus on those individuals who’ve actually gone and either been involuntary committed, been adjudicated to be mentally ill. That’s really the approach that matters,” DeSantis said. “Look, you know, in Florida, our crime rate’s at a 50-year low, and our violent crime rate’s down 30 percent since I’ve been governor, so, we’re handling it strong.”

Maine is one of an estimated 20 states that allow permitless carry, meaning people can carry a concealed weapon in public without a permit. Efforts for stricter gun control laws and red flag law proposals in Maine have failed in recent years.

A nearly two-day manhunt was conducted for Card after the shooting, with several towns under lockdown in and around Lewiston. Card was eventually found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound last Friday night. His body was found in the woods near Lisbon, a town about eight miles from Lewiston.

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