Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling BDN Agree to Disagree bloggers. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.

Ethan: We are now at 56 mass shootings in America in 2023 with more than 300 killed or maimed.

Phil: Almost two a day. Too much.

Ethan: Although you are more reasonable on guns than most Republicans by supporting some basic regulations that many Americans call for, you have also said that mental health issues must be addressed. Can you give me more detail on what you mean by that solution?

Phil: Yes, I do support some basic regulations on guns, like universal background checks and restrictions on some of our most deadly weapons, because my goal is to prevent those who may do damage with guns from getting these deadly weapons, while still allowing those who use them responsibly for sport or protection to continue their use.

Ethan: Yes, universal background checks will do a lot of good keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. Waiting periods, licensing, heavy liability insurance for gun dealers, and simply banning the sale of the most violent weapons will as well. But I am most curious about what you would do on the mental health front and why you think that will help?

Phil: Well, honestly, as your man Barack Obama might say, I think I have evolved on this issue. For a long time I have felt that perpetrators of these crimes must have some serious mental illness. It just seems beyond my comprehension that a healthy person would commit a crime like this. But the truth appears to be that very few, less than 5 percent, have a severe, diagnosable mental illness.

Ethan: If it were just mental illness, we wouldn’t have terrorists using guns to inflict damage on America and Americans. Or those who use them as crimes of passion. Or all the domestic violence killings at the hand of a gun. Or the workplace massacres triggered by some perceived slight. Or guns being the top choice for suicide. The truth is that access to guns is what unites the destruction these crimes leave behind.

Phil: Although anecdotal, my mother suffered from chronic mental illness. And while at times she was a threat to herself, I never for a second believed she would pick up an AK-47 and harm others. It is part of why I now believe that we must focus more on the availability of guns. And if we reduce access to the most lethal forms of killing, we will reduce fatalities.

Ethan: How about regulating guns as we regulate cars and drivers? Cars must be safe and the drivers must be licensed.

Phil: Easier said than done. That special document we all live under called the Constitution gives everyone the right to own a gun. So if you want to bring the reality of restricting guns as much as you want, you might want to start the constitutional amendment process to deliver the results you seek.

Ethan: There is nothing in the Constitution that says we can’t ban assault weapons, license ownership of handguns, and force gun dealers to be held accountable for the weapons they sell (imagine how much more careful they would be on who they sell to). But, if amending the Constitution is what it will take, let’s just repeal and replace the Second Amendment. It’s out of date, and ripe for manipulation by gun profiteers.

Phil: What would your new second amendment say?  

Ethan: “Your right to bear arms does not come before anyone else’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Regulate heavily.”