Editorial: A brave change of heart on guns

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks with a woman at a vigil for the victims of the mass shootings several days earlier, at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks with a woman at a vigil for the victims of the mass shootings several days earlier, at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty—AP

Published: 11-06-2023 7:29 AM

Of all the lessons that can be drawn from last month’s horrendous mass shooting in Maine, the most obvious is that if it can happen in Lewiston, it can happen in any small town in Northern New England.

Thus, the complacency expressed by some New Hampshire legislators in the wake of Lewiston is breathtaking. It represents the persistence of a dangerous illusion that sooner or later will be violently shattered.

For example, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, told New Hampshire Public Radio that, “The problem is not the gun. The problem is the person.” But it is very clear that Maine authorities had ample warning that the shooter in Lewiston, Robert R. Card II, was experiencing severe mental illness, was threatening a mass shooting and had the means to carry it out. This is a story that has been echoed in various ways throughout the country. That the authorities did not or could not deter Card makes it abundantly clear that law enforcement is ill-equipped — or reluctant — to intervene safely and effectively in these situations. Who could blame them when a disturbed individual is likely to be armed with an assault weapon and knows how to use it?

This suggests strongly to us that if such individuals cannot be effectively and safely restrained, then the pressing problem is the gun, specifically assault rifles. They are weapons of war designed for rapidly killing large numbers of people, and have no legitimate place in civilian hands. If the Robert Cards of the world cannot be prevented from running amok, at least we can keep the body count down by depriving them of the means to kill large numbers of people in what amounts to the blink of an eye.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine is being both lauded for political courage and vilified as a traitor to the Second Amendment for recognizing this reality and reversing his long-held opposition to a federal ban on assault rifles. We concur with the former judgment, although one fervently wishes that his change of heart had not been the result of a madman gunning down 31 of his constituents, 18 of them fatally. But better too late than never.

Golden is a 41-year-old Democrat who styles himself as a rebel, departing fairly often from party orthodoxy. For example, last July he was one of just five Democrats to oppose a national ban on assault-style weapons. The context for his independent streak is that he represents the state’s deep-red 2nd Congressional District, which Donald Trump has carried handily in the past two presidential elections.

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He is also a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of which makes his stated rationale for changing course of particular interest. Golden told The Boston Globe that his about-face came during the drive from Boston’s Logan Airport to Lewiston following the year’s worst mass shooting, when his thoughts turned to the assault rifles he owns.

“I bought rifles such as these, always with the goal of protecting my family,” he said. “And suddenly it occurred to me, like, what am I going to do? For people like me, are we gonna start carrying AR-15s everywhere? Cause if we’re not, what are we gonna do when that guy walks in the door of the grocery store or the bowling alley?”

Not that Golden is abandoning the Second Amendment wholesale. He noted that when he went to the grocery store recently with his wife and daughter, he carried a concealed handgun. But he also observed that if he had been confronted by a gunman armed with an assault rifle, that handgun would not have made much difference. Which is a valid point that seems to be lost on so many gun owners who picture themselves taking down a bad guy in a life-and-death situation.

Golden added that if he wanted to live in a world where everyone needed to carry an AR-15 to be safe, “I never would have left Afghanistan.”