Gun violence in America is not hopeless and you are not helpless
Since starting my Substack, I haven’t written much about gun violence — partly because I want “Playing with Fire” to be a creative outlet for other ideas and subjects, but also because after leading Moms Demand Action for over a decade, I felt I’d said everything I had to say on the topic. However, after the horrific, senseless and wholly preventable mass shooting in Maine last week, I’m realizing that some of the things I’ve said for years will occasionally bear repeating. Especially for people just deciding to become gun safety advocates or gun sense voters.
If you’re new to the movement, welcome. So much has been accomplished in the past decade (please watch or listen to the video above for more on that), but there’s still so much more to do (read this if you want to learn about my mistakes as a gun safety activist).
Having seen these shooting tragedies play out over and over again, my first thoughts when I heard about the active shooter in Maine were that: 1) It was a man; 2) He’d used a semiautomatic rifle; 3) He had red flags in his background; 4) He’d bought his gun legally; 5) He had military training.
Sadly, I was correct on all counts.
Even though the gunman’s family, police and military officials knew he was experiencing psychotic episodes, he legally bought an AR-10, which is even more high-powered than an AR-15. He even equipped his semiautomatic rifle with a red-dot sight, a flashlight and two 20-round magazines taped together to give him an overall capacity of 40 rounds. After the shooting, police reported that the gunman had also recently purchased a silencer online, but when he went to pick it up at the store it was delivered to, he self-reported that he’d recently been hospitalized for a mental illness. The store refused to give him the silencer, potentially saving countless lives.
But the gunman was not a prohibited gun purchaser — he wasn’t a felon and he hadn’t been adjudicated mentally ill. And he used his access to firearms to kill 18 people and wound over a dozen more in a bar and a bowling alley. In under an hour, just one man with one gun killed more people than had died by gun violence across the entire state of Maine in 2022.
The gunman’s access to guns was enabled by the state’s (mostly) Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly weakened exiting laws and blocked new, stronger laws. This year, Maine lawmakers blocked a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales, as well as a bill that would have required a 72-hour waiting period to buy a gun. As a result, Maine has some of the weakest gun laws in the Northeast, lacking even the most basic foundational safety measures.
Overall, Maine does not:
Require background checks on all gun sales
Have a red flag law
Prevent domestic abusers from accessing guns
Ban assault weapons
Limit magazine capacity
Require concealed carry permits
Restrict open carry
Have a waiting period
But Maine is not an outlier. Many states have similar laws or even weaker laws. In the last 15 years, over two dozen states have passed something called permitless carry, a gun industry legislative priority that allows civilians to carry loaded guns in public without a background check or safety training. Data shows this approach of giving people access to firearms and putting them on the honor system doesn’t work: in states where gun laws are being eroded, gun violence and gun deaths are going up, and in states where gun laws are being strengthened, gun violence and gun deaths are going down.
That’s pretty intuitive, yet Republican lawmakers are continuing to work to make weapons of war and related paraphernalia available to any and all civilians, without age limits, background checks or safety training. They’re forcing guns into schools and onto college campuses, and they’re allowing them in public places that should be gun-free, including public parks and parking lots. They’re propping up the gun industry because they benefit from the money and power that comes from every sale of every gun. And then, after every shooting tragedy, they try to convince us that all of this violence, suffering and death are just the price we must pay to protect the Second Amendment.
And while Republican lawmakers are sacrificing our children’s lives on the altar of the gun industry, there is hope. In 2012 when I started doing this work, a quarter of all Democrats in Congress had an A-rating from the NRA — today none do. And where we’ve elected gun sense trifectas — places like Virginia (the current Republican governor hasn’t been able to roll back our progress), Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado — We ARE making progress.
In the past decade, the gun safety movement has:
Passed over 500 gun safety laws in red, blue and purple states.
Defeated the gun lobby’s agenda in statehouses 90 percent of the time nine years in a row.
Dent secure storage information home with millions of school students.
Unlocked over 2 billion dollars in life-saving funding for violence intervention programs.
And in 2022, we passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first federal gun safety legislation to pass Congress and be signed into law in a generation.
This seismic shift in America politics only happened because so many people began using their voices and votes to elect gun sense champions who, in turn, helped pass gun sense policies and legislation. EVERYONE has a role to play – from retired grandparents who make election calls to students who register people to vote on campus to survivors who tell their stories to moms who decide to run for office.
Here are some ways YOU can help:
Remember that every vote for a lawmaker who opposes gun safety is a vote for policies that make it more likely your loved ones will be slaughtered. Make sure you’re registered to vote on November 7 and then vote (the earlier, the better) in every single race — up and down the ballot — for gun sense candidates. The only thing that will change the horrific trajectory this nation is on is for ALL OF US to vote for — and only vote for — candidates who support strong gun laws. Go here to see who has gun sense in your state and federal races: gunsensevoter.org.
In the wake of the Maine mass shooting, the state’s two US Senators pledged to introduce legislation that would limit firearm magazine capacity, a tactic that data shows is effective. We need to pressure the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation.
In addition, Maine Congressman Jared Golden reversed his opposition to an assault weapons ban and said he now supports related legislation (he’s in a tight race against Republican gun extremists — go here to support his campaign). There are still Democrats, however, who oppose an assault weapons ban; let them know their stance is immoral and untenable: Sen. Mark Kelly, Sen. Angus King, Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Sen. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Mary Pelota, Rep. Henry Cuellar, Rep. Don Davis, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, and Rep. Vincente Gonzalez.
Most state legislatures reconvene in January — you will be needed to show up to oppose bad bills and to support good bills. You can do this through Moms Demand Action or another gun safety organization.
Run for office yourself! In the 2021-2022 campaign cycle, a record-breaking 275 Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers ran for office. Demonstrating their political power, nearly 160 volunteers across 30 states were elected to school boards, city councils, state legislatures and Congress.