All too often in this election season, persons on both sides of an issue have tried to frighten others about their opponents. Fear is a powerful motivator that sometimes causes people to react in ways that they might otherwise not if they were not afraid. The ability for civil discourse, to talk about vital interests, is being eroded by fear.
I would like to talk briefly about reducing the incidence of gun violence. I believe Maine people, like folks in most of this country, have grown weary and afraid of the epidemic of gun violence. We are tired of living in a country that appears to be growing more dangerous by the day. I also know that many people are afraid their Second Amendment rights are being weakened by the proponents of Question 3, a ballot initiative to expand background checks on gun sales.
I believe that people’s fears, real or imagined, are driving this issue. That fear has even divided the law enforcement community. The Maine Chiefs of Police have endorsed the measure while 12 of 16 County Sheriffs have lined up in opposition, along with the Maine Game Wardens, voicing their concern about protecting Maine’s outdoor hunting heritage and putting innocent citizens at risk of arrest.
I am not opposed to gun rights, but I do believe there is a greater right — the right to live and the right to live without fear. It is too easy, in moments of fear and anger, to use a gun at hand in ways that cannot be taken back. It is too easy to shoot quickly and then to live for years with regret, guilt and grief.
I pray daily for a society that has seemed to accept the fact of 90 people being killed on American streets in cities big and small every day. I pray for this country where 30,000 lives are lost in a year. I support the initiative to require criminal history background checks for most private gun sales and gun transfers in Maine because I think keeping guns out of hands that shouldn’t hold them will reduce the death toll. Fewer deaths from accidents, from domestic violence, and from suicide is a goal I think most people can support.
Bipartisan support is overwhelming as currently more than 80 percent of people polled say Maine must take this measure to protect ourselves and our families. The passage of this referendum will honor the memory of all those who have died from gun violence and demonstrate a conviction that life and freedom from fear must be available to all. A background check for private weapon sales does not seem too high a price to pay.
The call of the Lord Jesus Christ is not to confront violence with violence, but with love. May we all work together to diminish the climate of fear gripping this nation and, together, change this broken world. May we uphold the right of all to live together in peace.
Stephen Lane is the bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine.