When I was little, my sister and I used to have sleepovers at our grandparents’ house. The highlight of our young social calendar was going to our grandma’s bowling league with her. We’d sit there, drinking Oakhurst coffee milk and feeling grown-up for staying up later than usual. The most scandalous thing to ever happen was someone cursing over a bad score.

Wednesday night, reading the news, I was transported back to that bowling alley. My grandma’s league played in Westbrook, not Lewiston, but it felt like it was yesterday all the same. Except when I was a little kid I wasn’t worried about a man with a recent history of escalating mental health concerns and violent threats coming into the bowling alley with an assault rifle and murdering us.

Growing up in Maine, you get used to the fact that most people have guns. Hunting is part of our culture, and there are many areas where you’re as likely to encounter a moose or a bear as another person. So as a kid I never really thought about gun safety laws. And I didn’t need to, because we didn’t really have many shootings.

But now, as a pediatrician and gun violence prevention advocate, I spend a lot of time thinking about gun safety laws and teaching other people about their importance. Because gun violence presents a greater threat to my patients than most of what I learned in medical school.

In 2021, guns surpassed motor vehicle collisions as the number one cause of death of American children. In my experience, that is a shocking statistic for most people. What seems to shock people less is how incredibly common gun violence is among U.S. adults. In 2022, more than 48,000 Americans were killed by guns. It’s so common we’re just used to it.

But we shouldn’t be used to it. Gun ownership and gun safety policy can and do coexist. We know that gun safety laws save lives, and states with stricter laws suffer fewer gun deaths. Sadly, Maine has very few gun safety laws. In fact, it gets a grade of F from the Giffords Law Center for this reason.


After Wednesday, I can only hope that will change. Poll after poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans support stricter gun safety laws, yet our elected officials, in Maine and elsewhere, refuse to heed this call and honor their responsibility to their constituents.

I can’t help but wonder if Maine had a real red flag law, or had closed loopholes in the background check system, or had prohibitions on assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines, or required a waiting period, or a permit to carry, would things have been different? If any of these evidence-based gun safety policies were in place would a man with a recent psychiatric admission, who had openly talked about “shooting up a military base in Saco,” have been able to have access to the weapons that allowed him to murder 18 people and injure 13 others in Lewiston on Wednesday?

In over a decade of gun violence prevention advocacy, I have learned that change only comes if we demand it. We must hold our elected officials accountable and insist that they support the commonsense legislation that we know will keep our communities safer. The day after the Lewiston massacre, Congressman Jared Golden reversed his stance on the assault weapons ban. We should praise him for that. And we should make sure our other elected officials do the same.

Far too often, as I sit with a grieving family, helping them make sense of devastating loss, there is nothing that could have been done differently to prevent their suffering. Gun violence is 100% preventable; we need to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.

Thoughts and prayers are important but they are meaningless to stop bullets. We need policy change. Let’s demand it. Now.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.