YARMOUTH — Given the choice, who would rather mourn a child felled by a gun than take effective measures to keep them alive? Probably no one, but this is what has happened, over and over, hundreds of times, since the Sandy Hook children’s massacre of 2012. When children die, we mourn, we send prayers, but only rarely do we change our laws.

But the urge to protect our kids is primal. Remember the Tylenol scare? One morning in 1982 a 12-year-old had a runny nose, her parents gave her Tylenol, but someone had laced it with potassium cyanide. By 7 a.m., she was dead. Speedily, tamper-proof packaging became industry standard for over-the-counter medicine, Congress criminalized tampering, and compulsory standards followed.

Car accidents exceed those from guns but are kept in check by extensive regulations. As a society we chose to reduce the danger a century ago and continue to today.

Do your kids use a pool? How about a bathtub? Drownings in non-boating incidents killed more than 700 children, aged 5 to 14 years, from 2005 to 2014. We don’t ban tubs or pools, but many jurisdictions make pool owners build encircling fences with self-locking doors.

More kids die from guns than drownings.  In fact, gun deaths are the second highest cause of childhood death overall but comparable protections are rare.  Moreover, guns are mobile, easily concealed and in homicidal hands regularly produce mass casualties – including among children – and yet we do little to reduce the risks to kids.  We don’t worry about a disgruntled student with a bathtub under his raincoat.  Guns are a different matter.

However last year 11 of 12 gun-safety measures, some extremely modest, died in the Maine State House. The one bill that made it through – a version of the “red flag” bill (a law in several states authorizing temporary removal of guns from persons deemed dangerous by doctors or family members) – was so changed by amendment as to potentially inhibit families from using it.

Opponents of the 11 proposals often argued that they were solutions in search of a problem: We’re a safe state, gun violence is rare and gun owners are responsible, they say.

True, we have been blessedly spared school shootings, so let’s keep it that way. No one argues against having fire insurance because their house hasn’t burned down yet. And doubtless most gun owners are responsible, but so are most car owners, yet we don’t oppose licensing or VIN numbers, speed limits or penalties for reckless driving. Moreover, suicide is a form of violence, and Maine’s rate of teen suicide by firearm is the country’s sixth highest.

Others treat any gun regulation as a violation of fundamental rights secured by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. Two recent Supreme Court rulings have indeed found a constitutional right to own a gun, a right secured by the Maine Constitution, too. But rarely quoted are Justice Antonin Scalia’s words in Heller v. D.C., the crucial case, emphasizing the constitutionality of gun regulation: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions or qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Scalia’s admonition is all but lost in the noise of the gun debate, yet it probably captures most people’s views. In survey after survey robust majorities favor more protection against gun violence. Support spans ages and genders, gun owners and non-owners, rural and urban dwellers. In Maine’s congressional districts, it’s nearly equal.

After the impasse last session, now seems a good time to broaden the dialogue beyond hearing rooms and floor votes in Augusta. Maybe a broadly based group of citizens meeting Mainer to Mainer could agree on a way to move us forward on a subject close to our hearts: gun safety for our kids.


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