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Sally Cluchey represents House District 52, which includes Bowdoinham, Richmond and part of Bowdoin, in the Maine Legislature.
My two children reacted very differently to the horrific mass shooting in Lewiston last month. My 8-year old son was frightened; each morning he woke up thinking about it. His first question of the day was to ask if the shooter had been caught yet. My middle school daughter was less fazed; years of active shooter drills in school have normalized the unthinkable. When, during the manhunt, we suggested we all go over to a friend’s house, she quipped, “Are we gonna get murdered on the way?”
Until now, Maine has kept an implicit faith that such a tragedy could not happen here. Despite lax gun safety laws, our low crime rate and long-standing hunting tradition led us to think of mass shootings as something other places had to deal with – not us. On top of all the heartbreaking loss of life our communities experienced on Oct. 25, that illusion of immunity and security was also shattered.
It is natural and right to seek answers in the wake of such a tragedy. As a state legislator, I had the opportunity to support a number of common-sense gun reform measures in the Legislature this spring. Background checks on private gun sales, a 72-hour waiting period for purchases, and a ban on the posession or sale of bump stocks would make it harder for people who shouldn’t have access to guns to get their hands on them, and are standard policies in many other states. I voted for each, then watched as each was soundly defeated.
The opposition to these reasonable bills from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was especially perplexing given how much support these policies enjoy among Mainers. Polling data released earlier this year by Pan Atlantic Research showed that Mainers support background checks by a 4-to-1 margin, and that support for waiting periods is nearly 5-to-1. Even in the most conservative districts, support for these common sense reforms is at least twice as high as opposition.
As Rep. Jared Golden has demonstrated, this is a moment for all policymakers to rethink our approach to this issue. For too long, the debate over how to regulate guns has been intractable. To move forward, Mainers of all political stripes need to hold two facts in our minds at once: that Maine has a rich hunting legacy and a long tradition of responsible gun ownership, and that our current regulatory framework is inadequate to the task of protecting public safety. We can and we must find solutions that both respect constitutional rights and keep our communities safe.
I am hopeful that the Legislature will have the opportunity to address this dire problem soon. In addition to the three policies above, I believe we must also enact a strong Extreme Risk Protection Order, or red flag Law, that empowers family members to request the removal of guns from their loved ones. Taken together, these common sense reforms would constitute meaningful steps toward reducing the likelihood of more mass gun violence in our state.
Such reforms will take courage from lawmakers and from the governor – but it is courage that our communities are asking us to show at this moment. It is courage our children need us to demonstrate in order to keep them safe. It is courage we will all need in order to face this tragic loss, this previously unimaginable devastation so close to home, and take action to keep it from ever happening again. The time for that courage is now.
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