Since the 1970s, I’ve written editorials about what was then called “gun control.” In recent years, I largely passed over the subject.

Back then, it was unthinkable elementary school kids could be gunned down in a classroom, Bible classes and synagogues profaned, or that shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants and music festivals would see mass killing after mass killing.

After such slaughter — and the lack of any substantive response from our elected leaders — what can possibly be done?

It’s the wrong response. Now and again, something comes along to shock.

For me, it was a Sunday newspaper story where only one Maine delegation member, Rep. Chellie Pingree, who supports it, was willing to discuss the assault weapons ban that never gets through Congress, despite having been law from 1994-2004.

The others, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden — one Republican, one independent and one Democrat — though given two weeks, wouldn’t talk to the reporter, instead offering lame written statements.


Yet Collins once voted to renew the ban, and King, as a freshman senator, was outraged after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of second graders when the Senate couldn’t overcome a filibuster to begin debate.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In 1968, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Congress passed the Gun Control Act, which banned mail-order rifle sales such as the one Lee Harvey Oswald obtained to murder President John F. Kennedy.

In Maine, Gov. Ken Curtis honored a pledge made at a National Governor’s Association conference to propose state legislation. At the hearing, hundreds of aroused hunters shouted down the bill, and its sponsor withdrew it.

But Curtis never expressed regret or second thoughts, though it doubtless didn’t help his reelection bid two years later, which he won by the tiniest of margins. It was the right thing to do.

In 2013, after the U.S. Senate’s disgraceful inaction, Dannel Malloy — now University of Maine System chancellor, then governor of Connecticut — proposed sweeping gun regulations and got them passed, keeping lawmakers in session.


This didn’t improve his popularity, but the laws made Connecticut safer and less violent — as the nation could have been, had Congress acted.

The outlook for sensible gun restrictions today is bleak, but we can call out those who fail to act or act regressively.

Gov. Janet Mills, as attorney general, fought a “red flag” law passed elsewhere that allows family members to request a judicial order removing firearms from someone who presents a danger to themselves or others.

Instead, she supported only a “yellow flag” law, predictably ineffective, that relies on law enforcement officers evaluating a person’s mental competency — something they’re unqualified for and understandably reluctant to do.

We must save our ire, though, for the U.S. Supreme Court and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, often admired on other subjects, who simply tore up two centuries of legal precedent to find an individual right to firearms in the Second Amendment that simply isn’t there.

Anyone who carefully reads the text understands this is a right to collective self-defense and has nothing to do with permissible carrying of high-powered weaponry on city streets, something the Framers could not have imagined and would certainly not have condoned.


The reaction to 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, with a 5-4 majority striking down the capital’s handgun ban, was curiously muted, with observers deciding “some restrictions” might still pass muster.

Building on Heller, last June, Justice Clarence Thomas enthusiastically invalidated concealed weapons permits in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a precedent the courts of appeals are busily applying already.

One has to wonder how much will remain. Will even the 1938 federal ban on fully automatic machine guns survive this “egregiously wrong” constitutional doctrine, to quote another recent opinion?

Barring a change in personnel or enlargement of the court, we may be stuck with Heller and Bruen, but that doesn’t mean we must remain silent.

The logic of this campaign is that guns = freedom, that the Second Amendment is on a par with the First Amendment, rather than being, as it is, a historical curiosity from when brand-new Americans wondered whether government could be trusted with their rights, privileges and immunities.

Even in other countries with “Wild West” mythologies — Australia, New Zealand, Norway — mass shootings led to tighter gun laws. Only in the U.S. do guns = freedom.

We must stop deluding ourselves. Arming elementary school teachers won’t keep kids safe. Nor will handing out AR-15s to patrol officers.

Only when we’re willing to deescalate and seek peaceful ways to live in community will we begin to heal. And it does start with each one of us.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, columnist and reporter since 1984. His new book, “Calm Command: U.S. Chief Justice Melville Fuller in His Times, 1888-1910,” will be published later this year. He welcomes comment at

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