Gun Control and Mental Illness – a Sportsman’s Response

Since the awful New Town atrocity and tragedy, I have been fielding questions from the media, friends, sportsmen, legislators, gun control advocates, and others. I suppose it’s natural to direct questions to the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, but I am still surprised by the both the volume and the tenor of these questions sent my way.

People are sincerely searching for answers. As I continue to think about this complex problem, I do want to let you know what I’ve been telling people. Here’s the short version.

We must be willing to talk sensibly about all of the gun issues – and it will be important for all of us to understand how guns work and what we can realistically do to reduce violent use of guns.

We must also acknowledge – and address – our failure to care for the mentally ill. The Portland Press Herald published a series last week on the 42 mentally ill people who have been killed by Maine police officers since 2000. We are killing them. And they are killing us. Surely we can do something about this.

Mostly I’ve been telling questioners that I look forward to joining them in this effort and sincerely thanking them for expressing their thoughts honestly and compassionately. Honesty and compassion are essential right now.

More Information

My recent speech at the annual fundraising banquet of the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence may be worth reading. You will find it here:

In the speech, I recommended that MCAHV supporters pick up two books: The Gun Book for Boys and The Gun Book for Parents, published by Shooting Sportsman Books – a subsidiary of Down East Magazine. And yes, a Gun Book for Girls is coming soon.

These books are very good, non-threatening, comprehensive, well-written plain-language explanations of everything you should know about guns. I told members of the audience that night that I think it’s especially important for them to understand our language, if they are going to talk guns with us.

Assault Rifles

The guns referred to as assault rifles use the same firing mechanism as my hunting rifles and shotguns. One pull of the trigger launches one bullet, and the next bullet is automatically inserted into position for the next shot, which requires another pull of the trigger. Some rifles and handguns take magazines that allow a lot of shots before you have to insert another magazine full of bullets.

Without doubt, we’ll have a national debate about the size of magazines. But we ought not to fool people – as we did with the last federal “assault weapons ban” – by prohibiting the sale of guns based on what they look like.


Above all else, it is very important that those of us who are gun advocates be respectful and willing to discuss any and all possible solutions that might address the problems of gun violence in our country. I certainly will do that.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.