If anyone can shake up the stalemated gun violence debate, it may be former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
It’s a good thing she’s visiting Maine on Saturday, because we could really use some shaking up.
We have just come through a legislative session in which no progress was made in the effort to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
Giffords is a national symbol of the consequences of doing nothing. Her career in Congress was cut short when a deranged man armed with a semiautomatic handgun and high-capacity magazines opened fire on her in a crowd of constituents, killing six people and wounding Giffords and 12 others.
She is also not the typical gun control advocate. She comes from a rural state with a long tradition of gun ownership. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut and fighter pilot. The family owns guns and shoots.
Their message is that while the right to own guns should “not be questioned” (in the words of the Maine Constitution), neither should the responsibility that comes with it. Law-abiding people who collect guns or own them for hunting or protection should make sure they are secure, and should not abet gun purchases by criminals or the people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness.
Maine needs to hear that message. We have a culture of hunting and self-sufficiency and a long tradition of gun ownership. We also have a low rate of violent crime, which makes many complacent about the risks we face.
Because of the hard work of the gun lobby, it was impossible this year to pass the most common-sense and popular gun ownership reforms. A bill to require instant background checks in all gun sales, not just the ones to licensed dealers, could not get through. A compromise that would create a civil infraction for selling a gun to a prohibited person made it through the House and Senate without a single Republican vote and is likely headed for a veto.
The gun lobby argues that the law would affect only law-abiding citizens, but the same could be said for every law. They argue that it would not have prevented the shooting in which Giffords was injured, but no law can prevent every crime.
They are ready to talk about every aspect of this complex problem except one: guns.
Polls show that despite the Legislature’s inaction, most Mainers are ready for that conversation. Maybe Giffords’ visit here can get it going.