Friday, March 17, 2017

Testimony of Dr. James Maier, M. D. before the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Re:  LD 44 An Act to lower the Age Requirement to Carry a Concealed Handgun     

Senator Rosen, Representative Warren and Members of the Committee,

I am Dr. James Maier from Falmouth, a retired psychiatrist and grandfather of eight testifying in opposition to LD 44. I have served on the Maine Medical Association’s Public health Committee for almost a decade and am a lifelong hunter and owner of several rifles and shotguns. I’m primarily a small game hunter and enjoy shooting skeet and trap for practice. However I have never owned a handgun because of the compelling statistics regarding the high accident and suicide rates with this type of weapon compare to long guns.

 Much research in behavioral science reveals that maturation of the brain, particularly of the frontal lobes, is incomplete by age 18, or sometimes well into the 20’s. This critical region of our cerebral cortex may be likened to a “CEO” or “conductor of the orchestra,” overseeing, processing and coordinating the activities of other regions of the brain. Our frontal lobes are the locus of judgment, risk assessment, planning, reality testing and the ability to foresee the long-term consequences of our behavior. They often allow us to inhibit angry, reckless or ill-considered impulses which, if unchecked could lead to deeply regrettable comments or actions which are not at all in our best interest.

 As a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist for over 40 years in this community, working in many clinical settings including the notorious old Maine Youth Center, I am quite familiar with how the immaturity of frontal lobe functioning in adolescents can lead to unfortunate or even disastrous consequences. Some characteristics of such immaturity can include:

Impulsivity fueled by testosterone, alcohol (or by any number of prescription or street drugs), often leads to lack of forethought, underestimation of risk, and may contribute directly to  ill-considered and dangerous action.

Egocentrism  often leads adolescents to overestimate their own intelligence, judgment and importance. Adolescents and young adults may fantasize about becoming a hero or a celebrity by taking quick and fearless action in the face of danger, perhaps imagining themselves gunning down an armed intruder in their home or school. But real life is messier and far more unpredictable than a movie or video game—if and when shooting starts, the would-be hero and bystanders may be injured or killed.

Mood swings are almost an almost universal aspect of adolescent life, and can contribute to risk of self-harm in this age group. The extensive literature about completed suicides has shown that proximity to a lethal method greatly increases the risk of tragedy. In the case of concealed carry, the lethal method is literally within arm’s length. And carelessness about how and where a weapon is stored may allow other family members to have easy access to it. In one study of firearm related deaths from the National Center for Injury Prevention at the CDC, nearly 2/3 of these fatal outcomes are suicides, far outnumbering gun related homicides.

Oversensitivity to perceived or real threats and challenges can lead to shouts, insults and fist fights in the schoolyard which in most cases cause no serious injury. But on some city streets or on the highway, the presence of a loaded handgun may rapidly escalate to a lethal outcome.

 Doubtless many of the 18-21 yr. olds who apply and qualify for concealed carry status will handle this responsibility safely. But firearm training and experience alone may prove insufficient to prevent life-threatening behavior in a perceived crisis when action may come before judgment and forethought.  Please weigh the significant risks to the public and to minors seeking to carry concealed loaded handguns, and vote against this bill.

                               Respectively submitted,

James H. Maier, M.D.,  D.F.A.P.A.