The tragedy of inaction

By Pearl Benjamin | Aug 08, 2019

So here it is: my fourth editorial on gun control. Sick of it yet? Feel like you’re being overwhelmed by mass shooting details all over Facebook? Tired of hearing the same boring gun control arguments over and over again? Well, it’s time to snap out of it, because this cycle of violence and retaliation will not end until America wakes up.

This past week, two mass shootings took place within 24 hours. At around 10:30 a.m., a 21-year-old white man walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire. He shot and killed 22 people, one of whom was 24-year-old Jordan Anchondo, who died while shielding her two-month-old baby.

Not 15 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, another white man in his early 20s used a high-capacity rifle to fire 41 shots in 30 seconds and kill nine people including his sister. Thirty-seven other people were injured in the incident, including 14 who were struck by gunfire.

These two mass tragedies highlight the contributors to America’s gun violence epidemic all too well and there’s one sickening detail about both massacres that we all need to wake up and face: they could have been prevented.

The El Paso shooter, who is in custody facing capital murder charges, has admitted to walking into that store to “shoot as many Mexicans as possible.” In fact, he surveyed the store to make sure he had suitable targets before walking in with the firearm. This was shortly after posting a violent and racist manifesto on the online message board 8chan. White nationalist themed domestic terrorism like this is not a rare occurrence in the United States. FBI director Christopher Ray recently reported that the FBI made 100 domestic terrorism arrests in 2019 and are carrying out 850 more investigations. Our current administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim focus has placed the blame for all our nation’s grievances on black and brown people, labeling them as the enemy and giving a green light to any action taken against them. Our government can no longer be blind to public safety threats posed by angry, violent, white men with access to guns – the people who are the most common perpetrators of mass shootings in America.

The Dayton shooter also had a history of warning signs. According to the Dayton Daily News, he was kicked out of his local high school for making a list of girls he wanted to kill and writing it on a bathroom wall. He had also admitted to fantasizing about killing other classmates, who reported it to the local police. His former classmates have told news sources that they aren’t surprised he was the perpetrator of the shooting this past weekend. So yes, there were red flags that should have prevented a young man with violent intentions from obtaining a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines. But Ohio does not have an extreme risk protection order law that could have given family and law enforcement the ability to remove any firearms from the young man’s possession when he was reported to authorities the first time. Ohio does not have a background check or licensing law that would prohibit gun shop owners from selling a firearm to a person with a history of threatening behavior. Ohio does not have a ban on the military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines used to kill nine people in 30 seconds.

The incidents, as well as the recent mass shooting in Gilroy, Ca., showcase the fallacy of the gun lobby’s mantra: “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” Even a near-instantaneous 30-second response time by armed law enforcement could not prevent the deaths of nine innocent people. Even a gun-selling store in a state proud of its open carry laws could not prevent the murder of 20 people in less than six minutes. Even a food festival outfitted with a police compound, mounted police, bag searches, metal detectors and armed security responding in under one minute could not prevent the deaths of three people. The only thing that can stop shooters like these before they kill someone is to keep firearms away from them in the first place.

This seems impossible given that all three of these young men purchased their guns legally, even with the presence of gun laws. The Gilroy shooter purchased his weapon in Nevada and then brought it into California, which has adopted some of the nation’s strongest gun safety laws. How can we prevent mass tragedies with local gun regulations when shooters can bring in weapons from other states with weaker laws? Maine’s lack of gun regulation means that many of Massachusetts’ deadly crimes are committed with guns purchased in our state. It’s not just our state legislators who put us all at risk by failing to pass gun safety laws. The federal government has a role, too: to make sure that the baseline of national gun laws is strong enough to protect everyone, no matter where they live. Senate leader Mitch McConnell is currently preventing two bipartisan gun safety bills (HR 8 and HR 1112) from being brought to the Senate floor for a vote. How will that help the next state facing a mass shooting?

Here in Maine, it seems like we’re just waiting for a tragedy to happen. During the most recent legislative session, 10 gun safety bills were introduced at the State House. These included bills that covered extreme risk protection orders, safe storage, background checks, high capacity magazines and waiting periods. Out of the 10, only four made it out of committee. The others were picked apart, watered down, and ultimately killed by every Republican and Independent legislator, with help from more than 40 Democrats and Governor Janet Mills.  Among those Democrats are Senator Michael Carpenter of Aroostook, who helped kill six of the bills in committee and then voted against all the rest that reached the Senate floor. Democrats Senator Susan Descambault, of York, and Representative Charlotte Warren, of Hallowell, chairs of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, did the same thing in committee and then went on to vote against three of the four surviving bills. Eleven other Democratic legislators voted against all four gun safety bills that made it to the floor. Thankfully, Camden’s senator Dave Miramant and representative Vicki Doudera were not among them. Both Miramant and Doudera sponsored bills that made it to the floor, but they were outnumbered by legislators looking to secure their re-election.

These are our Democratic senators and representatives who we trusted to vote on behalf of our public safety. Without gun violence prevention measures like the ERPO law and background checks, we are no less vulnerable to a mass shooting than Ohio or Texas. We cannot let our legislators just sit around and wait for a tragedy to happen. We need to call on them to take evidence-based action that will keep us safe and save lives. I don’t want to be afraid every time I’m in a shopping mall and Maine’s black and brown population shouldn’t be afraid whenever they leave their homes.

This Saturday on Aug. 10, a week after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, my organization Maine Teen Advocacy Coalition is hosting an event in collaboration with Suit Up Maine, Moms Demand Action Maine, and Maine Gun Safety Coalition. We will be gathering outside the Blaine House in Augusta at 7 p.m. for a candlelight vigil to mourn victims of gun violence, stand up against domestic terrorism and call on our legislators to finally take action. Join us in the fight for our lives and let your representatives know that there is nothing more important than your safety. Until I am safe from gun violence in my home state, I won’t shut up about it. Neither should you.


Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.



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Comments (3)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Aug 13, 2019 12:01

Such a well-written op-ed by a teenager, who is far more articulate on this topic than most adults, especially politicians. The future belongs to the next generation, to people like Pearl, who writes pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, America loves guns more than its children and Trump opened America's Pandora's Box of racism that fan the flames of people with assault rifles.

-Phyllis Merriam

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 08, 2019 15:34

Thank you Pearl. I agree with you most heartedly! My sons and their father were hunters and learned the safe art of hunting very early on. Good parenting about safety while hunting would solve lots of problems. Our country is facing a gun disaster and sadly there are mixed solutions presented and not much action to back it all up.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Aug 08, 2019 09:43

Keep holding us accountable, Pearl.  We all have the opportunity to be part of the solution.  It is a choice.

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