It’s impossible to put into words the terror and destruction my colleagues and I witnessed in Lewiston on Oct. 25 when we joined the ever-growing ranks of health care professionals across the country who have responded to a mass shooting.

To see the damage inflicted upon people from our communities at the hands of a lone gunman armed with an assault-style weapon is to stare into the darkest parts of humanity.

It’s an experience that demands that we take action to make sure such a tragedy never occurs again.

In the days following the shooting, with the help of some fellow pediatrician advocates, I formed the group Maine Providers for Gun Safety. Over the past three months, we have collected signatures from more than 500 physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other advanced practice RNs, calling for Maine to enact evidence-based firearm safety reform.

We met with Gov. Janet Mills’ staff in December and urged her administration to recognize gun violence as a threat to public health. And we provided specific policy proposals, supported by major medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association, among many others.

Those recommendations included:


• Universal background checks;

• Waiting periods for firearm purchases;

• Extreme risk protection order, or “Red Flag”, laws; and

• Restricting civilian access to assault-style weapons & high-capacity magazines.

During her State of the State Address on Jan. 30, Gov. Mills made clear that she believes Maine should approach gun violence as a public health issue and she offered concrete, important proposals, including an expansion of mental health crisis response and data collection.

The governor also did something that’s extremely difficult for many political leaders: in light of the events of Oct. 25, she sat with herself and her own conscience and reconsidered some of her past positions on issues such as background checks. That is an important step that must be applauded and a good starting point for the work of the Legislature.


But her current proposals don’t go far enough. They are frustratingly incremental and do not represent the type of comprehensive gun safety reforms we desperately need in Maine.

The sad, and inescapable, truth is that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American children, adolescents and young adults, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 54-year-olds in Maine.

We know that in recent years, over 85% of the firearm fatalities in the state have been a result of suicide. We also know that suicide attempts are often impulsive, and studies have highlighted that when states implement waiting period legislation, they have a beneficial impact on their state’s firearm suicide rate.

The data is undeniable that access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk, and by implementing both a waiting period for firearm purchases and a truly comprehensive extreme risk protection order, we can begin to address the scourge of suicide in our state.

If our state intends to take a public health approach to these tragedies, then it’s critical that lawmakers listen to health care professionals.

Passing meaningful gun safety reform is not easy. It requires all of us to follow the lead of the governor and examine some of our prior positions in light of new information and in the tragedy of the mass shootings that rocked our state last year.

In health care, we follow the evidence and prescribe treatments that evidence shows will be the most effective. If we are serious about reducing gun violence, we cannot settle for incremental progress or half-measures.

The times call for bold action. Lives are depending on it.

Dr. Joe Anderson is the advocacy chair of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the founder of Maine Providers for Gun Safety,

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