“The Damage Is Devastating”: Could Maine Be a Turning Point for Gun Reform?


Representative Jared Golden had a B rating from the National Rifle Association last year—the highest mark of any member of his party running for the House or Senate that cycle. In Congress, he had cast votes opposing expanded background checks and against restrictions on assault weapons. But in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting in his hometown of Lewiston, the Maine Democrat had a new outlook: “I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war like the assault rifle [suspected shooter Robert Card] used to carry out this crime,” a visibly emotional Golden said in a press conference Thursday. “The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure, which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles.”

“I ask for forgiveness and support,” he continued, “as I seek to put an end to these terrible shootings.”

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It was a powerful moment—but one that only came after at least 18 people had been killed, and more than a dozen wounded, at a bar and a bowling alley in Maine’s second-largest city.

Unknowns abound in the wake of that massacre. But at least one thing seems clear: Too many Americans continue to die needless deaths because too few of their leaders are willing to do the right thing on guns—despite widespread support for commonsense reforms. “I feel shattered,” Lynn Ellis, legislative director at the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, told me the day after the shooting. “The damage is devastating.”

It’s also familiar: Lewiston was the nation’s 565th mass shooting this year alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Add in the daily deluge of suicides, accidental shootings, and routine gun violence, and you have a firearm-related death rate in America that far outstrips that of the country’s peers. Guns, beating out car accidents and cancer, are the leading cause of death for kids and teens in this country. And though studies have shown that more access to guns correlates with higher rates of gun-caused deaths, America remains armed to the teeth—the only nation on the planet where civilian guns outnumber people.

“We’re not really ‘freedom’s safest place,’” Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, told me, referring to the National Rifle Association’s slogan. “Not when weapons of war that were designed literally for the battlefield are more easily sold than Ozempic or Tylenol.”

“If guns were the solution,” she said, “we’d be the safest country in the world.”

Golden’s reversal is just one sign that the ground may be shifting: The NRA is a “shadow of its former self,” as John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, put it to me Thursday, while the gun control movement has gained momentum—leading to last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety legislation in three decades. “If you look at the last 10 years, significant progress has been made,” Feinblatt said. “A huge contrast to the days after Sandy Hook.”

But for all the ground the gun control movement has gained since Newtown, the Lewiston shooting makes clear that there is still a long way to go—both at the federal level and in states like Maine with lax gun laws.

Many Maine residents remained under a lockdown advisory Friday as authorities continued their search for Robert Card, the alleged Lewiston shooter. The 40-year-old suspect—whom law enforcement described as a member of the US Army Reserve and a trained firearms instructor, and who was reportedly committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this past summer—is believed to have carried out the attacks with an assault-style weapon that may have been legally obtained.

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