According to an April poll by Fox News, 61% of registered voters in the U.S. want a national ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Students gather in front of the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville on April 3 to protest gun violence in schools. The protest was held one week after six people were killed by a shooter at The Covenant School, a private Presbyterian school, in Nashville. Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

That puts the majority of Maine’s congressional delegation in the minority.

Of the four members, only Rep. Chellie Pingree is in favor of the type of ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons that was in place in this country between 1994 and 2004.

For a period spanning two weeks this month, the Press Herald attempted to get Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden to as much as speak with the paper about the prospects for a national ban on assault weapons, something the three do not support.

None was willing to do it.

A law professor at William & Mary told the Press Herald the subject had “become a third rail, especially in places like Maine that have a strong and vocal gun rights community.”


In prepared statements, the demurring lawmakers indicated that they were generally appalled by the volume of mass shootings and gun violence nationwide.

You know what’s appalling?

That a restriction on the sale of assault weapons is still seen as risky to support. Or that a conversation outlining reasons to oppose such a restriction is apparently not worth having on the record.

In separate national polling released last week, ​​26% of respondents identified “access to guns or firearms” as the leading threat to American public health, putting it ahead of cancer, obesity and even opioids.

Two months from the school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, that killed three children and three members of school staff and one year from the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers, the nation finds itself in the midst of the latest surge in interest in gun control.

There is nothing in front of us to suggest that this surge, like all of the surges that came before it, will be anything other than short-lived.


The reason for that, stunning in its consistency and unshaken by the most horrifying massacres of Americans, many of them children, is that while polling may say one thing, politics continues – time and again – to say another.

Indeed, the gulf between public sentiment and public policy appears to be getting wider. According to analysis by the news site Axios, state legislatures have passed more laws expanding gun access in the past 12 months than they have laws restricting access.

Proposals to ban particularly deadly guns like the AR-15 have in the past been dismissed as being either too broad and too impersonal or too cosmetic and only symbolic in nature. Faced the with number of casualties in household-name mass shootings in which assault weapons are used, it’s hard to think that any attempt at intervention could be found to be too broad. Faced with repeated bloodshed, what would be wrong with a bit of symbolism?

In the wake of the April shootings in Bowdoin and Yarmouth, a Yarmouth middle schooler, Leif Hellstedt, expressed disbelief about the delegation’s position in a letter to the editor.

“Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Rep. Jared Golden should support an assault weapons ban,” Hellstedt wrote. “By not doing so, they are putting everyone’s lives in danger. I cannot comprehend why that is OK for them. For me, it is just unthinkable that our elected officials don’t support the safety of their voters.”

Unthinkable as it is, it’s challenging to find a piece of analysis that doesn’t conclude that momentum toward a ban on assault weapons is “not on the table” or “unlikely to go anywhere” or “an uphill struggle.”

The next time you feel incredulous, ashamed or sick with rage, remember that behind all these shrugging clichés is decision-making, or lack thereof, by elected leaders like Collins, Golden and King.

A decision not to support a ban is a decision to support the conditions that have created America’s crisis of gun violence.

Until their reasoning – about which we know too little – changes, nothing will.

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