On Oct. 25, Lewiston was the scene of the 597th mass shooting in the United States in 2023. The reality is that more will die in Maine and across the nation unless we collectively act to stop the preventable slaughter.
Recently in Portland, we joined several hundred advocates for common-sense gun laws at a Maine Gun Safety Coalition event. We’ve worked for decades to hold gun manufacturers and their distributors accountable for improving the safety of their products and selling them responsibly. We work to balance the right to responsibly own guns with the human right to live free of gun violence. We’ve had some notable successes, but the carnage continues and is getting closer to home – all of our homes.
Sensible gun policies cannot be based on a false choice between gun control and gun rights.
That framing fails to recognize that the most important, most fundamental right that people have is the right to live.
The 18 people who died in Lewiston had a right to live. They had a right to a government that does what it can to keep communities safe. That’s the idea on which our country was founded. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders announced that they were creating a government to secure the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that’s not the government we have now. And the results are catastrophic and getting worse.
We need to return to first principles. America’s first freedom is not, as the NRA likes to say, a right to guns. America’s first freedom is the right the Founders actually announced first: the right to life. And our government’s most fundamental obligation is to secure that right, and protect its infringement from gunfire.
The idea that the government is obligated to protect the fundamental right to live is not simply an American principle: it is universally recognized. International human rights law requires governments – including the United States – to take affirmative measures to prevent injury and death.
A human rights action filed by Global Action on Gun Violence in November 2023 makes that argument in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The “Lawsuit for Survival,” brought on behalf of Manny and Patricia Oliver and their son, Joaquin, who was killed in the Parkland high school massacre, argues that Joaquin’s human right to live was violated due to weak gun laws that allowed a troubled 19-year-old to obtain an AR-15 style rifle.
The gun massacres in Lewiston or Parkland would not happen in most of the world because other governments do not tolerate the repeated slaughter of their people in gun massacres. Pressure from outside the U.S. as well as within is needed to change the grim reality.
While gun violence has hit record levels, most of the steps Congress has taken over the past 20 years have loosened regulation and accountability. Congress let the assault weapon ban lapse. It created special protections from lawsuits for the gun industry that no one else has. It created unique exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act to shield gun data. The Supreme Court, through a series of bizarre and terrible decisions, has made it easy to acquire guns and carry them virtually everywhere.
As lawmakers in Washington return to work this year, they must honor the Lewiston families with action. The GOSAFE bill sponsored by Sen. Angus King is a positive step toward reducing mass shootings. Sen. Susan Collins must join in this fight. The gun violence epidemic in the United States will only get worse until our elected officials recognize that their most basic obligation is to protect our right to live and not be shot.