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Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Mainers deserve action

It wasn’t supposed to happen here. Nestled away in our nation’s northeastern corner, we Mainers have always fashioned ourselves as staunchly different from everyone else. We pride ourselves on our pristine forests and scenic coastlines, our sheltered, quiet communities, our distinct local cuisine, and our laissez-faire approach to social relations. For the most part, these are all accurate depictions of our traits. Most days, Maine really is just different.

And yet, Maine has now endured a uniquely American tragedy. Less than 48 hours ago, a man entered Schemengees Bar and Grille Restaurant and Just-in-Time Recreation in the city of Lewiston and murdered at least 18 people. At the time of this writing, he remains a fugitive subject to a massive multi-state manhunt. Lewiston and surrounding towns remain under a shelter-in-place order.

In a state as tightly-knit as our own, every community has been affected somehow by these horrors. As Lewiston is our state’s second-largest city, UMaine has a large population of students from that area and its vicinity. These tragic shootings will assuredly touch every part of the state and the Black Bear community, and we feel strongly that students should be given ample time to grieve and recover. These have been some of the most traumatic days in Maine history, and it is important to treat this matter with sensitivity. But these shootings did not occur in a vacuum: they are only the latest in a disturbing national pattern of cascading violence and seemingly endless bloodshed.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Mainers deserve action.

Today, we can grieve. Tomorrow, we need to urge our legislators to pass decisive and comprehensive gun reform. We believe that the most effective method to support these reforms is to push for the passage of legislation on a statewide level. Most gun owners in Maine and nationwide support universal background checks and the closing of gun sales loopholes. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the implementation of ‘red flag’ legislation and waiting periods to receive a purchased weapon, while an overall majority have backed prohibiting high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Additionally, pluralities of Americans have expressed support for reinstating the assault weapons ban. Indeed, it seems that this epidemic is recognized as such by everyone except for our legislators, especially at the federal level. While the situation in Washington may seem hopelessly gridlocked, there are still avenues students can take to make their voices heard.

Broadly speaking, students should register to vote and back candidates opposed to the perpetuation of gun violence on the ballot in 2024. On the federal level, students can call their representatives and senators, write letters, and attend rallies aimed at applying pressure on elected officials. Closer to home and where change is more likely to be found, Maine has laws that make giving public testimony on a legislative bill easier for regular citizens here than anywhere else in the country. Students such as ourselves have a unique perspective on gun violence; more often than not, college students are prominent targets when a mass shooting breaks out. We encourage students of all ages and grade levels to attend these hearings when a bill dealing with firearms regulation is presented and defend our right to enjoy an education without living in fear of being killed on our campuses.

Maine is a state with a strong outdoor tradition, and the use of guns for recreational purposes has always held a place in our culture. We’re Mainers, too: we respect and recognize these practices. The vast majority of gun owners are reasonable people who use their weapons in a safe and appropriate manner, if they use them at all. These reforms will not target responsible gun ownership, nor will they substantially change gun culture in Maine. They will simply better prevent guns from being used by the wrong hands to perpetrate acts of mass terror, such as what occurred in Lewiston this week.

We must also recognize the mental health aspect of this crisis. The person of interest in this massacre was a prime target for intervention, even voluntarily registering himself in a psych ward after threatening to attack a National Guard facility. The systems in place to support those suffering from mental health crises are vastly insufficient. Mental health facilities need more funding, and those who require their services need more attention. With proper protections in place for those suffering from mental illness, tragedies like this can and will be prevented. There is simply no excuse for the healthcare system of the most prosperous nation in the world to have failed to this extent. There is no reason why the person of interest should have been allowed continued access to firearms before receiving the treatment he needed.

Inevitably, many will claim that those calling for decisive action on gun safety are being insensitive and premature—“too soon,” as the common refrain goes. Certainly, these are uncomfortable discussions to have. The images of shattered families and lives ruined by rampaging madmen are almost too hard to watch. But we want to be clear: there is no such thing as “too soon.”

Is it too soon after Uvalde? After Buffalo? After Las Vegas, Orlando, and Sandy Hook? It is not too soon, for this crisis didn’t begin last night or with any other specific tragedy. What happened last night was not the first major mass shooting in the country this year, and it probably won’t be the last. This is a pervasive nationwide sickness that will require assertive and comprehensive action from both state and federal officials. The failure of our national politicians to adequately address the compounding crises of collapsing mental health infrastructure and painfully insufficient gun safety measures has necessitated these conversations, and they will remain necessary until it is solved.

Mainers are hardy people. We will get through this, as we always do. But we must ensure that, in the process of rebuilding, we don’t lose sight of the root causes of this massacre and the failures of the systems that allowed it to transpire.

Next time, it won’t be Lewiston. It won’t even be Maine. Maybe it will be Oregon, or maybe it will be Virginia. Maybe it will be another movie theater, or maybe it will be another elementary school. How much longer do we want to find out? How much longer do we want to wake up in the morning only to find that as we start a new day of our lives, dozens of others have been deprived of theirs forever?

The people of America deserve to live in a world where they can eat dinner, go bowling and enjoy their nights off without fearing for their lives.

If it happened here, it could happen anywhere.

Written by Haden Buzzell and Meredyth Waters.

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