What is a law for?

The right answer has several parts. Most of us would agree that a law tends to be designed to protect people. It can protect rights or freedoms. It’s not controversial to say that a law forms a rule to follow and, properly implemented and enforced, has a regulating function.

Are we also happy to say that a law can be an expression of a value system? That it codifies the standards we aspire to live by? That we pass a law not only for its immediate, black-and-white application, but as a contribution to a body of norms and requirements that, well maintained, accurately reflects where we are and says something about where we’d like to be?

Recent arguments against gun control laws in Maine have been cold, calculated and based on a narrow set of circumstances presented in an even more narrow body of available evidence – two (2) fatal shootings, in Bowdoin and Westbrook, earlier this year. These arguments can only hold up if you think of a law as a linear instrument, some kind of one-off that has no bearing at all on cultural or social mores.

The “gotcha” tone of gun control opponents, newly armed with the allegedly relevant particulars of this pair of local shootings, demonstrates how utterly closed-off this lobby is to any possibility of improved public safety.

Hellbent on protecting its financial interests and unwilling to make even the most modest of administrative concessions in response to the horrifying crisis of gun violence, Maine’s “strong and vocal gun rights community” has shown it has no qualms about converting desperately sad stories into political bargaining chips.


In a statement to the Press Herald, the state director of the National Rifle Association, Justin Davis, said expanding gun control measures was unnecessary, an unfair burden on law-abiding gun owners. Davis suggested that Maine could more effectively prevent shootings by imposing longer sentences on people convicted of violent crimes, “the true adversaries.”

“Enforce the laws already on our books, equip law enforcement with the resources they need, and ensure that criminals face justice,” he said in an email.

Here’s our suggestion. Do that and take the “unnecessary” step of expanding gun control measures. Place the “unfair burden” of laughably dry, run-of-the-mill measures like universal background checks and waiting periods on purchases on those law-abiding gun owners. Even if you think they’re merely symbolic, make these safeguards a reasonable condition of gun ownership, a right that has caused America such staggering loss and bloodshed. That’s the only unfair burden at issue here.

Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, who sponsored the single piece of gun control legislation that was not doomed in Augusta this year – which makes it a crime to transfer or sell a firearm to a prohibited person – seemed to take a holistic approach to the question of legislative reform earlier this week, telling the Press Herald that the law, while minimal enough in its import, could spur a rising tide. “Every piece of legislation that becomes law does some real good,” she said. “It helps build a framework for even more protective legislation.”

We’ll say it again: States with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun violence. Maine’s gun laws are among the weakest in the country. Guns are everywhere; there could be one for every resident, or 1.4 million guns. Our legislators, permanently bent over backward for gun buyers and sellers, are repeatedly failing the rest of us. What we need is a sea change.

Until some credible version of gun control is passed, any suggestion that it doesn’t make a difference cannot be taken seriously.

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