The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is a retired political science professor at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
The terrorism in Israel and war with Hamas has been painful, and then came the horrific mass shootings in our own state. Pretty much everyone in Maine knows or is linked to someone killed or harmed by Robert Card.
What happened in Lewiston didn’t erase our differences, but Mainers shared fear and grief. Person-to-person empathy can be healing, if only after time.
Look at what family members of Lewiston’s victims said about President Joe Biden’s visit with them and other mourners at Geiger Elementary School. Arthur Strout, a 42-year-old father of five was killed by Card. According to the Portland Press Herald, “Kristy Strout, Arthur Strout’s wife, said the president’s visit helped a little. ‘It doesn’t change anything, but it helps to know he cared enough to come out and meet the families,’ said Strout.” Auburn City Councilor Leroy Walker’s son was also murdered; he pointed to Biden’s empathy. Said Walker, “I think it did really help, not just us, but the community.”
For all the need for us to connect and care on a personal level, it’s not enough. We need to know more about what happened and take policy steps.
By announcing she will form a commission, Gov. Janet Mills took the first step toward investigating how Card was able to retain weapons despite warnings about his delusions and threats and assessing how public safety agencies responded to the shootings. This group should have all the powers it needs, with complete cooperation from all, and with a commitment to transparency.
But adopting policies will be difficult. It’s been challenging to pass new gun control measures, not only in the Maine Legislature but also at the ballot box. As Mainers voted on expanding background checks for guns in 2016, opponents framed the choice as standing up for Maine traditions versus outsiders. One ad by the National Rifle Association with a narrator with a very bad Maine accent contended “The New Yorkers are here and they’re trying to tell Mainers how to live” and were trying to “boss Mainers around.” Opponents prevailed by about 3.5 percentage points.
But, given these gun murders in our state, it’s more possible Mainers will support new restrictions. Maine needs to improve our mental health system as well. Because some mass shootings are also hate crimes, Maine should better protect vulnerable communities.
Although Gov. Mills has opposed red flag laws, which would have made it easier to remove guns from dangerous individuals such as Card, according to the Maine Monitor, she is reaching out to a wide array of legislators about further steps. Moreover, as the Maine Monitor points out, “the Legislature approved two gun safety bills in 2021 without Mills’ signature, one that charges people who allow gun access to youths without parental permission and another that mandates the state track firearm deaths and injuries.”
Given the composition of Congress, passing new federal gun laws seems infeasible. Still, it was good to see Rep. Jared Golden’s honest and authentically personal response to the shootings in his town. Quite unusually for a political figure, Golden apologized, and said he took “responsibility for this failure.” Reversing his past position, Golden endorsed an assault weapons ban. At the same press conference, Sen. Susan Collins said she has backed a ban on “very high capacity magazines;” in fact, she voted against such a provision in 2013.
Whatever policies are passed, the U.S. Supreme Court is a wild card. The court is hearing a case about taking guns from people under court orders for domestic violence. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 there is an individual right to bear arms, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Scalia also pointedly stated it’s constitutional to limit where guns could be carried and by whom. But, with three Trump appointees, they may rule against gun restrictions for violent abusers.
We want all peace and security in order to avoid pain for ourselves, our loved ones and our community. Empathy heals as we look backwards to learn lessons and forward to make policy change.