Maine Voices: To save lives in Maine, gun safety advocates have to show up in Augusta

Gun News

The gun lobby would like you to believe that Maine doesn’t have a “gun problem.” They say it a lot, especially in response to gun safety legislation – no matter how innocuous, or how many lives would be saved. The facts tell a different story.

Maine’s gun-death rate (11.5 deaths per 100,000 residents) is higher than that of every other Northeastern state except Pennsylvania, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, Maine’s gun-death rate is about three times that of Massachusetts (3.4 per 100,000) and New York (3.9 per 100,000), states that so-called “gun rights” advocates consistently point to as examples of gun control not working. It should also be noted that these numbers predate the surge in gun sales during the pandemic, during which background checks for gun sales in Maine increased 69 percent in 2020 compared to the year before.

We don’t just need to look to statistics to understand the toll of gun violence on our state. From a recent unintentional shooting of a 2-year-old by his brother in Waterville, to the unsolved murder of Darien Richardson in Portland, which last week passed the grim milestone of the 11th anniversary of her death, to the suicides that claim another Mainer every few days (nearly 90 percent of gun deaths in Maine are suicides), the wounds left behind by gun violence in our state run deep.

So, to be clear, Maine does have a gun violence problem. Fortunately, there are substantive steps we can take to address these issues and save lives: background check expansion (which could well have saved Darien Richardson’s life), child-access prevention and more. This year, the Legislature will consider a background check bill that is markedly different from the referendum question that lost in 2016. Modeled on the federal Manchin-Toomey bill (which Sen. Susan Collins supported), the 2021 bill would expand the types of gun sales that require a background check and would not apply to weapons passed between family members or friends. Also under consideration is a child-access prevention bill aimed at curtailing unintentional shootings of children, so that we can prevent further tragedies like the Waterville toddler who was severely injured. A bill to limit firearm access for those who are alleged to have committed acts of stalking or harassment could also help save lives.

Each of these proposals, and several others, would go a long way toward reducing Maine’s gun violence toll. What’s more, the vast majority of Mainers (80 percent or more, according to poll after poll) want gun safety measures such as expanded background checks and “red flag” laws. That support is consistent across both of Maine’s congressional districts and party lines. It is clear that Mainers want our communities to be safe.

Even so, far too many legislators within the Democratic-controlled Maine House, Maine Senate and the Governor’s Office have not supported these common-sense bills. Why? They tell us it is because gun safety advocates are not showing up in numbers that come close to the numbers generated by the big dollars and motivated followers of the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who know how to turn folks out when it comes to blocking gun safety measures in Augusta.

That is why, in partnership with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a group of dedicated gun safety advocates have created the Show Up Network (SUN) for Gun Safety. Our volunteers are focused solely on turning Mainers out on this issue so that our voice, the voice of the majority of Mainers, will be heard in Augusta. Calls, texts, emails and personal appearances in the legislature (and on Zoom during COVID) to support gun safety bills will make a difference. Mainers want sensible gun safety measures, but we need your voice to make our message loud enough for all of Maine’s legislators to hear. Sign up for the Show Up Network at Let’s work together to save lives in Maine.

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