No one with a heart can understand the cold-blooded killing of nine people, including the pastor, in a house of worship without asking, “What can we do to prevent this ever happening again?”

Nor can anyone deny that concealing his weapon allowed the gunman to freely enter the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and to plan and launch his attack when he could most efficiently kill the most victims.

The gun lobby will claim, as it always does in these all-too-frequent occasions, that criminals won’t obey the law anyway, so why make it illegal to carry a concealed gun? Well, that line of reasoning can be applied to any criminal behavior — murderers will murder anyway, so why make it illegal? Rapists will rape anyway … and so on, for any crime you choose.

No laws are 100 percent effective. Criminal laws enforced with penalties are deterrents to behavior and are one of the hallmarks of the transition from barbarism to civilization, throughout history and worldwide.

Laws establish norms of behavior, how we can expect most other people to treat us. Laws enable civility.

We in Maine have to decide, and we as a nation have to decide, what sort of behavior we want our laws to define as acceptable or as criminal.

The Maine Legislature is about to decide that permitless carry of concealed guns is so harmless that it should not be regulated at all, that anyone, even convicted criminals, should be able to secretly carry loaded handguns into businesses, in their cars or on the streets. Maine voters for the last five years have polled more than 8 to 1 in favor of the increased regulation of guns. Who gets to decide?

Maine law provides one answer — the people’s veto process, which allows the public to veto an act of the Legislature by a referendum-like vote.

This alternative recently was recommended by Ethan Strimling in a powerful blog post on the Portland Press Herald website (“It is time for a People’s Veto on guns,” June 11); it may be taken up by one or more organizations. The critical role of a concealed gun in the Charleston massacre would seem to reinforce an already very strong public support for regulating concealed guns.

Members of the gun-rights lobby, of course, would devote enormous financial and political resources to defeat any such attempt to regulate carrying concealed guns. They, using funds from outside Maine, would claim it was improper to use funds from outside Maine to lobby Maine voters.

They would argue it is their constitutional right to carry a concealed gun — ignoring that the constitutionality of the Maine law that required a permit for concealed carry had never been challenged during the nearly 100 years it was in force, and ignoring that federal courts more recently have uniformly upheld the constitutionality of regulating concealed carry of guns.

And, most cynically, they would argue that this is just an issue of dress code, making it a crime to put on a jacket. To so trivialize behavior that was instrumental in the murder of nine people might be considered bad form by even the gun lobby, but that is far from certain.

It is no more cynical than another of its formulaic responses: It is disrespectful to the gun-murdered victims to relate their deaths to the need for better gun regulation.

Opponents of unregulated concealed carry cite the increased risk of impulsive shootings, such as the 2013 murder at a North Yarmouth bee farm over who owned some honey, as well as the increased risk of intentional slayings such as those in Charleston.

More people carrying guns also may lead to more deadly incidents of road rage, more domestic violence with guns, more impulsive suicides and more accidental shootings.

At bottom, the debate is about what sort of society we wish to live in: more guns everywhere, even concealed and in churches, or sensible regulation of guns, including regulated concealed carry, which is the law in nearly every other state and has worked well in Maine for nearly 100 years.

Maine residents are sensible, own a lot of guns and commit few crimes. The Maine Guide tradition is respected nationally, as is Maine independence.

Maine could be a leader in the national debate about guns everywhere, about what norms of behavior we want our laws to express and about doing something to prevent more gun tragedies.

Anna Ginn is a resident of Portland.

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