The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Robert W. Glover is an associate professor of political science and honors at the University of Maine. These views are his own and do not represent an official position of the university or the University of Maine System. He is the co-director of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.
The nation is reeling from yet another horrifying school shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As we consider common-sense policy measures to reduce gun violence in this country, we must disavow ourselves of the notion that Maine is exceptional. It is not. The crisis is here.
Many of you likely sent your children to school last week wrought with emotion. Are they safe? Am I lying to them and to myself when I reassure them? Why must I drop off my child at school silently hoping that their vulnerable, young bodies will not be ripped apart by bullets?
As a teacher, last week’s carnage prompted me to review our university’s (grimly necessary) active shooter guidelines: That we not try to move those who are badly wounded; the appropriate ways to silently hide if we cannot escape the assailant(s) safely; how to signal that we are not a threat when rescue teams storm the building.
Does it have to be like this? It does not.
The United States is the only advanced country in the world with this prevalence of death by gun violence. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found gun violence death rates five times higher than Canada, 10 times higher than Australia, 34 times higher than the United Kingdom. Put simply, these countries appropriately regulate access to and prevalence of firearms. We do not.
The urgency is felt by many of our policymakers. Last week, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut spoke with fury and eloquence on the Senate floor. Murphy implored his colleagues: “What are we doing? … Why are we here if not to try to make sure that fewer schools and fewer communities go through what Sandy Hook has gone through? What Uvalde is going through?”
Policies to confront this nightmare are within our reach. Two such measures, HR 8 and HR 1446, would strengthen federal background checks, closing loopholes that enable gun sales and transfers without oversight (a reform more than 80 percent of gun owners support). Both measures have passed in the House, but Senate Republican opposition has prevented a vote there.
“Red flag” laws empower law enforcement or family members to petition for removing weapons from those deemed a risk to themselves or others. This measure, too, is supported by more than 70 percent of Americans and 60 percent of gun owners. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have such laws. A bill to extend such protections nationally was introduced last year by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who lost her own son to gun violence. If Congress was sufficiently motivated, the measure could be voted on and signed into law within a matter of weeks.
It may be tempting to think Maine is exceptional, that we possess a culture of safe, responsible firearm use and comparatively low levels of violence, making such measures unnecessary. Think again.
From 2011-2020, Maine experienced 113 domestic abuse homicides, 52 percent of which were committed with a firearm. Particularly alarming is the prevalence of gun suicide in Maine. Maine suffered 163 gun deaths in 2019; 88 percent of these were suicides (a grim statistic alarmingly high among our veterans). Everytown for Gun Safety estimates that gun deaths and injuries cost the state of Maine more than $979 million in 2019.
Gun violence is here. It is costly. It is devastating. There is no cultural or social protective bubble rendering us immune from the grisly murder we saw unfold in Texas last week. If we don’t take action, a mass killing such as this will be inevitable in our future.
Many of you have been motivated by Uvalde to call your federal lawmakers to register concern. With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowing to move quickly on bipartisan legislation, we should be asking U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins what they plan to do to ensure swift action on such bills. We have every right to be angry, hurt, and scared. But now is no time to surrender to hopelessness.