Column: On gun safety, the majority’s wishes should prevail

A community member looks at a memorial outside Schemengees Bar & Grille, Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, Lewiston, Maine. President Joe Biden is heading to Lewiston to mourn with the community after 18 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in state history. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A community member looks at a memorial outside Schemengees Bar & Grille, Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, Lewiston, Maine. President Joe Biden is heading to Lewiston to mourn with the community after 18 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in state history. (AP Photo/Matt York) ap — Matt York

Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By WAYNE GERSEN

For the Valley News

Published: 11-14-2023 10:03 AM

My grandchildren in Brunswick, Maine, missed two days of school last month. They were sheltered in place in their house because police were combing the nearby woods in search of an “armed and dangerous” gunman who used a high powered military weapon to kill 18 innocent civilians and injure 50 others in Lewiston, Maine, roughly 12 miles from them. The newscasts reported that the shooter’s abandoned car was found at a boat launch 5.8 miles from their house.

Had my grandchildren been awake the night before their schools were closed, they would have heard helicopters overhead searching for the suspect, Richard Card, a 40-year-old Army Reservist who, according to the state police bulletin circulated that night, was a trained firearms instructor who “had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks in the summer.”

On the weekend following the school closures, Card’s body was discovered at a nearby recycling center, dead from a self-inflicted wound. In the days following the shooting, details of Card’s unaddressed mental health struggles emerged along with the efforts of the Army and family members to alert local sheriffs of their concern that Card’s condition might lead to violence. We learned that he used an AR-10 that fires a .308 caliber cartridge, even more powerful than the AR-15. Card had modified the weapon so that it could fire 40 uninterrupted rounds. There was extensive reporting on how Maine’s relatively lax gun control laws made action by the local police complicated and problematic, and of communication breakdowns among various law enforcement agencies and the military.

We also learned how the community was affected. One article in the Boston Globe on the impact of this incident on children in the area was titled “In Maine Right Now, the Kids Are Not All Right.” Written by Sabrina Shankman, the article described how the children in Brunswick just finished lockdown drills at their elementary school, “an experience that a decade or two ago might have seemed extreme, but now is just a regular part of education, like it or not.” The article quoted a parent who lamented “Sometimes it feels like, are we just trying to normalize this stuff?”

Sadly, she is right. We are normalizing “this stuff” because a small group of gun owners do not want any changes to laws that govern any guns despite the wishes of a substantial majority of voters. A poll this spring by Fox News found the following:

■87% of voters surveyed said they support requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

■77% support requiring a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases.

■Vast majorities also support raising the legal age to buy guns to 21 (81%) and requiring mental health checks for all gun purchasers (80%).

■80% of voters say police should be allowed take guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others.

■61% of voters support banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Despite this broad support for some kind of gun control, there is no political support for regulating or confiscating weapons designed for military use. Instead of passing laws to control access to weapons, legislators spend millions to “harden” schools. A report in last week’s local news section reported that 21 ”economically disadvantaged schools” in New Hampshire will receive $10 million in federal funding to use for security upgrades.

These woefully underfunded schools need more teachers, more learning materials, and more pre-school programming. But instead of helping upgrade the schools academically, the federal government is providing them with “grants to pay for security enhancements” to “build defenses against school shooting threats.” The grant funds can only be spent for: “access control upgrades, which help schools easily control who may enter the buildings; emergency alerting systems, which allow staff and administrators in the schools to easily communicate with each other and first responders during emergencies; and surveillance technology to help monitor threats and deter violence.” Hardened schools are easier to approve than harder rules for gun purchases.

According to a report in the Washington Post earlier this year, national surveys by Ipsos in 2022 found that 31% of adults own guns and an estimated 20% of gun owners own an AR-15-style rifle. That means roughly 6% of Americans currently own an AR-15 and substantial majority of adults (69%) don’t own any weapon at all.

Yet those of us who don’t own guns are forced to accept a “new normal” where my grandchildren and hundreds of their classmates in Maine stayed home, thousands of innocent Mainers were confined to the indoors for two days, and millions of schoolchildren across the country are learning how to shelter in place. This “new normal” is the price we are paying to ensure that gun regulations are limited or nonexistent.

I support laws that limit access to weapons designed for military use. I see no need for anyone to possess weapons like the one Card brandished as he entered the bowling alley on his way to kill innocent people enjoying each other’s company. I am frustrated that our legislatures at all levels do not seem capable of writing laws that regulate the acquisition of weapons. I cannot drive a commercial vehicle because I do not have a license demonstrating my proficiency and knowledge of the rules governing their use, yet I can acquire a weapon designed to kill large numbers of people with no demonstration that I know how to use it or know the rules, if any, governing its use. Why is that so?

I’d like to know the answer to that question so I can explain to my grandchildren why they missed two days of school last month and why they need to learn how to hide from school shooters. I think others are looking for an answer to that question as well.

Wayne Gersen lives in Etna.