As the community in Lewiston, Maine works to recover from last week's devastating mass shooting, questions are mounting over how the shooting was able to happen in the first place. The gunman's family and fellow Army reservists had warned authorities multiple times about how he might act. He was recently involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by the Army. But still, 18 people were killed last Wednesday.
Now, Maine's governor, Janet Mills, is launching an independent commission to investigate the incident. Harvard professor and national security expert Juliette Kayyem joined GBH's Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about the investigations. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: So what do you expect this commission launched by the governor to look into?
Juliette Kayyem: Okay. So from our understanding, at least how the governor is discussing it, it is to look at the sort of various moments before, essentially in the last year, in which various people or entities came forward to say this is a man who is going to commit a mass shooting. Those include essentially his employer, the U.S. Army Reserve, that also at one stage had him involuntarily committed for two weeks after an altercation with his colleagues in the U.S. Army Reserves.
The second is his family coming forward to say that he not only was mentally disturbed and talking about mass shootings, but also had access to guns.
There was a third moment in which he's trying to get a silencer at a Maine gun store and admits his mental issues and the gun seller does refuse to sell him a silencer.
So those are, I think, the three points in which you thought, okay, could something have intervened in this sense, to stop this? I should say, for the record at least, yes, probably someone something or someone could have come forward. But obviously his ability to kill that many people so quickly without any law enforcement intervention is also related to his lawful access to an AR-style weapon, which are lawful in Maine. And so the root cause of sort of our mass shooting problem also relates to the accessibility of those kinds of guns.
Paris Alston: Mm hmm. Yeah. And we do want to talk more about that, Juliette, but before we do, we do have a little bit of public evidence, right? In addition to what you mentioned, we have these texts that have been issued from one of his fellow Army reservists describing his behavior. And of course, with that, people can take that and interpret it in all kinds of different ways. But what do we really know? What are we really able to determine about what happened and what didn't before this shooting?
Kayyem: So at this stage, there's going to be two investigations. One is going to be your sort of typical state police investigation, which is really going to look at, were the guns actually lawfully acquired? Was anyone negligent in their conduct leading up to this, whether it's family or colleagues? And then also, were there moments, were there accomplices or others who might have helped him in this killing?
I have to say, just from the outside, of course, that it is hard to say that there's going to be any criminal case from what we know now, that he lawfully acquired the weapons and he was denied, rightfully so, a silencer based on his mental health background. The second commission, the one that the governor just announced yesterday, it is my understanding it's going to look sort of more holistically at the sort of state of affairs in Maine.
We should say Maine is a very permissive state when it comes to gun ownership. That's related to its history, its love of hunting, and a very strong sort of NRA-type lobby, which has sort of prohibited more stringent state laws like we have, say, here in Massachusetts with regards acquisition. That includes — they don't really have what's called the red flag law. That's the one in which family or friends can come forward and report to a judge that the person should not have a gun, and the guns are confiscated. They have what we're coming to understand is what's called a yellow flag law, which is a higher standard to be able to take the guns away. In Maine, they allowed permit-less carry. So you can have a concealed weapon in public without a permit. So the yellow flag law is really that law enforcement would have to come forward and say that this person is a danger.
What we do know in terms of law enforcement is: On at least two occasions after getting these notifications, law enforcement did try to engage him in a conversation. They were denied that in two cases. We don't know what happened after that. Did they just try and then stop, or were there other attempts? So I think all of that is going to be part of the commission. And whether Maine changes some of its laws is unknown.
I should say that there was a statewide referendum in 2016 in which voters themselves — so this is, you know, this isn't just politics. The voters defeated a proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases. And then lawmakers just this year rejected any proposals for private gun sale background checks or even a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases. And then all red flag law proposals in Maine have failed. So that's basically where, you know — Maine created a legal structure or political structure that made everything that he did lawful until the moment he killed on the 25th.
Siegel: Hmm. Juliette Kayyem is faculty chair of the Homeland Security and Security and Global Health Projects at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her latest book is called "The Devil Never Sleeps." Juliette, thanks so much for your time.
Kayyem: Thank you.