Politics

February 21, 2013

Maine panel rejects mandatory gun safety courses in schools

Members of the Education Committee say they don't want to create a new mandate when schools are already stretched thin on time and money.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA —  A proposal to require firearm safety and handling courses at Maine high schools was rejected by a legislative committee on Thursday.

Members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee said they did not want to create a new mandate when schools' time and money already are stretched thin. The bill, L.D. 93, received a unanimous vote of "ought not to pass."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would require public high schools to offer a firearms training course that would be optional for students.

Testifying before the committee last week, Davis said local gun clubs probably would be happy to provide classes at little cost to schools.

Education committee members, however, said firearms training is already available in most communities and is not the responsibility of schools.

"It's just one more thing on top of schools that they don't need, and this is not really under their bailiwick, as far as I'm concerned," said Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor.

Like other committee members, Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, said he believes gun safety education is important, but he could not support a mandate.

"I'm generally in favor of this type of education," Pouliot said, "(but) I'm scratching my head to figure out how we can fit this into an already busy day with a lot of other things that are equally important, and some might say more important."

Jon Clark, deputy director of the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis, said research did not turn up evidence of a similar mandate in any other state.

In addition, the Maine Learning Results do not require instruction on other safety topics, such as what to do in case of a fire or when crossing the street. Clark said gun safety could fall under risk reduction in the health education standards.

The education committee considered changing the bill to a resolve that could direct the Maine Department of Education to encourage schools to inform people about existing firearms safety and handling courses. Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, said it at least would put lawmakers on record as supporting gun safety education.

Other legislators, however, said they did not want to create more work for the Department of Education or didn't see the value in a vaguely worded resolve.

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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