An image of the Lewiston shooter taken from security camera footage., Androscoggin Sheriff's Office via Facebook

Once again, our nation is devastated by a mass shooting, this time in Lewiston, Maine, where at least 18 people were killed and more than a dozen injured by a shooter armed with an assault weapon. The suspect was known by police to have threatened a mass shooting at a military base, was suffering a mental health crisis and had firearms, including assault-style weapons.

Connecticut Against Gun Violence grieves for the community of Lewiston as it does for all communities facing gun violence. This kind of tragedy happens when legislators refuse to act in the public’s best interest and fail to pass strong gun regulations.

Jeremy Stein

The gun lobby has been spewing nonsensical talking points that no law could be passed that would have prevented this mass shooting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Connecticut’s assault weapons ban and our Extreme Risk Protection Order law (ERPO) could have prevented this tragedy. ERPO (aka “red flag” law) is the provision for removing firearms from individuals judged to be at risk of imminent harm to themselves or others. Connecticut was the first state to pass an ERPO law, more than 20 years ago.

After Maine’s last mass shooting, a little over six months ago, CAGV lent its expertise to help the Maine Gun Safety Coalition and the legislature’s Gun Safety Caucus strengthen their weak “yellow flag” law, but too many lawmakers who put gun rights over their constituents’ lives blocked the bill from passing.

Elected officials whose only response is “prayer is appropriate in a time like this,” as the newly elected Speaker of the House said in response to the shooting, are why nearly 50,000 Americans are being killed by guns every year.

Studies show that ERPOs prevent both firearm suicide and mass shootings, like ours did a few years ago in Stafford where workers were concerned about a fellow public works employee who told them there would be “a mass shooting” if he continued to be reassigned to different jobs. The co-workers knew he owned guns so they called the Stafford Police who obtained a court-issued risk protection order to remove 18 rifles, shotguns and other weapons from his home.

The Lewiston shooting rampage was not unexpected. The shooter’s family contacted police as they got “increasingly concerned” over the past couple of months. If Maine had a strong risk protection law, seven people who were out for an evening of bowling and eight people who were enjoying a night of pool might still be alive today; not to mention the fear of tens of thousands of Maine residents, as far as 50 miles away, who were sheltering in place as I was writing this.

Thanks to the advocacy of CAGV supporters over the past 30 years, Connecticut is in a much better place than Maine. But we have our own work to do, especially to prevent interpersonal gun violence that is terrorizing our urban centers, where it’s not safe for three-year-olds to sleep at night or ride in cars or 6-year-olds to play in their yards.

There are many ways people can support CAGV’s life-saving work, including contacting lawmakers, going to their town hall meetings, attending and testifying at public hearings, hosting CAGV advocacy briefings, writing letters to the editor and joining the CAGV Action Team, as well as making financial contributions to support CAGV.

Jeremy Stein is Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.