There is some comfort in our remoteness, but Maine is not far enough away from gun violence to be apathetic or to tolerate cowards elected to represent us. News of mass shootings in Oregon, Seattle, California, Colorado and Connecticut – all across the country – is making families everywhere sick.

The tawdry symbiotic relationship between the Republican Party and the NRA in statehouses around the country is like cancer, so when Republicans took over Augusta in 2011 on a platform of “jobs,” it came as no surprise that the first order of business was passing a round of gun bills in appreciation of the gun lobby for its job well done at the polls. Too often, however, the enablers of this illness are Democrats.

Under Republican control, the Maine Legislature did not expand health care or the economy, but the demented gun culture metastasized. Republicans did not increase wages or stem the tide of child poverty. Instead they passed laws to force private business owners to tolerate loaded firearms in employee vehicles and to let people carry loaded guns into our state parks and historic sites.

Democrats controlled the House of Representatives after the 2014 election with a chance to do something about the state’s biggest problems. But the economy still lags, wages remain stagnant, heroin is everywhere and we have a serious problem with domestic violence and guns. All this exists against a national backdrop of gun tragedies that is sickening in proportion.

So what was the only significant piece of “bipartisan” legislation to come out of Augusta in 2015? An NRA-backed gun bill euphemistically called “constitutional carry” that removes permitting and safety training requirements for carrying a loaded concealed handgun.

Under the old law, Maine allowed any anti-government nut to openly carry a loaded handgun in public. So “it just doesn’t make sense” to make it illegal because the guy puts on a jacket, argued Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who sponsored the bill.

It’s no surprise that a 26-year-old freshman senator’s argument was simplistic and naive, but isn’t it stunning that a majority of old-school legislators, including 18 Democrats, fell for it?

Mainers take off their jackets, belts and shoes to get on an airplane or enter a courthouse every day, despite the fact that the number of deaths from terrorism pales in comparison to deaths by gun violence.

What makes absolutely no sense is to increase the risk of gun violence when more than 10,000 Americans are killed by it every year, and it’s inexcusable that Democrats – capable of blocking this irresponsible law and representing constituents – instead placated a reckless governor and the NRA.

The vote was not about jackets, Maine’s rural hunting culture or activism in support of the Constitution. It was a calculated and cowardly concession cast by people afraid to confront bullies and stand for common sense, science and the people who elected them.

Confident of their re-election, many of the Democrats who supported this legislation stay close to power like it’s a security blanket. They are addicted to being described as “moderate” and feel a need to throw votes to northern Maine to ease their guilt about the disparity in income and opportunity between the “two Maines.” Also important is the chase – getting courted for a vote is intoxicating and invigorating.

In the short run, a majority of Republicans will never muster the courage to break ties with the gun lobby and make necessary changes to our laws before more tragedies occur, so there is no longer room for gun appeasers under the Democratic Party tent. The stakes are too high. Too many women are being shot in Maine, and too many children are being gunned down in schools across America.

Gutless politicians in Augusta and Washington need to be called out, challenged and replaced if they are afraid to do the right thing.

Eighty-four percent of Maine voters favor a requirement for permits and safety training to carry a loaded concealed handgun, and every Republican except one refused to stand up for gun safety laws.

The only thing worse than a Republican governor abusing his political power is a Democratic majority not using its own to block the deregulation of guns amid an epidemic of gun violence that’s bringing America to its knees in grief and despair.

It was up to Democrats last year to block a foolish dangerous law, and they failed. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Cynthia Dill can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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