May 15, 2013

Bill to let teachers carry guns in school not supported in initial committee vote

Support could change if absent members submit votes

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- A legislative committee voted along party lines in an initial vote Wednesday to recommend the defeat of a bill that would give schools the option to allow teachers and other staff members to carry concealed handguns to school.

The Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee considered the measure for more than two hours before voting 5-4 to recommend against passing the bill, with four committee members absent. Democrats voted against it; Republicans voted for it.

The vote count could change. Legislative rules say committee members absent from the State House at the time of a committee vote have two business days to cast it.

Democrats have an 8-5 advantage on the committee, although Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, also a former state trooper, often votes with Republicans on gun-related issues. He left the committee before the vote on Wednesday.

The bill, L.D. 1429, was sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, a retired state trooper. Burns said he submitted the bill in response to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where gunman Adam Lanza killed 26 students and teachers.

Under Burns' proposal, school boards could create procedures and guidelines to allow trained school employees to carry concealed guns. A district doing so would have to carry liability insurance and it could pay trained staff members stipends. The bill also would require the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to come up with a training program for school officials who elect to carry.

"I still have eight grandchildren," Burns wrote in his testimony supporting the bill. "Because of the many tragic events we have seen, I feel we can no longer depend upon good intentions and traditional emergency response protocols to protect our children and the people we entrust them to five days a week."

On Wednesday, Burns said many school districts would not choose the option, but it could aid rural schools in emergency situations when police may not be able to respond as quickly.

"That first officer on the scene might be an hour, two hours away and then he's still alone. He doesn't have backup," said Rep. Thomas Tyler, R-Windham, a member of the committee. "In protection of especially the northern half of the state, I have to go along with (the bill)."

However, the Maine Education Association, the state teachers union, does not want Burns' bill as an option.

In written testimony submitted last week, union President Lois Kilby-Chesley said school resource officers, not educators, should be trained to protect schools. She added that the bill "has a lot to do with personal political agendas and much less about the true safety of our schools."

Individual gun-rights advocates filed written testimony in favor of the bill, but prominent pro-gun organizations did not, including the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.

David Trahan, the executive director of the sportsman's alliance, told the Press Herald in January that he was reluctant to support the bill, as the only people who should have guns in a school should be police and security officers.

Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, agreed.

"Why is it that I want to make sure that I have a number of different titles that these (teachers) are expected to uphold?" he said. "We hire these people to educate."

On Wednesday in the committee, however, Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said the bill was perhaps the only one of the many gun bills the Legislature has considered this session that could save lives in an active-shooter situation.

"I think this has the potential," he said. "I think this bill was well-constructed and well-thought out."

If the committee doesn't reconsider the vote, it will head to the full Legislature for consideration.

State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:
mshepherd@mainetoday.com
Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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