What Maine can learn from the Colorado Springs shootings

What Maine can learn from the Colorado Springs shootings

I’ve only been writing a column for a little over a year (which amazes me, honestly – it feels like much longer). And yet, every time I consider writing about a lunatic with a rifle who commits mass murder, I need to be careful to avoid repeating myself. Just 12 months of writing, and the “mad man gunning down multiple people” column feels clichéd. The murders at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, however, tells us enough about current crises in Maine politics that I’m willing to run the risk of repeating myself.

On November 27th, a man with a criminal history of spousal abuse, animal abuse, and “peeping tom” offenses besieged a women’s health center for five hours, killed three people, and wounded nine others.

There are at least three ways in which this latest assault speaks to our lives as Mainers.

Although law enforcement officials are still not willing to commit to his motives, the killer, Robert L. Dear, has apparently echoed right-wing talking points about “baby parts” and the impeachment of the president. Some in the press have asserted that Dear’s actions merely enact what right-wing politicians have been saying for years, but Dear’s attitude toward women’s health is not just echoed by reactionary talking heads. It’s also reflected in government action. At least since 1992’s Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v Casey, governmental regulations and politicians have eroded the constitutional right to privacy, and Maine health care policy is no exception.

MaineCare, our state’s version of the joint federal and state program that provides health care for low-income people, will not reimburse abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger. The less money women in Maine have, the less power they have over their own medical care, and the more they are at the mercy of voters who feel they may veto other people’s rights. Thankfully, Maine’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has taken steps to remedy that, but the outcome of that case is far from clear.

So much for Dear’s surprisingly familiar rationale for murder; our next lesson has to do with who Dear is, or, rather, with who he is not. On November 16th, Governor LePage rose from the braying self-pity that characterizes so many of his usual pronouncements to release a statement of brutish cowardice. LePage, brandishing the phrase, “Remember 9/11,” announced that he would refuse to accept refugees from Syria in order to protect Maine from a terrorist attack like the recent one in Paris.

The obvious fact that governors have no legal power to determine immigration policy is beside the point; the governor isn’t speaking about his legal authority, he is attempting to make political capital by threatening the citizens of Maine with the specter of foreign terrorists, and then offering them solace by attacking one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The killings in Colorado Springs, however, have reminded us of what terrorism generally looks like in the United States, and it doesn’t look like the people Governor LePage is promising to protect us from.

Which brings us to the third lesson that Friday’s shooting has for us. As I mentioned here previously, the recent radical increase in mass shootings is related to a change in law. The Supreme Court has accepted a reading of the Second Amendment so radical that even an extremely conservative previous Chief Justice described it as a “fraud,” and the NRA advocates the position that anything less than a massively armed population is unconstitutional. Neither Congress nor state legislatures seem willing to argue the point. Maine, however, should have the opportunity next November to vote for a citizens’ initiative requiring background checks for gun purchases. (Minor-league hirelings and would-be thugs tried to intimidate voters away from supporting that initiative and failed.)

The killings in Colorado Springs exemplify a campaign of violence designed to delegitimize women’s right to control their own health care, and the empowerment of enraged white male terrorists with ready access to extremely powerful firearms. But we can say no to our own Robert Dears and the culture of hate and fear that created him. We can refuse to allow our representatives to bully women out of legal medical procedures. We can refuse our governor’s clownish attempt at a politics of terror. And we can begin to refute the outsized power of a radical gun lobby.

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