It’s Possible: Meaningful Gun Safety Reform in Maine

Friday, February 16, 2024
Jen Lancaster

[AUGUSTA, ME] – The League of Women Voters of Maine (LWVME) hosted a gun safety panel at the Blaine House yesterday that featured national and regional experts on gun reform in Maine. The panel was part of an annual tradition when the League celebrates the anniversary of its founding by lobbying legislators on priority issues at the State House. This year the League turns 104 years old.

The League of Women Voters has held the position since 1990 that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons in the United States is a major health and safety threat to its citizens. Gun reform has long been an issue important to the League, but following the shooting event in Lewiston, the League has revamped its advocacy on gun safety.

“As a pediatrician, we recognize the gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis. That means we need to focus on it as a public health issue,” said Joe Anderson during the panel, who serves as the Advocacy Chair for the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The panelists recognized that Maine has a strong hunting tradition but believe there are proven laws that can reduce gun violence without sacrificing the rights’ of hunters in the state. When talking about “gun violence,” the panelists included in this definition self-inflicted and domestic violence. Compared to the rest of New England, Maine has some of the highest rates of suicides by firearms.

“Maine is sort of an enigma where we have really lax gun laws but our violent crime rates are very, very low… But gun violence is not just crime. People lose their lives to suicide and that is an issue that gun reform and gun safety can address,” said Michael Rocque, Associate Professor of Sociology at Bates College. Later Rocque reiterated, “People are thinking about mass shootings but people lose their lives to guns in many different ways. We know that there…are laws that are effective to reduce the use of firearms in terms of suicide.”

Since the shooting event in Lewiston last October, activism around gun safety has skyrocketed. Now more than ever Maine residents want to see more legislative measures that will prevent future tragedies. This includes high school and college students who are tired of the lack of gun violence prevention.

Nacole Palmer, Executive Director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, spoke about high school students at Casco Bay High School who recently passed around a petition. “They see themselves, and understandably so, as being on the front lines and [are] the most in danger from these weapons of war.”

Fowsia Musse, Executive Director of  Maine Community Integration, has worked with youth who have fled war-torn countries and relocated to Lewiston. Fowsia herself left war-town Somalia and fled to Ethiopia with her family in 1988 when she was five years old. She arrived in the United States in 1995, and for the last 17 years has worked in healthcare and mental healthcare fields.

“We have a lot of young people, young children, early childhood and high school, who are coming from war-torn countries, who are directly exposed to gun violence, who, from the background of their culture, are desensitized to gun violence,” said Fowsia Musse.

These youth flee war-torn countries and arrive in the U.S. with plenty of trauma. While Musse believes that there is a lack of education around “gun banning” in the Lewiston/Auburn area, which can be confused as infringing on second amendment rights, she says that we can frame the issue positively around gun safety and educate the youth, and that we can work towards a safer future and tackle the issue together.

“We’re hopeful that meaningful gun safety reform is on the horizon for Maine. Back in January, hundreds of Mainers came to the State House in support of reform. Today, the League spoke with our legislators directly and asked them to support banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. We are doing what we can to help move the needle on this issue,” said Anna Kellar, Executive Director for the League of Women Voters of Maine.

The League supports banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, enforcement of strict penalties for the improper possession of and crimes committed with handguns and assault weapons, and allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.

The panel was moderated by Lianna Holden, a senior at Freeport High School and founder of the school's chapter of Students Demand Action. Last November, Holden staged a walkout at her school to show support for gun safety reform.

Click here to watch the full panel. The panelists included Joe Anderson, Advocacy Chair for the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Fowsia Musse, Executive Director of  Maine Community Integration, Nacole Palmer, Executive Director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, Joe Platte, State Legislative Manager at Giffords, and Michael Rocque, Associate Professor of Sociology at Bates College.