If you’re a politician in Maine, one of the first things you learn is that you’re supposed to be careful about how you talk about guns. Come on too strong, and the gun lobby will come and get you. So, play it safe! Don’t upset anyone. Go along to get along. That’s what you’re told, anyway. And a lot of politicians follow that advice.

But as our nation struggles to understand how we became a place where parents are afraid to send their kids to school for fear they might not come back, and everything from concert grounds to dance clubs have become the scenes of once-unthinkable terror, there’s an ugly truth we have to face. And that is: Politicians who play it safe on guns are part of the reason we’ve had a Columbine. And a Virginia Tech. An Aurora theater. A Sandy Hook. And a Parkland.

That’s true of Republicans, and it’s true of my party, too. We are all to blame. And it’s on us to do something about it.

DIVISIONS OVER GUN POLICY

Take this year’s gubernatorial race. There are a lot of good Democratic candidates running for governor this year, and there are some things we agree on. But boy, do we diverge on guns.

One of my opponents earned an A rating from the National Rifle Association. Another seems to think we need to slow down and study the issue more. Well, with all due respect, if you got a perfect score from the NRA, you are not going to stand up to the NRA and do what is necessary to change our gun-safety laws. And if you think we need to study the issue more, then go to the back of the class, because you haven’t been paying attention.

I am proud to say that during my time in the Maine Legislature, including two terms as speaker of the House, I earned a D from the NRA. They didn’t like me very much, and, I can assure you, the feeling was mutual. But that didn’t stop us from passing universal background checks for every gun sold in the state of Maine. We won a majority of votes in the House and the Senate, but Gov. Le-Page vetoed it.

That’s why we need a Democrat in the Blaine House who will stand up to the NRA and lead on making our schools, homes and communities safer.

Requiring a background check on every gun sale, private or public, would be a good start. But there’s lots more we need to do.

We need to ban assault weapons. Get rid of them. I don’t want them in Maine.

We need to ban high-capacity magazine clips and bump stocks.

We need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of those who might cause harm. In most cases, a loved one or relative knows when someone is likely to become violent, so we need gun-violence protective orders that let courts take guns away from the people most at risk of doing something terrible with them.

KEEP THE NRA OUT OF MAINE

There is one thing we don’t need here in Maine: the NRA. Stay out of our state. We don’t want you here. You’ve done enough. And we’ve had enough.

Now let me be clear: Most Mainers, whether they own a gun or not, are horrified by the bloodshed. It doesn’t matter if you grew up with a gun, or never touched one in your life. We all want this to stop. But sometimes it seems like we don’t know how.

But we’re learning. And if you don’t believe me, just look at what’s happening at schools across the country. Courageous students from just about every walk of life have decided that they can’t wait for their parents and politicians to act anymore – they have to do it themselves. And they are. Their bravery and determination should be an inspiration to all of us.

Let’s answer their call. No more letting politicians off the hook when they tell you they care about the victims of gun violence, and then don’t do the things we all know would have protected them. It’s time to tell politicians you either take a stand and stop the gun violence, or get out of the way for someone who will.

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