In my 28 years as a minister, I have offered comfort and care to dozens of families mourning the death of a loved one. Five of those deaths were suicides — and every one of them was with a firearm. I’m not unique. Clergy in Maine’s churches respond to firearm suicides in their congregations with horrifying regularity. Most every pastor I know has had to respond to families who have lost a loved one to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
By this time next week, three people in Maine will have used a gun to kill themselves. The week after that, another two or three Mainers, the week after that, another two or three, and so on through every week this year.
That is, unless our Legislature passes LD 1312 and puts into place a “red flag law” the way 15 other states already have, including Indiana, where the firearm suicide rate has dropped by 7.5 percent. If Maine’s firearm suicide rate dropped by that much, we would save the lives of 10 Mainers every year. That’s 10 of our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, colleagues and neighbors prevented from ending their life with a gun.
Under LD 1312, a court could issue a temporary or extended “extreme risk protection order” that would prevent a person considered at risk of hurting himself or herself or others from possessing a firearm temporarily for 14 days or on an extended basis for 365 days.
We at the Maine Council of Churches are people of faith (seven denominations who represent 437 congregations with 55,000 members across the state) united in the belief that every person is a beloved child of God with inherent worth and infinite value. We take seriously the biblical mandate to love our neighbors and to respond with compassion to human suffering. For us, reducing gun violence is a profoundly spiritual concern. A church that did nothing in the face of the suffering I’ve just described wouldn’t be worthy of the name.
But it isn’t merely in a professional capacity that I feel so strongly about passing the “red flag” law; it’s also personal.
Five years ago, my best friend of 30 years — an “auntie” to my daughter and like a sister to me — a Harvard Law School-educated criminal law professor, public radio and television commentator, author, wife and mother of two young children — killed herself with a gun. She had purchased it completely legally less than 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital where she had been admitted for a week following a failed suicide attempt culminating from a sudden and severe episode of depression.
If there had been a “red flag” law on the books in Vermont in 2014, she wouldn’t have been able to buy that gun and maybe her children would still have a mother today, her husband would still have his wife, my daughter would still have her Auntie Cheryl, and I would still have my beloved best friend.
We urge our legislators to imagine that the families, friends, pastors and colleagues of those 130 Mainers are standing before them, asking them — begging them — to do the right thing, the moral thing. For them, and for those whose lives it could save, legislators need to vote in favor of LD 1312.
The Rev. Jane Field is the executive director of the Maine Council of Churches.
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.