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Not a month ago, four Mainers were shot and killed and three others were injured. Joseph Eaton has confessed to the killings and is expected to be charged in the second shooting. These horrific attacks in Bowdoin and Yarmouth not only involved gun violence toward family members, but also, quite uncharacteristically for Maine, total strangers.
Miles away from the shooting in my home, this was shocking but not so personal to me — until I started hearing from people I knew. One woman told me she often walked in the woods where Eaton fled and was captured. Others told me they were just on the stretch of highway where people unknown to the shooter were hit. And Maine being, well, Maine, I found out that I was just one degree of separation from a survivor, as someone I knew knew one of them.
We can try to comfort ourselves by reminding ourselves that homicide mortalities in Maine are among the lowest — 1.7 per 100,000 people in 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — while the rate in Texas was 8.2 and Missippippi’s the highest at 23.7.
Still, what’s unfolded all around the country has been horrifying.
In less than two weeks, there have been two mass shootings in Texas. In Cleveland, Texas, five people, including a 9-year-old boy, were systematically killed by a neighbor who had been asked to not fire his weapon because it bothered a tired baby.
On Saturday, a shooter at a mall in a Dallas suburb killed at least eight people, including a child. As the Washington Post reported, the assailant had “a patch on his chest [which] said ‘RWDS,’ an acronym that stands for Right Wing Death Squad, according to people familiar with the investigation.”
One woman at the mall died on top of her son, who she was protecting. Steven Spainhouer, an early arrival on the scene, told CBS News, “When I rolled the mother over, he came out. I asked him if he was OK and he said, ‘My mom is hurt, my mom is hurt.’ So rather than traumatize him, I pulled him around the corner, sat him down and he was covered from head to toe… like somebody poured blood on him.”
Last year, 21 people were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Seeing shootings in schools and public places, the fear is real. Nearly 60 percent of parents are “extremely or very concerned that they or a loved one will be a victim of gun violence,” according to a recent Fox News poll.
But there’s also a consensus on policies to reduce gun violence. In that same poll, 87 percent back criminal background checks on all gun buyers; 81 percent want to improve enforcement of existing laws; 81 percent want to increase the age for buying a gun to 21; 80 percent support mental health checks for gun buyers; 80 percent back allowing police to temporarily take guns from those considered a danger to themselves or others; 77 percent support a 30-day waiting period for gun purchases; and 61 percent favor banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. Moreover, “At least half of gun-owning households favor each of the gun proposals tested.”
As Spainhouer — who removed the dead mother from atop her son and who is a gun owner, former police officer and former Army officer — said the day after, “Prayers and condolences won’t bring these people back. We need some action in our legislatures at the federal and state level for better gun control. And I’m saying that as someone who loves guns.”
While the National Rifle Association and other groups claim they are protecting freedom, confronting gun violence requires standing up for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called freedom from fear. President Joe Biden has likewise emphasized “the freedom for our children to be safe from gun violence.”
Moving beyond this era of mass shootings won’t be easy. But ordinary Americans should not have to fear gun killings and politicians should not quake at the power of gun groups, for most of us overwhelmingly agree on a path forward.