February 19, 2013

Maine Voices: Public can lead revolution in thinking about need to stop 'arms race'

Politicians won't act until they see a widespread shift in attitudes about the carnage caused by guns.

By Janice Cooper

YARMOUTH — Shortly after the massacre of beautiful 6- and 7-year-olds and courageous teachers in Newtown, Conn., by rapid-fire, maximum-damage bullets, I wrote

an op-ed

for a small Maine newspaper, titled "For the Love of Guns: A mother's and legislator's pledge." Surprisingly, the commentary went almost viral and clearly touched a nerve.

A number of readers praised my piece. But I have also received angry messages from (mostly anonymous) people around the country who think that I have no business talking about the Second Amendment.

They make it clear that they view the constitutional right to bear arms as a bulwark against tyranny. It's their protection not against intruders or black bears (although that might be handy, too) but against the government itself.

This was an eye-opener. This is certainly not true of all opponents of gun control, but if you were preparing for a revolution, of course you would oppose limits on the kinds of firearms available for sale to private buyers. For those not so inclined, what can you do to stop the arms escalation?

My "pledge" was to keep talking until Americans rethought whether homes should contain the kind of firearms used by Adam Lanza. So here I go again.

My answer is to home in on our popular culture, attitudes and habits, which have tolerated, if not supported, the accumulation of millions of firearms in our homes.

Most of the attention since Newtown has been on limiting sales of and access to certain weapons and ammunition by certain purchasers. Although such laws might reduce mass shootings, they will have no impact on street crime, suicides, domestic altercations or accidental shootings.

Moreover, limiting heavy-duty firearms will be a hard sell in Maine and Congress for both practical (what's an assault weapon, after all?) and political reasons. But I believe America after Newtown is a different place, just as it was after 9/11.

As a current representative in the Maine Legislature, and as a staff member in Congress, where I used to work, I understand why elected officials want broad public support before moving forward on this controversial issue. I say that the sea change in public attitudes has begun. It's time to stoke the fire, to write your legislator and to bring on public service ads and public forums for those too complacent to act.

Maine is a good place to start. We have many guns, but aside from domestic violence, it's a pretty safe place.

To bring peace to our homes, schools and streets, we must reverse Americans' unique tolerance for guns in our everyday life.

I'm not talking about repealing the Second Amendment, which, the Supreme Court has declared, creates an individual right to bear arms. Rather, I want more people to look at weapons and think not of their "rights" but of the carnage it has created in our society.

We have to be brave enough to stand up to gun advocates. We must ask tough questions of families, friends, neighbors and ourselves.

  Do you let your children play in homes where you do not know or ask whether a loaded handgun lies in an unlocked nightstand?

  Do you know whether your kids watch video game and movie depictions of bodies being blown up?

  Have you thought about the possibility that your moody teenager knows where the key and ammunition to his father's rifle are, and, in a dark moment, will turn the firearm on himself? It happens. Our teen suicide rate is the eighth highest in the nation.

Here are some more sobering statistics, from the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School:

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)