If you listen to the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, you would think our state is one of the most dangerous places in the country to live as it relates to violent crime and guns.  This is what they say on their website: “Gun Violence: The death rate due to gun use is higher in Maine than in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, and six other states (2005 CDC data).

For the average Mainer this statement is likely staggering — except it isn’t true.  Maine is the safest place to live in the nation as it relates to violent crime.  We are 67 percent below the national average, and violent crime in Maine has declined for six straight years.

The difference is that the Maine Gun Safety Coalition adds suicide rates to their statistics to inflate the numbers and create a talking point to justify more gun control.  This may work for political purposes, but it distracts from a more productive debate about the health of our society and the ways in which our government can create policies that make communities safer.

It is critical that policy makers, the media, and Mainers treat these two statistics separately.  Violence is defined as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.”  Most of us view violence as harming another, not committing suicide.  Suicide is defined as intentionally killing one self.  When we blend the two and use suicide to justify gun control, it focuses solutions as one dimensional — solely to take away guns.

The underlying issues that lead someone to contemplate suicide are incredibly complex, and include issues like depression, drug addiction, terminal illness, bullying, and list goes on.  The reasons people commit violence against others are starkly different and warrant a much different public policy.  Focusing only on gun control as a solution is like saying if we stop building fast cars, we will reduce automobile accidents.  Have we forgotten the concept of free will?

How we message our state to young people and newcomers is incredibly important.  Gov. Janet Mills understood that fact when she ordered signs on the turnpike to say, “Welcome Home.”  I think the message should have continued: “to the Safest State in the Country to Raise a Family.”

The crisis of rising suicide rates in Maine and potential policy solutions are being lost in the gun-control debate.  Gov. Mills just appointed a new drug czar to attack the drug overdose epidemic in Maine; why hasn’t the public demanded the same approach to slow the growing suicide crisis?  Answer:  They likely aren’t aware of the problem because all the political collateral is being used in the war against guns, and as a result we are fighting the wrong battle.

Like drug overdoses (417 in 2018), suicides in Maine (226 in 2016) are a significant problem and warrant an aggressive action plan.  The underlying causes or reasons Mainers are committing suicide above the national average is likely a combination of the fact that Maine is the oldest population in the nation per capita, that we have 110,000 veterans, and our young people are facing the consequences of high poverty rates, bullying, and drug and alcohol abuse.  These problems are not solved by taking away guns; they warrant different tailored state policies and resources to address.

When you compare the average number of homicides in Maine by firearm (about 10 last year, down from an average of 12), to suicides in Maine (226 in 2016), it is easy to see where the crisis is.

Maine is the safest state in the country to live in as it relates to violent crime. Instead of celebrating that fact, the Legislature is about to debate over 20 new gun-control measures.

The reality is we are caught up in the national gun control debate, where our state’s reality is being re-defined for us by political consultants and special interests from outside the state.  We all know that the Legislature and governorship are strongly controlled by Democrats.  Many gun control advocates assume that the path to gun control is now open in Maine. What they don’t understand is that Mainers across all political persuasions own firearms and we take firearm ownership just as seriously as living peacefully with our neighbors.

There is no gun violence crisis in Maine and no amount of political spin will change that fact.

David Trahan of Waldoboro, a former state legislator, is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of that organization.


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