Maine Is In Mourning After Living On Borrowed Time
How Maine's low crime rates and hunting tradition contributed to the Lewiston murders.
On September 8, 1933, a gunman shot four men to death on the street with a shotgun before barricading himself in a blacksmith shop and ending his own life with a revolver.
This happened in Belfast, Maine.
It took a little over 90 years for Maine to experience another mass shooting.
And this created a problem.
There's a saying that one definition of privilege is deciding something isn't a problem because it isn't a problem for you personally. When it comes to gun violence, Maine has enjoyed a very rare form of privilege in the United States.
Maine is not an unarmed state. Households without firearms are the exception. Children in Maine learn how to live with and use a gun early.
Nationwide, gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens.
In the United States, 58% of all gun deaths among children and teens are homicides.
But in Maine, an average of 8 children and teens die by guns annually with 82% of those deaths attributed to suicides.
In 2021 there were 178 deaths by firearms in Maine—a comparatively low percentage when compared with other heavily armed states—comprised of:
Gun violence mostly factors into suicides in Maine—another departure from heavily armed states.
For Maineiacs it was clear—gun violence was a they problem, not an us problem.
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Or so we thought.
The vast majority of Maine's guns are shotguns used for hunting game birds, deer, moose, bear or to earn bounties on coyotes. People still use the meat to supplement their groceries during the long, cold Maine Winters.
Maine's heavily armed populace aren't strapping guns to their bodies to parade around coffee shops to generate reactions. Ammosexuals exist in Maine, but they're not the majority and their nonsense is not well tolerated.
For my friends and neighbors, guns are tools, not political statements. Maine didn't have a gun problem.
Assault weapons ban? Red flag laws? Universal background checks?
For most Maineiacs, these were considered completely unnecessary for Maine. Those laws are needed in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Colorado—places with real gun problems.
According to statistics from Everytown For Gun Safety, Maine ranked 40th out of 50 states in overall gun deaths—including suicides.
89% of gun deaths in Maine are suicides, 7% are homicides. Nationwide averages are 61% suicide and 36% homicide.
An average of 14 people in Maine die by gun homicide annually—a rate of 1 homicide per 100,000 people.
Maine ranks 50th—or the lowest—in rate of gun homicides in the United States. Of all homicides in Maine, 57% involve a gun, compared to 74% nationally.
Then October 25, 2023 happened.
A reportedly mentally unstable man opened fire at a bowling alley then a bar in Lewiston, Maine. This was an aberration my fellow Maineiacs were ill-equipped to handle.
Just a week earlier, FBI data declared Maine the safest state in the USA. The violent crime rate in Maine in 2022 was 0.103% compared to the national average of 0.380%.
We were complacent.
We were cocky.
We knew it could never happen here.
And then it did.
In one act of gun violence, more people were killed in Maine than in each of the years 2000, 2002, 2003, 2014 and 2016. In one act of gun violence, more people were killed by a gun than in every year going back to at least 1980—the oldest statistics publicly available.
In the aftermath of this tragedy in Lewiston, people from away—what Maineiacs call people not from Maine—kept bringing up the gun laws in Maine.
Why were there no red flag laws or assault weapons bans in Maine?
Even Maine's 2nd congressional district Democratic Representative Jared Golden opposed bans on assault weapons as bad for Maine since Maineiacs were responsible gun owners as proven by the statistics.
In a bit of cruel irony, Representative Golden—a United States Marine combat veteran—was born in Lewiston and grew up in the small town of Leeds about 15 miles away.
In the aftermath of the murders in his birthplace, Golden issued an apology to the people of Maine and publicly changed his stance on assault weapons.
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Many Maineiacs either opposed to or ambivalent to gun safety laws also changed their minds after the gun murders in Lewiston.
Many here in Maine also need to apologize for past complicity.
Lewiston's tragedy didn't happen in a vacuum. It was supported by everyone who opposed universal background checks, red flag laws, assault weapons bans and other common sense gun safety legislation both in Maine and nationally.
It's unfortunate it took a tragedy to wake some Maineiacs up. But while social media focused on the gun safety laws—or lack thereof—in Maine, the question needs to be viewed as a national one.
Statistically speaking, Maineiacs at least had a reason to believe they were immune to gun violence. There are 49 states with more gun homicides than Maine.
Where are the gun safety laws in those states?
If the majority of Americans approve assault weapons bans, universal background checks and red flag laws, why do they keep electing people who don't?
As a progressive, lifelong Democrat, it would be easy for me to point fingers at the GOP. The Republican Party has proven to us over and over in their rhetoric and voting records that they will oppose gun safety legislation.
But it's time for personal accountability.
The lesson from the 18 murders in Lewiston, Maine wasn't how foolish Maineiacs were. It's that in a country where assault weapons are easier to get than contraceptives, this can happen anywhere.
It is past time to treat gun violence as an us—all of us—problem.
So what can we do?
Voting is vital.
Gun violence is a major problem everywhere in the United States. Candidates who will push for sensible gun laws should be a deciding factor in our garnering our support and our votes.
Organizations that work to prevent gun violence are key as well.
Consider joining a local or national organization and if there isn't one in your area, start one. If you can't donate time, donate money or amplify their messaging on social media.
Contacting incumbent elected officials is important.
Make sure your Representative and Senators—state and federal—know you want gun reform now. Calling, emailing, writing letters and signing petitions are things we can do with minimal time or monetary resources.
Say Their Names
Don't amplify the killers—remember the victims.
The people murdered by gun violence in Lewiston, Maine—1 child, 15 men and 2 women—ranged in age from 14-76. They included four members of the Deaf community.
Aaron Young - 14, and his father William "Bill" A. Young - 44; Thomas "Tommy" Ryan Conrad - 34; Maxx A. Hathaway - 35; Joshua "Josh" A. Seal - 36; Peyton Brewer-Ross - 40; Bryan M. MacFarlane - 41; Arthur Fred Strout - 42; Stephen M. Vozzella - 45; William "Billy" Frank Brackett - 48; Michael R. Deslauriers II - 51; Jason Adam Walker - 51; Tricia C. Asselin - 53; Ronald G. Morin - 55; Joseph "Joe" Lawrence Walker - 57; Keith D. Macneir - 64; Lucille M. Violette - 73, and her husband Robert "Bob" E. Violette - 76
An additional 13 people were injured.
I'd like to end with a reflection from my fellow Maineiac, Perry B. Newman, which he shared on his Facebook page. It cites several of the "evils" we were warned about by former Republican Governor Paul LePage and current members of the Maine GOP.
In addition to writing for The Big Picture, Amelia writes