As a nation we have been here before: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland, Uvalde and too many more. As we add Lewiston to the list, we must readdress this issue as Mainers. The problem was always in our own backyard; now it is front and center.

As we mourn the victims and try to understand how a tragedy like this could occur, we will have discussions that are all at once repetitive and brand new. Both locally and nationally, we will ask what went wrong and how to prevent future tragedies.

And I realize: I know, because I made the call and had the conversation.

Authorities will look for indicators that might have prevented this horrendous act and saved lives. Advocates will speak up, demanding change in our culture and laws. Political leaders will debate the merits of protecting a constitutional right versus protecting the lives of everyday Americans. And, if the past is any indicator, not much will change.

But, I know, because I made the call and had the conversation.

Ultimately, we’ll look to politicians to do something, anything. And we must not only look to what they can do, but what they have already done. The actions or inaction of our elected officials should be part of the debate. Because, tragically coincidental to this shooting, the U.S. Senate took a vote the same day on a measure called the Kennedy Amendment.


And here, again, I know, because I made the call and had the conversation.

The Kennedy Amendment was attached by Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, to the bill funding the Department of Veterans Affairs. It limits VA’s ability to notify the FBI when a veteran has been deemed by medical professionals as mentally incompetent or incapable to manage their own affairs. Normally, any person with such a diagnosis is added to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and thus prohibited from purchasing firearms. But a majority of the Senate think that veterans should be exempt from such restrictions.

Of course, I know because I made the call and had the conversation.

I don’t think veterans should be exempt. There are more than 16 million living veterans, and despite spending more than three decades in Marine Corps and Navy uniforms, I can’t vouch for all of them. Just because someone once upon a time served in the military does not mean they should be, in perpetuity, able to purchase and possess firearms with no questions asked. Inevitably, some veterans will pose a danger to themselves or others that requires a restriction on their Second Amendment rights. It happens too often with veteran suicide, 71% of which are by gun.

I know because I made the call and had the conversation.

Maine Sen. Angus King was a swing vote on the Kennedy Amendment. In a meeting with his staff, he was asked to consider the veteran lives that could be saved from a gun suicide, if properly identified by the VA. Sen. King’s office was reportedly more concerned with the supposed lack of a judicial review in the process – a falsehood, because the veterans have the opportunity to request a hearing. So, on Wednesday afternoon, Sens. King and Collins voted to weaken our federal background check system, based partially on the idea that veterans don’t pose the same threats to themselves and others.


I know because, on Tuesday, I made the call to Sen. King’s office, and as a veteran and a concerned constituent, I had the conversation with his staff member. A conversation that was ultimately fruitless.

Three hours after our senators voted to make it easier for mentally incompetent veterans to access firearms, an Army reservist is suspected to have killed 18 people in Maine with an assault rifle. Our senators’ recent votes would not have stopped this tragedy. But their votes make it easier and more likely that the next tragedy will occur.

If you care about the lives of Mainers – especially if you support our senators – call their offices and tell them to fix the problem the Kennedy Amendment has caused, to support background checks on all gun sales, and to do something, anything, to protect the lives of their constituents.

Then you will know, because you’ll have made the call and had the conversation.

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