Our Voices: June 2022
Commentary from Sagadahoc Democrats
When Did it Become OK?
Lately, we have found ourselves shocked on an almost daily basis by events happening in our country or by outrageous comments made by our legislators, and we have found ourselves thinking, “When did this become OK?” And when we experience yet another heartbreaking, tragic, senseless school shooting, we must ask:
When did it become OK that, after Columbine, another 13 mass school shootings in the US have taken nearly 170 innocent lives and yet nothing has changed? When did it become OK that the only lesson we have learned from this carnage is to “live” with it? When did it become OK that today, in this country there are over 20 million privately owned AR-15 style rifles whose sole purpose is to kill humans quickly and efficiently?
When did it become OK that our children have to be trained in “active shooter drills” in school? Or that we even consider asking teachers to be armed? When did it become OK for institutions of learning to barricade themselves behind armed officers, entry protocols and electronic surveillance as if living under siege? When did Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Uvalde, become OK? When did Buffalo, NY become OK? When did it become OK for our legislators to do nothing about gun violence?
When did it become OK for legislators to stop legislating; for an entire political party to proudly state that it will be 100% focused on obstructing lawmaking, to declare that they will have NO party platform, NO debates?
When did it become OK for supreme court nominees to lie to the Senate, crafting carefully worded answers to give the impression that they believed Roe was legal precedent?
When did it become OK to take away a woman’s right to choose what is best for her and her family; to declare them to be wards of the state during their pregnancies? Republicans call for the “right to life” of the unborn but once out of the womb children are on their own: no commonsense gun laws to protect them, no affordable childcare, education, healthcare to nurture them, no paid family leave to help care for them.
When did it become OK for proven science to be a point for debate, for alternative facts to be a new standard, or for hateful rhetoric to be the new talking points of the right? When did it become OK to try and overturn a free and fair election or to deny access to the ballot box?
Almost every day a new outrage, a new heartbreak, a new reason to say: THIS IS NOT OK! THIS IS NOT OK! Neither is it OK to declare the mid-terms a done deal—that the Republicans are bound to win back the house and the senate. Because with each of our votes, our friends’, our family’s, and our neighbor’s votes, we can demand change and say: this is not OK!
Marcy and Christian Leger
Emmett Till’s Legacy
In August, 1955, a 14-year-old Mississippi boy was abducted, brutally beaten, and lynched for allegedly offending a white woman. His corpse was found three days later, identifiable only by means of a distinctive ring on his finger. His name was Emmett Till and when his suspected killers, two white men, were acquitted by an all-white jury, the outcome so offended the nation’s conscience as to serve as a tipping point in the political culture of the day, triggering a new phase in the Civil Rights movement and making Emmett Till a household name.
The recent killing of 19 grade-school children by a deranged 18-year-old in Texas, was every bit as brutal as the Till murder, and all the more appalling for the number of victims involved, a number facilitated by the killer’s use of an AR-15 assault rifle. Though such weapons were banned in 1994, ten years later, under the George W. Bush administration, the ban was allowed to lapse and once again Americans were allowed to keep and bear these weapons of war.
At this point, it seems the Second Amendment has become little more than a prescription for wholesale murder of the most casual and unconscionable variety. Meanwhile, the response of well-funded Republican politicians has been to trot out the time-dishonored “good-guy-with-a-gun theory”—a quack cure long since debunked by statistics showing that as little as three percent of such incidents are resolved by so-called good guys with guns.
But Republican culpability goes well beyond advocacy-for-hire politics. One of the saddest spectacles of January 6 was the insurrectionists’ pretense of taking part in a “1776 moment.” Clearly implicit in the party’s posturing on gun rights is the less-than-subtle threat of another Revolution, if not Civil War, to be carried out by well-armed domestic terrorists masquerading as defenders of American liberty.
And let’s face it, we are well past the threat stage; the war is already here and its casualties are children whose lives are being sacrificed in the name of bizarre Republican notions of patriotism, children like ten-year-old Maite Rodriguez, whose green sneaker—a symbolic heart carefully drawn upon its toe cap—was found amid the chaos of the classroom where she died. If we as an electorate cannot find the means to redeem her sacrifice and those of her schoolmates with meaningful political action, then our whole system of government is well on its way to becoming a dead letter.
Even so, a tipping point may be at hand. As it happens, some two months ago the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was signed into law by President Biden—a timely if overdue effort to address a long-ago injustice. In the weeks and months ahead, it will be our duty as citizens of a popular democracy to honor the innocent victims of our own day by identifying and voting out of office all candidates who place the right to bear arms above the right of school children like Maite to simply live.
