Throughout the debate over gun laws in Maine it’s worth remembering that, although every death due to violence is a tragedy, statistically Maine does not have a gun violence problem. Only six states have fewer gun murders per capita than Maine, and one of them is Vermont — the first state to implement what is now commonly called constitutional carry. It’s important that we put any discussion of gun control in our state into the context of Maine, and what occurs in our state.
However, even on a national level violent crime has been trending steadily downward over the past 20 years. The national rate of firearm homicides is almost half what it was in 1993, even as more and more states have loosened their gun control laws. There has been a recent rise in mass shootings, but that has not caused the overall rate of gun deaths to increase in recent years. They are an aberration, even in terms of gun violence overall, not the norm.
Gun control advocates, of course, would rather you never read the preceding two paragraphs. They would rather prey on your emotions after major tragic events, then pen overly-dramatic, simplistic columns as justification for more restrictive gun control policies, as Cynthia Dill did in the Portland Press Herald recently. In her piece, she attacked Sen. Eric Brakey — the sponsor of Maine’s constitutional carry legislation — but instead of rebutting his argument, she simply mocked it as simplistic because of his age. Relying only on ad hominem personal attacks is a sure sign someone is losing an argument, and this attack is especially bizarre coming from a prominent member of a party that relies so heavily on the youth vote.
Not only did she attack the Republican sponsor of the bill, but also her fellow Democrats who supported it — including such party leaders as Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham (the former secretary of state), Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco, and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. She didn’t mention any of them by name, of course, preferring instead to label any Democrats who voted for the bill “cowardly,” “calculated” and “afraid to confront bullies.”
The truth of the matter is that those Democrats who voted to expand individual liberties in Maine rather than restrict them are not afraid: they just happen to have a different point of view on this particular issue. It’s a common debate tactic to label those who disagree with you in politics as cowards who are voting for purely political reasons, or who are beholden to evil special interests. However, it is a cheap stunt that is incredibly disrespectful to those with differing opinions. Indeed, were this discussion taking place on the floor of the Legislature, questioning their motives would be considered out of bounds according to the rules of debate.
Of course, votes are sometimes motivated by politics rather than by principle — but in this case it seems a convenient scapegoat rather than reality. John Martin, for example, has a lengthy history of supporting gun rights, and has won re-election many times from his Eagle Lake district. He’s no exception: many of the Democrats who voted for constitutional carry are experienced legislators who have consistently supported the Second Amendment.
If Democrats want to reduce themselves to a party that exists mainly in Maine’s urban areas, then they ought to purge those who believe in gun rights from their ranks. However, they’d be wiser to embrace Maine’s tradition of low crime and responsible gun ownership. That will mean improving our mental health system and policing, rather than imposing more restrictive gun control laws. That’s the true Maine way, not embracing blatant partisanship on the issue simply because national special interests say so.