Activists join Senate Democrats outside the Capitol to demand action on gun control legislation after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in a Texas elementary school this week, in Washington, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

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Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, are co-chairs of the Gun Safety Caucus in the Maine Legislature.

For the first time in 30 years, Democrats, Republicans and independents have come together to support meaningful gun safety reforms.

On June 21, 64 members of the Senate – including Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent – voted in favor of legislation that will help save lives, prevent gun violence, strengthen school security and fund mental health services.

The compromise legislation has been a long time coming. It took the tragedy of another school shooting, this time in at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were murdered by an 18-year-old gunman, for meaningful Congressional action.

As co-chairs of the Maine Legislature’s Gun Safety Caucus, we appreciate that our state’s two senators stepped forward to help lead the U.S. Senate to this important moment.

Though we are not immune from gun violence and gun-related deaths, by some measures our state is safer than many. So it would be easy to look at what happened in New York, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and countless other communities across the country and say that would never happen here.

But Collins and King didn’t do that. Instead, they helped to build a nonpartisan coalition that we hope can withstand pressure from the most radical voices advocating for a firearm free-for-all in our country.

“Our plan will help prevent gun violence while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” Collins said in a prepared statement.

She’s right.

According to Sen. Chris Murphy, a leader of the bipartisan group: The 80-page bill includes provisions for states and tribes to implement “red flag” laws that can prevent dangerous people from getting guns; investments in children and family mental health services; increased protections of victims of domestic violence, including the closure of the “boyfriend loophole”; funding for school-based mental health and supportive services; money for improved school security; investments in telehealth to increase access to mental and behavioral health for youth and families in crisis; and expanded reviews of gun buyers who are younger than 21 to include mental health and juvenile records.

The bill also increases penalties for criminals who traffic guns or complete straw purchases.

We are proud of the leadership of our two U.S. senators in championing this legislation, and we are also proud of the work we have accomplished in our state’s Legislature.

In Maine, we recently passed a new law that protects children from gun violence by requiring safe storage of firearms when children are present. In 2020, firearm injuries became the leading cause of death among children aged one to 19. This law will help to prevent the tragic accidental shootings that have devastated Maine families.

Thanks to another new Maine law, we have begun to collect data related to firearm fatalities and injuries. The data has already pointed to important public health concerns: this year’s report reveals that 86 percent of firearm fatalities in Maine are death by suicide.

And we now have an active group of legislators working in a bipartisan manner to promote gun safety in our state.

With the work we’ve done in Maine and the ongoing work in Washington, we are making real progress. We also know that we have much work yet to do.

For instance, while the vast majority of Maine’s firearm owners are responsible and safety conscious, our laws still leave us vulnerable to too many gun suicides. Other loopholes allow guns to be bought without appropriate background checks. Comprehensive background check and red flag laws are needed in Maine and across the country.

Wanting to do more does not stop us from supporting — and celebrating — common-sense federal legislation that we know will save lives.

Gun violence continues to take a deadly toll on all Americans, no matter where we live. Although 30 years is a long time to wait, we see this compromise as a victory and an important step toward preventing suicide and making sure every child returns home from school safely.