Heather Cox Richardson, the historian and political analyst, reminds us that in the 1950s, as in the late nineteenth century, the wild west was the American fantasy of choice, and the cowboy, personified by actors like John Wayne, was the great American hero. Cowboys, we were told, lived on their own terms in defiance of authority, and defended their families and property by shooting up anyone who posed a threat, real or perceived. The gun was law, and many Americans longed to live the free and unfettered life of a cowboy. We were fed the myth of the cowboy as hero and swallowed it whole.
Republican legislators, it seems, have taken this ball and run with it. Many of them have internalized the cowboy myth such that they support ready access not only to guns designed for personal protection, but to automatic weapons designed for war. For them these guns are just an extension of the cowboy ethos into the modern day. But the scariest thing is the obliviousness of these Republicans to the staggering number of innocent victims of those who use these guns to shoot people in grocery stores, movie theaters, night clubs, and, please, let’s not forget our schools. Our children are being shot and killed in large part because our legislators insist that it is the right of Americans to own and carry these weapons wherever they choose.
In 2004, a ten-year federal ban on assault weapons expired; mass shootings have tripled since then. According to Richardson, there were 400,000 AR-15 style rifles in this country before the ban, in 1994, and today there are 20,000,000. By her count there have been 3,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook Elementary School, yet many Republicans refuse to do anything other than claim we need more guns to take out the shooters. Senator Ted Cruz says we need fewer doors in schools to prevent easy access by shooters (never mind the need for easy escape routes for their targets). A guest on Fox News suggested we put “mantraps” and trip wires in the schools (what could go wrong there?).
Richardson asks, “How have we arrived at a place where 90% of Americans want to protect our children from gun violence, and yet those who are supposed to represent us in the government are unable, or unwilling to do so?”
Let’s not forget, while we speak of the callousness of many right-wing senators, that 1,002,920 people have died of Covid 19, most of whom were unvaccinated and many of whom refused to wear masks. Yet the vast majority of Republican legislators have not encouraged vaccination or masking, nor have they allocated funds for testing or treatment.
What has happened to caring for and protecting human life? We need to support and vote for Democrats, who have widely encouraged vaccination, masking, and gun control, as opposed to the Republican cowboys who support none of this agenda. Please, let’s care for and protect each other.
Gun Laws in Maine
Laws surrounding guns have become of critical concern for many Americans, and I am one of them. I am angry, frightened, and discouraged with the ever-increasing number of mass shootings sweeping across our country. There are over twenty thousand laws on the books at the local, state, and federal levels, laws dealing specifically with firearms, regulating their manufacture, trade, possession, transfer, record keeping, and destruction. These laws are enforced by state agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). For all of their profusion, however, these laws are clearly inadequate. They certainly didn’t protect the children in last week’s school shooting, and they haven’t kept us safe at churches, malls, restaurants, bars, and elsewhere.
One federal law that is front and center because of recent events is the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, Maine’s iteration of which prohibits possession of a firearm on public school property or the property of an approved private school. Some of Maine’s larger towns have created a position known as Resource Officer, a police officer assigned to monitor school hallways. Other towns have opted not to do so for fear of traumatizing students, but on balance I think the position stands to prevent more trauma than it might cause.
Maine is a gun owning state and gun friendly. We are not a “stand your ground” state, but a Castle Doctrine state, whereby one is “justified in the use of deadly force to protect one’s home and its inhabitants from intruders, without being obliged to retreat.” Anyone over the age of 21 can legally possess a firearm openly or concealed, and a Rand survey shows that 46.8% of adults in Maine have at least one gun at home. My husband is a hunter; we have rifles, handguns, and bows, all locked in a gun locker, where they belong.
Even so, the list of Maine gun regulations seems excessively permissive, as the following list suggests:
- No state permit to purchase rifles, shotguns, and handguns.
- No requirement to registrar a firearm.
- No assault weapon law
- No magazine capacity restriction
- No licensing of owners
- No permit required for concealed carry
- No permit required for open carry
- No background checks required for private sales
- No permit required for a loaded gun in a car.
- Yes to owning a gun suppressor (silencer).
- Yes to carrying a gun in a bar, unless posted.
- Yes to carrying a gun in Acadia National Park if you have a Maine permit or from a state Maine honors.
According to everytownresearch.org, in an average year 146 people die by guns in Maine. With a rate of 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people, Maine is ranked 40th in gun deaths in the United States. I am heartened to see that Maine’s rate is low compared to other states, but this fact should not encourage us to let our guard down. On May 25, News Center Maine reported ten violent threats in Maine schools over the last 30 days, four within one week. Let that sink in.
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