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I was in Yarmouth on Tuesday morning for work. Someone I work with came in and said they thought they heard gunshots. Within about five minutes, a massive law enforcement operation was plainly underway.
The first rumor was that a local gas station was robbed at gunpoint. That turned out to be untrue.
The next rumor was that there was a running gun battle raging between two vehicles on I-295. Wrong as well. People speculated about drug deals gone bad. Nope.
The entire situation was a microcosm of something known to those with military experience as “the fog of war.” Despite the martial connotations, it describes a phenomenon common in any fast-moving event. Delineating between good and bad information is not easy in the heat of the moment.
That is why wisdom counsels waiting for the fog to lift and the picture to become more clear, as long as immediate action is not necessary.
With Tuesday’s tragedy, the Bangor Daily News’ editorial board rightly paused. Their peers at the Portland Press Herald did not.
The latter paper rushed an editorial into print the following morning. They decried inaction by the Maine legislature on “even the most minimal reform of gun laws.” The unstated implication is that, if only Augusta had done something, this tragedy could have been avoided.
They trotted out their opinion before much was known about the event. Now, we know a bit more.
The murderer – according to Maine State Police, he has confessed – was a longtime criminal. Back in 2018, it took three police officers to subdue him after a disturbance call in Florida. He said he had recently used methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. And he was on probation at the time in Maine, having been convicted in 2015 of domestic violence and assaulting a child younger than 6.
He was released from the Windham Correctional Center last Friday after finishing a felony sentence handed down for assaulting another inmate while incarcerated.
His mom picked him up to bring him home. Days later, he killed her.
Short of an abolition of firearms, what new law would have stopped this event? As of now, I don’t know. We are still in the “fog” in terms of what happened. The investigation is ongoing.
It highlights why the BDN’s opinion editors got it exactly right when they said “there will be plenty of time later to debate policies and standards.” And why the Portland Press Herald and various activists were exactly wrong to try and seize some type of political imperative for their desired policy goals.
My guess is that we will find out the firearm was legally owned by the gunman’s father or other relative or friend. As a felon, the killer was legally-prohibited from “accessing” the weapon. But “access” gets murky when a felon lives in a home with non-felon firearms owners.
If that scenario turns out to be true, you could pass a new law that says felons are prohibited from living in a home with a firearm in it. But that raises different issues. If rehabilitation is our goal, then banning former convicts from going home to their family is probably not wise.
And if a parent wants to take their child back in, why should they need to surrender their property? The parent didn’t do anything wrong and “corruption of blood” is unconstitutional for good reason.
There are dozens of “what ifs” that we can work through, which is exactly why we shouldn’t at this point. Until we have a much clearer picture of what exactly happened here, anything else is political posturing.
The “fog” surrounding this event will eventually lift. Until then, bad information about convenience store robberies or uninformed opinion pieces need to be thrown in the trash. Once real information is available, then it will be time to have a substantive conversation on what changes might be considered.