Op-Ed: Maine Voices: Augusta fails to recognize that gun injuries, deaths are a public safety crisis
The following Maine Voices column by Karin Leuthy appeared in the Portland Press Herald on May 22, 2019.
Just over a year ago, students and parents flooded the streets, their legislators’ offices and social media, demanding change in the wake of yet another school massacre. What have we accomplished since then?
We haven’t passed any new gun-safety laws in Maine, and the only thing to happen at the federal level since Columbine 20 years ago is a ban on bump stocks. Last week, legislators unanimously dismissed six of 11 new gun-safety bills in committee. And now Gov. Mills is undercutting the critical “red flag” bill in favor of her own plan, crafted for the approval of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and disingenuously billed as a “compromise.” Meanwhile, school shootings continue. Gun suicides continue. Domestic-violence gun deaths continue. Gun accidents continue.
Gun-related injuries are now the second leading cause of death for children and teens, just barely behind car accidents. The car accident death rate has always been viewed by all as a public safety crisis. That’s why we have seat belts and airbags and car seats. That’s why you can’t be drunk or high or texting when you drive. That’s why teens have to take weeks of safety classes and practice for 70 hours with a parent. And it’s why we all have to buy insurance and register our cars. It’s the law.
We put up with the inconvenience posed by those regulations because they save lives. Even though car accidents are still the top killer of kids, strong public safety laws have resulted in a car death rate that is now less than half of what it was 50 years ago.
But gun deaths have been steadily increasing since we started keeping track after Columbine. Why? Because we have more guns and fewer gun laws. Many in Maine would consider more guns and fewer gun laws a victory. But when nearly 3,000 kids are killed by guns each year in America, we can’t spin that as a victory of individual liberty. Let’s call it what it is – a public safety failure.
Gun-safety opponents arrive en masse in Augusta at the slightest whiff of legislative gunsmoke, and they parrot the same rote arguments regardless of the bill. They say Maine is safe because Mainers own guns, while neglecting to mention that Maine has a higher-than-average suicide rate and that guns are used more often than all the other methods combined. They also fail to mention that 6 percent of Maine’s middle school students and 7 percent of Maine’s high school students have already attempted suicide.
Gun-safety opponents say their guns protect their families, while failing to mention that family members are far more likely to use those guns to kill themselves or other household members than they are to ward off an intruder.
And more often than anything else, gun-safety opponents say that Maine’s constitution gives them a right to keep and bear arms that “shall never be questioned,” while ignoring an earlier passage, which says that the people have the unalienable right to change any aspect of their government “when their safety and happiness require it.”
It’s time for all of us to start looking at the arguments of gun-safety opponents differently. Opposing safe storage laws really means that you support giving kids unfettered access to loaded and unlocked firearms. Opposing background checks really means that you support dangerous criminals having virtually limitless access to guns. And opposing extreme risk protection orders really means that you support tying the hands of family members seeking to prevent a tragedy.
There is no public safety benefit to lax gun laws. None. There is, however, a massive and quantifiable public safety risk. It’s past time we stop prioritizing the rights of individuals to enjoy a hobby and start treating this like the public safety crisis that it is.
Karin Leuthy of Camden is a founder of Suit Up Maine.