Hal Phillips

We’re fine.

That’s what I’ve been texting to dozens of friends and family, starting at about 8 p.m. Wednesday night. We live in Auburn, across the Androscoggin River, which separates our small city from our slightly larger sister city. As of Friday, there was still an active shooter at large, two days after he gunned down 18 innocent people, first in a Lewiston bowling alley, then at a roadhouse four miles across town.

As American citizens, you are surprised by none of this. Saddened and sickened maybe, but not surprised. By now you know the drill: shelter in place, wait on news of the man’s capture, and hope no more lives will be needlessly taken. Another day, another responsible gun-owning American instantly transformed into a mass-murdering criminal.

These good guys with guns who, at any moment, might mutate into the felons from whom only more guns will protect us? These guys (and they’re all guys) literally walk among us, 24/7/365.

I honestly don’t think this country turns out more than our proportional share of folks living on one side of this very fine line, or the other. Every industrialized nation deals with the real-world fallout from mental illness. Fortnite and other equally gruesome single-shooter video games are played by billions of under-adjusted humans the world over. Casually extreme violence, as depicted in film and television, is consumed in every country on Earth, in every conceivable language.

Yet only this country endures so many mass shootings, more than one a day. See the database at gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting. Forty-four events and counting in October alone. Not every “active shooter” event results in “mass” fatalities. So far, according to the Associated Press, the nation has witnessed 36 mass-killing events in 2023 — the second-highest number on record in a single year.


As I sit here, sheltering in place, the obvious question is, Why us?

The National Rifle Association, most of the Republican Party, and other gun rights advocates bridle at the mere question. They’ve lobbied for years against the collection of data on such matters. Waving away the data we do have, they declare the issue intractable. Can’t be helped, they tell us.

Since 1977, when extremists hijacked the NRA, they’ve been telling right-leaning voters that these deaths are the price of “freedom.” What we actually need, they say, are more good guys with guns — to stop all the bad guys with guns.

These automatic and semi-automatic weapons: They serve up ever-more killing capacity. But their superpower is turning law-abiding citizens into depraved criminals, in the blink of an eye. Former military. Firearms safety instructor. Army reservist since 2002. Do good guys come any better qualified that that?

I don’t own a gun. Never even fired one. When a mass-shooting takes place right across the river, however, one feels newly empowered to speak up.

So, why is America the unicorn when it comes to mass shootings worldwide? Simple: Too many guns, thanks to our blindly capitalist impulse to sell even more guns, under the specious guise of “liberty,” to anyone and everyone. Not just handguns, but military-style assault weapons, because battlefield-capable units sell better than merely lethal ones.


Modern capitalism is brutally indifferent to the depraved ethics inherent to these marketing realities. It’s harder to explain away the pro-gun judicial movement that curiously sprung up alongside the newly extremist NRA, starting in the 1970s. Somehow, for nearly 200 years, American jurisprudence interpreted the Second Amendment as a quaint, somewhat anachronistic way to encourage a populace — before the United States maintained a standing army — to participate in state militias. That’s how the amendment reads, how it begins: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

One wonders whether this psychopath from Bowdoin and all the supreme court justices who’ve so actively reinterpreted the Second Amendment — to guarantee an individual right to possess firearms (Heller, 2008), to guarantee the right to carry pistols outside the home (Bruen, 2022) — remember what that amendment actually says, and how it starts.

Here’s what I know for certain: Eighteen dead Thursday morning. The number of homicides in Maine during all of 2022: 29.

That last factoid got my attention but, honestly, there are very few revelations related to U.S. gun violence. Not today. Not anymore. Forty percent of the country doesn’t want to hear them. As for the rest of us, we’ve heard it all before. If we in Lewiston-Auburn hadn’t experienced such a catastrophe this week, right across the river, we’d have watched a different one play out somewhere else in the America, on TV. They literally happen every day.

This is the status quo our gun culture has created. If the shooting doesn’t take place up the street, Americans are increasingly inured to the phenomenon. Yes, it’s remarkable that one day you’re just a guy who struggles with depression; the next, you’re the criminal that right wingers say we need even more guns to protect ourselves against. This is dangerous, lunatic-style policy making, of course. Yet we’ve accommodated that sad reality, too. There is almost nothing the gun lobby might say that would surprise any of us. Thoughts and prayers on a day like today. Next week, Auburn State Senator Eric Brakey will reintroduce another concealed carry law.

Meantime, my family and all our neighbors remain sheltered in place until this newly minted criminal is located. He will die, too, of course. Eventually. Maybe he left a crackpot manifesto. Maybe not. We know the drill.

So yeah: We’re fine. Until we’re not.

Hal Phillips is an Auburn resident, author and journalist. He is managing director of Mandarin Media, Inc.

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