The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Vicki Doudera of Camden represents District 94 in the Maine House of Representatives.
The numbers tell a stark story.
Gun deaths in Maine increased 45 percent from 2010 to 2019, a vastly higher rate than the 17 percent increase nationwide during the same time period. In 2019, Maine’s firearm mortality rate as a percentage of its population was higher than every other New England state. In Maine, the rate of gun suicide increased 50 percent from 2010 to 2019, compared with a 13 percent increase nationwide.
Young Mainers with access to guns are particularly at risk. Youth suicides are unique in that they are often impulsive acts and nine out of 10 young people who survive a suicide attempt go on to live healthy and productive lives. But factor in a firearm and the survival rate plummets because suicide by gun is nearly always fatal.
Unfortunately, it is far too easy for a child or teen to access a gun in our state. It’s estimated that nearly half of all Maine homes have at least one firearm, and those numbers have risen since the start of the pandemic. According to FBI data on background checks, 70,244 Mainers tried to purchase firearms between March and August of 2020, an increase of 69 percent from 2019. And those are only the sales we know about: Maine law does not require background checks for transactions that take place at gun shows or through advertised sales, even though the parties may be complete strangers.
Many of us in state government see the trends in gun suicide and other forms of gun violence as alarming, enough so that we have formed a legislative Gun Safety Caucus to work together on common-sense, life-saving measures. We have begun efforts to educate our colleagues and the public about policies that will address Maine’s gun-related crises, from firearm-involved suicides, to the recent spate of children shot and injured by unsecured firearms, to the ongoing tragedy of domestic violence firearm-involved homicides.
Gun safety can be a bipartisan issue. Last session we worked across the aisle to pass a bill restricting access to dangerous weapons ( LD 1811) nearly unanimously. With that legislation as a start, we can continue to find common ground using sensible solutions, and still respect responsible gun ownership in our state. According to recent polls, the vast majority of Mainers support this approach.
As the caucus name indicates, our priorities are all about safety. Making sure loaded guns are secured in homes where children are present. Preventing the purchase of 3D-printed firearms and untraceable “kit guns.” Expanding background checks for firearm sales at gun shows. These are proven strategies that save lives.
We are committed to working with each other and with Gov. Janet Mills to give voice to the majority of Mainers who support gun safety measures that keep our kids, veterans and communities safe while honoring our state’s tradition of firearm ownership. The numbers may be stark, but we are committed to making a difference.
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.