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An Army reservist suspected in Maine's mass shootings remains at large

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A U.S. Army reservist suspected in a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, is still at large. Eighteen people died and 13 others were wounded by gunfire at a bowling alley and bar on Wednesday night. Schools and businesses are closed. Residents are sheltering in place. Joining us now is Democratic Representative Chellie Pingree. She represents the first district of Maine in Congress. Representative, there - what's it like? I mean, have you heard from people there? It's got to be terrifying to be there right now, considering that he's still out there on the loose.

CHELLIE PINGREE: Absolutely. I mean, there's nothing more frightening than the idea that someone is out there who's already done a mass killing and still possesses weapons. I represent the district right next to Lewiston, and many of the schools in my district were closed today, so this really was impacting our entire state. My office is in Portland, Maine, a place many people love to come and visit. And you couldn't buy a cup of coffee on Commercial Street in Portland yesterday. Everything was shut down - our schools, our businesses - and today may be more of the same. There's just a really terrifying feeling. Plus, our state is in shock. We're grieving, and we're not used to having anything like this happen in our state. Were considered the safest state in the...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

PINGREE: ...Nation. We have a very high rate of gun ownership, and that's lulled people, in a sense, into this feeling, oh, that could never happen here.

MARTÍNEZ: What have you heard about the search for the gunman?

PINGREE: It is all out. I mean, there are at least 300 or more law enforcement personnel. I had a conversation with Merrick Garland yesterday about the federal officers that were being sent in. We even have the team that helped to find the shooter from the Boston Marathon. So we have our traditional law enforcement officers, small town state police. People are used to being in the woods and finding lost hikers and hunters. And then we have the serious professionals from out of town who, unfortunately, are used to these kinds of searches. But we're a big state. We're the most forested state in the nation. It's an easy place to be lost in the woods, and it's a hard place to find somebody.

MARTÍNEZ: Maine doesn't have a red flag law. It has a yellow flag law, but that doesn't give family members a chance to ask a judge to take away someone's firearms. And it's not clear that a red flag law would have prevented what happened. But, Congresswoman, do you think there should be a national standard?

PINGREE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's hard for states to do this state by state. And a state like mine has been traditionally resistant to gun safety laws. But federal laws give the protection to everyone. And while there are many of the protections that come from a yellow flag law, it's possible the family members would have had more opportunities with a red flag law. It's possible there's no law that would have stopped this except having less guns in our presence, like not having assault weapons as the one that was used in this particular crime.

MARTÍNEZ: New House speaker Mike Johnson opposed last year's bipartisan gun law. Last night on Fox News, Johnson said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: At the end of the day, it's - the problem is the human heart. It's not guns. It's not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves. And that's the Second Amendment. And that's why our party stands so strongly for that.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering what we just heard, Congresswoman, with Mike Johnson in the speaker's office, do you think there's an opportunity to work with Republicans on gun restrictions?

PINGREE: Well, look, this is not going to be an easy Congress to move forward on gun safety legislation. But we do have a president in the White House who came out very strongly yesterday in his sentiment towards Maine, reminding all of us that there is a backlog of gun bills that we need to take up. And I don't think there's ever a day we can say, well, it's not going to happen now. It's always got to be the day that maybe we can move things forward. I've been in Congress for a while, and you never know what the tipping point will be.

MARTÍNEZ: So on that, your colleague, Democratic Congressman Jared Golden from Lewiston, Maine, he voted against that gun control bill last year. But yesterday he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JARED GOLDEN: I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war, like the assault rifle used to carry out this crime. To the people of Lewiston, I ask for forgiveness and support as I seek to put an end to these terrible shootings.

MARTÍNEZ: Congresswoman, does this give you hope that minds can indeed be changed?

PINGREE: Absolutely. I - the first dreaded feeling I had after I heard about the shooting is this conversation will change in my state, because as long as you think it's not going to happen to you, you can always assume you don't have to make any changes. And I truly praise my colleague for going against what's often been the norm of Maine politicians. Oh, we can't possibly talk about guns. Hey, the time has come, and when it hits your state, you have to get into the conversation. And we got to make some serious changes.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, thank you very much.

PINGREE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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