SOUTH PORTLAND — Last weekend, a family of five was found shot dead at home in Saco in a mass shooting that has been described as “one of the deadliest violent incidents in Maine in more than two decades.” The father shot and killed all three children – ages 12, 7, and 4 – along with his wife, before taking his own life.
The shooter had long suffered from depression, according to his mother. He left no suicide note or clear motivation for his shooting spree. All he left behind at the scene of the crime were shell casings and the shotgun he used.
You might think our beautiful, quiet communities here in Maine are safe from gun violence, but tragedies like these – and plenty of other everyday shootings that don’t grab headlines – remind us that gun violence can strike any town.
In fact, our beloved daughter Darien Richardson was shot during a violent home invasion on Jan. 8, 2010, in Portland. The gun used was sold without a background check at a Maine gun show. Darien’s homicide remains unsolved to this day.
SAME FIREARM KILLS AGAIN
Shortly after she was shot, the same firearm was used in another murder. Police tried to trace where the gun came from and how it was bought, but they hit a dead end because the private, unlicensed sale by which it was acquired took place without any questions asked, and without any trace of paperwork.
Had our laws – in Maine and nationally – required background checks on all gun sales, our daughter might still be here. Gun violence has struck our family deeply, and we continue to tell her story because we know there are others in Maine who can be saved if we keep guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers.
It’s too late to save her life, but we can work to save the lives of other women at risk – many of whom are in abusive relationships. For these women, it can mean the difference between life and death if their abuser is armed. Just the presence of a firearm alone increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent for women in domestic violence situations.
In Maine in particular, women who are killed are often shot by spouses or dating partners. It should horrify all of us that, according to the FBI, 47 women were murdered with guns in Maine between 2000 and 2012 – and 77 percent of them were killed by an intimate partner.
Unfortunately, Gov. LePage is doing little to reduce those numbers. He said immediately following the shooting, “Domestic violence is real and it can escalate in seconds, leading to severe beatings or even death, changing families forever. I am devastated by this most recent tragedy, but I will not turn my back on this very serious issue.”
But the evidence suggests he and our lawmakers in Augusta haven’t done enough. Maine has very weak gun laws when it comes to protecting women from abusive partners. And when a sensible background check bill passed the Legislature last year, Gov. LePage vetoed it.
Everytown for Gun Safety recently released a report documenting the strength of each state’s domestic violence laws. The results show that Maine lags behind.
For example, while 19 states – including New York, Connecticut and New Jersey – prohibit those with domestic violence misdemeanors on their record from buying or owning firearms, Maine does not.
SPEAK WITH YOUR VOTE
Further, 16 states have closed the loophole that allows handguns to be sold without background checks over the Internet and at gun shows. In those states, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners than in states like Maine that don’t require background checks on all gun sales.
We can do so much more to reduce gun violence. Fortunately, there’s a bill in Congress – Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act – that would close loopholes that allow abusive dating partners and stalkers to arm themselves. Anyone who wishes to represent Mainers in Washington – including 2nd District U.S. House candidate Bruce Poliquin, who recently backtracked on his support for background checks – needs to answer where they stand on this bill.
But we don’t have to wait for Washington to act. If Gov. LePage wants to stay true to his word and not turn his back on domestic violence victims, then he should be a leader on this issue. He should work with legislators to sign a bill that would keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And if not, then he doesn’t deserve our votes this November.
— Special to the Telegram