June is National Gun Violence Awareness Month. Gun Violence Awareness Day is observed annually on the first Friday of June to raise awareness about gun violence and honor the lives of gun violence victims and survivors. Gun violence has significantly increased during the pandemic. As of press time, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive reports the U.S. has seen 18,911 gun-related deaths, 16,259 injuries and 254 mass shootings (those that result in the injury or death of at least four people, not including the shooter) so far this year, and it’s only June.

Judi and Wayne Richardson of South Portland, in 2014, hold a photograph of their daughter, Darien Richardson, whose 2010 murder remains unsolved. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer, File

Those appalling figures aren’t just statistics, they are our fellow Americans, including our children and teens, who deserve to be safe from gun violence everywhere in the U.S. As is the case with our daughter, Darien, the victims, survivors and the families affected by gun violence are often forgotten. Everyone believes they won’t be affected by gun violence – until they are.

We will always honor Darien and other victims by advocating to prevent other gun-violence tragedies. Darien was born, raised, educated and remained in Maine for her career, contributing to our society and state. Darien was kind, loving, intelligent, motivated and hardworking. She was a fun-loving social butterfly who enjoyed music and loved to dance. Darien left the world, and those she encountered, better in her wake.

Darien’s life was turned upside-down in an instant. On Jan. 8, 2010, at 1:30 a.m,. armed intruders entered her home in Portland, burst into her bedroom and opened fire. One bullet struck her left hand, destroying her thumb; another bullet struck her right leg, traveled the length of her thigh and lodged in her hip, where it was to remain. Darien was hospitalized for three weeks. Upon release, she continued to work on recovering from this severe trauma to heal her physical wounds and emotional pain. Tragically, she died Feb. 28, 2010, from delayed complications of her gunshot wounds. She was only 25. Darien’s death devastated our family and all those who knew and loved her.

Darien’s homicide is still unsolved, in part because of a dangerous loophole in Maine law. Portland Police did recover the .45-caliber handgun used to shoot Darien at the scene of another murder, on Feb. 10, 2010. After Darien died, the medical examiner removed the bullet from Darien’s hip and ballistics confirmed it came from that handgun. Detectives worked with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to track down the gun’s manufacturer and distributor and the gun shop that sold the weapon and located the legal owner of record. But there the trail ends, because he told police that he sold that gun at a gun show, didn’t keep a record or recall who he sold it to. Since this was a private sale by an unlicensed seller, state law required no background check of the buyer, just an exchange of cash for a gun. This is an example of how guns enter the black market.

All licensed firearms dealers conduct a background check on buyers before transferring a firearm. In Maine, unlicensed private sellers, whether they do business online or at gun shows or arrange cash-for-gun sales through classified advertisements, are not required to conduct a background check. This loophole actually enables people who are prohibited from owning firearms, such as convicted domestic abusers and other criminals, to buy firearms from these private unlicensed sellers, no questions asked, and they routinely exploit this massive background check loophole. This clearly contributes to straw purchasing, gun trafficking and gun violence.

A bill before our Maine Legislature – L.D. 999, referred to as Darien’s Law – would require that a background check is completed before two strangers engage in the sale of a firearm. We can save lives and prevent future tragedies without infringing on the constitutional right to own a firearm, so what are we waiting for?

Gun violence is a public safety issue. Gun violence is also preventable. Darien had a right to live. It’s too late for Darien, but it’s not too late to prevent more tragedies. Lives matter more than politics.

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