Photo via Maine Teen Coalition for Gun Reform
Originally published in the Maine Beacon on April 20, 2023
Despite constant warnings from so many that guns are simply too numerous and accessible in Maine for us to avoid the tragedies so many states in America experience, Maine just had its 10th mass shooting since 2011.
A lone gunman, another troubled young white male, has been charged with shooting seven people on Tuesday, killing four, including his parents and two of their friends. It is a tragedy unbearable to comprehend, made even worse when we realize that the suspected shooter is a person barred from having a gun. A gun that police say the shooter was able to obtain, despite multiple felony convictions.
Although this is the worst mass shooting in Maine in decades, it is far from the only one. According to excellent reporting in the Bangor Daily News, this is actually our 10th mass shooting since 2011.
To date, mass shootings in Maine since 2011 (defined here as two or more people shot in a single incident) have resulted in 28 dead, including 5 children, with another 10 injured.
And lest we think gun deaths are few and far between here, a popular myth pushed by the extremist Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — which attacks state-level gun control legislation in a similar way as the NRA at the national level — Maine actually has the highest per capita gun death rate in the northeast, according to the CDC. Maine had 12.6 gun deaths in 2021 per 100,000 people. Vermont had 11.9. New Hampshire had 8.3. Connecticut had 6.7. Rhode Island had 5.6. New York had 5.4. New Jersey had 5.2. And Massachusetts had 3.4.
Yes, you read that right. Gun deaths per capita in Maine are more than double the per capita rates of New York and New Jersey and more than triple the rate in Massachusetts.
Not coincidentally, the three northeast states that have the highest gun death rates — Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont — also have the weakest gun control laws in the region, according to both gun rights and gun control groups.
With the recent mass shooting in Bowdoin, our history of mass shootings over the past decade and our per-capita gun death rate, it is time, once again, to take our heads out of the sand about gun control in Maine.
While the police have remained tight-lipped about the weapon(s) used, the size of the magazine, and how the accused came into possession of any gun, there are likely four laws that could have prevented this tragedy.
- Universal background checks on all transfers of guns. Currently, convicted felons can purchase guns privately without a background check. Maine House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) has a bill to end this absurdity in state law.
- A seven day waiting period for the purchase or transfer of any gun, anytime, anywhere. Currently Maine has no waiting period for a gun purchase or transfer of ownership. The suspected shooter was released from prison last Friday and was clearly emotionally distraught. Within four days, according to the criminal charges against him, he had a gun and had shot seven people. A seven day waiting period likely would have given the family time to get help, not to mention time for people to find out whether the suspected shooter was trying to get a gun.
- Criminal liability for anyone who sells or gives a gun to a felon. Current law only has criminal liability for someone who “knowingly” sells a gun to a convicted criminal, ensuring a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality among those who sell, lend, or give guns to others.
- Require that all handguns in Maine are registered and that all new handguns use “smart” technology. We likely have tens of thousands of handguns in Maine, but we have no idea where they are or who owns them. Through facial, finger and palm recognition technology, smart guns ensure that only the registered owner of a handgun gun is able to fire the weapon. If the suspected Bowdoin shooter had stolen someone else’s handgun, smart technology would have stopped him from using it.
With initial reports saying there were “bullet holes everywhere” at the scene in Bowdoin, it is likely some kind of assault weapon or high capacity magazine was used, so including a ban on both will likely need to be added to this list.
Regardless, Maine is the most dangerous state in the northeast for gun deaths. Let’s do something about it.
Ethan Strimling served ten years as Mayor and State Senator for Portland, Maine.