I was born and raised in Maine and returned to my home state after 10 years of medical training to become a child psychiatrist in order to raise my own family.  I hoped to give my children a taste of the idyllic childhood I remember. I was a child in the 1980s and ‘90s and fortunate to grow up before September 11th, before school shootings, before a global pandemic.

I was relatively safe and buffered from the stresses on our children today. I never imagined a world where my children would have to participate in drills to prepare them for an active shooter in their school.  I never imagined that in one of my online physician mom groups that mothers would be comparing notes on what type of bullet-proof backpack inserts to buy their children.  And yet, here we are after another American school shooting in Uvalde Texas, claiming the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

The rhetoric often strays to mental illness in the aftermath of a mass shooting. And yes, we are certainly in the midst of a mental health crisis in our country and in our state of Maine. This crisis started before COVID19 and has been amplified in the context of the pandemic with increased stress on families and inadequate mental health services. But mental illness is not the same as criminality and mental illness is not responsible for the vast majority of violent crime. In fact, there is much research that people struggling with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

The common factor in these shootings is not mental illness but is easy accessibility to firearms, in particular accessibility to military style firearms, designed to inflict the most damage and destruction in a short period of time, such that several children who died in Uvalde were unrecognizable to their parents.

Accessibility to firearms is also the leading risk factor in adolescent suicide, something I have sadly witnessed in my profession as a child psychiatrist.  Firearm deaths are now the leading cause of death in childhood. Between suicides, homicides and accidental shootings, more children die by firearm than in motor vehicle accidents.  We have ample evidence from other countries with stronger gun laws that there are fewer suicides and homicides and certainly far fewer mass shooting events.

I recognize that Mainers have a strong tradition of gun ownership and I take no issue with responsible and law abiding citizens owning firearms. But I would urge our legislators to be progressive and do the right thing for the children and families of our state by banning military assault style weapons. We can protect our children and prevent small town Maine from becoming the next Uvalde, Texas.

—Special to the Press Herald

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