The devastating mass shooting in Lewiston last week shattered Mainers’ sense of safety. We are a state in mourning. Our friends and neighbors will face the heartbreak of lost loved ones, the pain of injuries, and the trauma of living through this for a lifetime. The impact of gun violence reverberates far beyond the moment in time when it captures our attention, each time this uniquely American tragedy is visited upon another unfortunate community.
In response, Governor Janet Mills has called for more conversations on gun violence. But many advocates in Maine have already been engaged in these conversations for years. We don’t need more conversations. We need swift action and meaningful legislation.
Remarkably, many of our leaders expressed shock at the news. Unfortunately, those of us in the gun violence prevention community were not shocked. We feared for years that a tragedy like this would happen. Which is why we begged the legislature to pass laws — a red flag law, background checks on all gun sales, a ban on the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines, a 72-hour waiting period. We worked hard behind the scenes for years, like many dedicated advocates in Maine. We tried to convince those in office that, statistically speaking, it was only a matter of time until it happened in Maine. But we failed. Or rather, they failed us.
Naively, many of our leaders believed it could never happen. Not in Maine. They deluded themselves that Maine was somehow exceptional, or immune to the scourge of gun violence so rampant in this country. And now we are paying the price. In grief. Trauma. And lives lost.
Gun violence is a public health crisis. We know the answers if we can just choose to embrace them. Researchers at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University have identified prevention strategies that would significantly reduce gun-related deaths and injuries, including community violence intervention, firearm removal laws, permit to purchase laws, public carry laws, and secure storage laws. This is evidence-based public health research. Why do we refuse to listen to it? Concern for public health with regard to gun violence should not be considered political. It should be considered American.
Most Americans and Mainers want stricter gun laws. We know many responsible gun owners and hunters who do too. Mainers deserve this. Our children deserve this. All rights have limits. The price of an unrestricted Second Amendment (written when firearm technology consisted of a musket) is too high, as evidenced by repeated large scale tragedies in our country. It’s a price we, as mothers, are unwilling to pay. And a price that should never be asked of anyone.
Irrationally, we are consciously choosing to live this way. Acting as if it will never happen. Knowing that it does, time and time again.
We’ll never know if the red flag law passed in 2018 and vetoed by then-Gov. Paul LePage would have made a difference last week. One year later, Mills, a Democrat, allowed the gun lobby vis a vis the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to weaken and rewrite it, jeopardizing the safety of all Mainers. Mainers like those whose lives were senselessly cut short in Lewiston.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has chosen to align itself with the extremist viewpoints of the NRA and used its influence to block or weaken any significant gun legislation in Maine. No hunter needs unrestricted access to a weapon of war capable of mass murder. Yet this is what this organization has fought for, under the guise of advocating for hunters in Maine. It is time for Mainers to reject the notion that stricter gun laws are fundamentally at odds with our state’s hunting traditions.
Oftentimes we hear opponents say that gun laws will only impact law abiding gun owners. But the fact is, like the “Swiss cheese” model of COVID-19 prevention that Dr. Shah explained to us during the pandemic, every step we take will reduce the likelihood of unnecessary gun deaths. We need to treat gun violence like the public health epidemic it is and layer methods of intervention and prevention to make it less likely. Other countries have had mass shootings. The difference is, they changed their gun laws–and it worked.
The only way to make sense out of the senseless is to honor those we’ve lost by ensuring it never happens in Maine again. But that will require meaningful changes to our weak gun laws. It is our sincere hope that Republicans and Democrats who blocked earlier proposals will reflect on the events of last week and consider changing their minds like Rep. Jared Golden has.
We’ve had enough conversations. It’s time for action.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition is sponsoring a rally, co-hosted by Maine Moms Demand Action and Maine Public Health Association, at Capitol park at 11 a.m..