Many people are asking when the U.S. will do something about the epidemic of gun violence in our land. The horrendous killings in Lewiston show us once again that that time has not yet arrived.

I came to live in Maine four months ago after living in New Hampshire for almost 50 years. In New Hampshire, I led the effort of New Hampshire physicians to advocate for gun violence prevention for more than 15 years. Unfortunately, the gun-loving public in New Hampshire, as in Maine, always touted the relative safety of our northern New England states.

We knew it was only a matter of time before that myth of safety would be shattered, and now it has been.

Simply stated, as we have seen so clearly in the Lewiston mass murder, a yellow flag law is a compromise that is too complicated to be effective. All the warnings were there. The lack of effectiveness of such a law has, I believe, just been demonstrated by the death of 18 people.

Why is a yellow flag law too complicated to be effective, even when the signs of impending gun violence are so clear?

Yellow flag laws require an exam, likely by a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in making such assessments. I doubt we have many professionals who would be interested in making such assessments. As a psychiatrist still practicing in nearby New Hampshire, I wouldn’t care to be employed in such a dangerous type of practice, and I doubt whether others would sign up for such a specialized practice.


In this case, the police couldn’t, or wouldn’t, seek a warrant for arrest. I presume, given the concern of family and military, that the suspect could have been brought to a local hospital emergency department for an assessment by emergency physicians, and hospitalized involuntarily, even without use of yellow flag provisions, but it seems that didn’t happen either.

Data shows that red flag laws work to reduce some gun violence. Red flag laws require family (or others) to alert police who would then be able to go directly to a judge who could, if appropriate, initiate removal of all firearms and prevent the person in question from legally purchasing other firearms. Red flag laws are not easy to facilitate, but they are simple, not complicated with too many procedures to be useful in emergency situations.

So why do we have such an epidemic in gun violence in our land, an epidemic that doesn’t exist in other western democracies such as Canada, Australia or Europe? It’s not because of mental health issues, even though mental health issues often play an role in mass shootings and gun violence. Mental illness is similarly present in those other democracies, but the prevalence of guns is not. In the U.S. we have more guns than people.

So what can we do to curtail gun violence in our land?

For one, we need strong laws, like red flag laws, not weak laws that try to thread a needle. Similarly, we need to outlaw military styled assault rifles such as the AR-15 and AR-10. In that context, we don’t need complicated compromises that Sens. King and Collins are suggesting, where certain characteristics of the military assault rifles are specified. Laws work, if we have the wherewithal to pass them.

I of course realize that AR-15 type rifles are the most popular rifles in our country, but military rifles do not belong here even though we have allowed them. Poll after poll shows that the citizens want gun control laws, but politics keeps getting in the way of public safety. How sad that we allow gun violence to terrorize us all in our schools, churches, synagogues, grocery stores, streets. When will we ever learn?

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