PORTLAND — How does one (person or country) recognize the first anniversary of the senseless murder of 20 first-graders and seven adults? What is the point of any recognition – isn’t it best put behind us? Why drag it out again?

The gun lobby has an answer: Remembering the tragedy is simply the political exploitation of terrible murders to make the case for better gun laws. “How dare you use a crime to promote your cause!” Well, I suppose that rules out recognizing Easter as well.

No one with a conscience, with any sense that our star-crossed America might be improvable, has any difficulty with this question. Yet it is important to be clear why we so strongly feel the need to torment our souls on this occasion.

For this, there are many explanations. The large number of persons killed in a single incident (second in U.S. history only to the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32); the tender age of all the children; the proximity to Christian and Jewish holidays, but, perhaps most significantly, the correspondence to a pattern. A young male shooter with no significant criminal or mental health history, a legally purchased gun, completely innocent victims, no warnings or missed signals – in short, a crime that could happen anywhere, anytime.

Hence the near-universal response: This could have been us – how can we prevent it ever happening again?

So one of the reasons we recognize the anniversary is our bewilderment, and shame, that we have done precious little during this precious year to prevent yet another mass shooting.

 In his State of the Union address nearly a year ago, our president made enactment of better gun laws a priority for his administration; Congress punted.

 Our Maine Legislature passed a good background check law last spring; our governor vetoed it (joking that it “aimed at the wrong target”).

 New York, Colorado and Connecticut passed better gun laws, but they remain islands of restricted sales in a sea of Wild West access to firearms.

A more fundamental source of our frustration is partisan politics. It has become a matter of orthodoxy for Republicans to oppose common-sense improvements to gun laws. The federal background check bill was supported by 50 Democratic senators and only four Republicans, dooming it to defeat. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins was one of the few Republicans who bravely defied her party’s orders and voted for the bill.

The public is not divided on this issue – neither nationally nor in Maine. Polling shows nearly 90 percent support everywhere for universal background checks. But in this case (and many others), our legislators are listening more to lobbyists than to the public.

Maine should be a national leader on this issue, acknowledging that owning a gun is both a right and a responsibility. Our reputation for common-sense and independent thinking, combined with our reputation for sound hunting and fishing traditions, give us enormous national influence. Hunters are not shooting up schools or shopping malls, and they support better gun laws, but they (and the rest of us) have been overpowered by the gun lobby.

Better gun laws won’t take guns away from responsible gun owners; they will simply make it more difficult for irresponsible parties to buy them. And improved gun laws will not be 100 percent effective; no law is.

But our daily news makes the case over and over for better gun laws: an apparent murder and suicide in Westbrook, a paralyzed toddler in Bangor, a fatal landlord-tenant shooting in Biddeford. Every day, more than 22 Americans are killed by guns – literally another Sandy Hook tragedy daily.

So, a final reason to recognize the first anniversary of Sandy Hook is to bow our heads and resolve to do all we can to see that no community in Maine – which all look so much like Newtown – will ever have to bear such a terrible loss. We can do better, and now is the time to make that commitment.

— Special to the Press Herald

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