WINTHROP — A forum about gun violence Sunday afternoon echoed much of the national discussion in recent months.

Participants with a range of viewpoints talked about powerful weapons, mental illness and self-protection, but found little agreement about solutions. About 30 people attended the gathering at the Winthrop Center Friends Church.

John Hallett, a firearms instructor from Fayette, said people advocating for bans on certain guns don’t understand the weapons. He said they’re scared by “black guns,” which makes as little sense as worrying about crashes caused by red cars.

“The people who want to push these issues, instead of truly getting educated first, they go out and spout things. They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Hallett said. “They mean well, but they don’t have enough education on their side to do it.”

Hallett said recent mass shooters all seemed to have mental illnesses and that many video games are meant to desensitize people to violence.

Al Godfrey of Winthrop echoed Hallett’s concerns about mental health and said that people who allow their guns to get into the wrong hands should be prosecuted.

In response to questions from some participants about why someone would need a powerful, high-capacity semiautomatic gun, Godfrey said it puts a person on a level field with a criminal who comes into their home with a high-powered weapon.

Maggie Edmondson, pastor of the Friends church, objected to the idea that more guns make the world safer and that protecting oneself with a gun is a good thing.

“I don’t want to shoot someone,” she said. “I’d rather they shoot me than I shoot them. I don’t want to build a society where we protect ourselves from one another in a way that we shoot one another if we get fearful.”

Susan Bulba-Carvutto said that while it’s important to improve the provision of mental health services, she does not want the mentally ill to be stigmatized.

 “In this present discussion there’s an idea being promoted that people who are mentally ill are the reason for gun violence, and most people who are mentally ill aren’t violent,” she said.

Leslie Manning, board president of the Maine Council of Churches and the moderator of Sunday’s discussion, pointed out that Maine has not submitted to a federal database most of the names of people not allowed to own a gun because of an involuntary mental health commitment.

In addition, Manning said, private sales of guns — from one individual to another — are not regulated.

Ruth Ann Smith of Monmouth, a retired mental health nurse for the Veterans Administration, cautioned against lumping together all mental illness. She said that the returning veterans she worked with were so primed to defend themselves that it’s possible some could overreact and do something like shoot a relative mistaken for an intruder.

“There are some of us that you would not necessarily put into that seriously ill category but are at real risk of making a big mistake,” she said.

Hallett said that while it’s not required in Maine, in many states gun buyers have to disclose mental health diagnoses or treatment. But Smith said someone could lie and still buy a gun even if they would be a danger to themselves or others.

“I don’t think that paperwork necessarily prevents that danger,” she said.

Manning said the federal attorneys who prosecute gun possession crimes in Maine are concerned about the state being a source of guns used in crimes elsewhere, especially Massachusetts.

“Although we may be a low violent-crime state, we are known as a place where it is fairly easy to obtain guns if you’re not able to elsewhere,” she said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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