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Firearms Education for Maine Schools Proposed in Legislature
02/14/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins
State Rep. Paul Davis

A Republican lawmaker from Sangerville has proposed a bill requiring high schools to offer firearms education as an optional program. Rep. Paul Davis said he believes kids need training in the use of guns, but critics see the bill as an unfunded mandate and a potential recruitment tool for the NRA.

The murder of students in Newtown, Conn. has sharpened the focus on gun violence in America, but it's not the reason Rep. Paul Davis brought his firearm education bill before the Legislature's Education Committee.

"I want to assure you that I don't come to this willy-nilly or it's not a knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Connecticut and other places," Davis said.

Davis, a former state trooper, said he's seeing increasing evidence of a real lack of understanding among young people of how firearms should be handled. His bill would require high schools to offer firearms training course that students could enroll in, if they chose. Davis said it simply an opportunity for students to learn more.

"I'm not asking you to have teachers armed and I'm not asking that signs saying gun-free zones be removed, I'm not asking for any of that," Davis said. "I only want the children and the students to have a chance to learn about guns and how they work as well as how to be safe with them."

Davis said that when students have a better idea of what guns can do and are taught to respect them, accidents can be prevented. His co-sponsor, Sen. David Burns, a Republican from Whiting, agrees.

"I think we need to be responsible about this, we need to take the steps to make sure that those who want to can have an understanding," Burns said.

Sportsman's Alliance of Maine executive director David Trahan told the panel that the National Rifle Association already has an education program available that could serve as a state-wide model and that local gun clubs could also offer their expertise on proper firearms handling. Democratic committee chair Rep. Bruce MacDonald, of Boothbay, questioned Trahan on using the NRA model and whether a line would be drawn between education and politics.

Bruce MacDonald: "I guess I wonder whether there's an assurance that we might have that safety training does not evolve over into advocacy."
David Trahan: "Actually I appreciate that issue because I think the way to get around that is I don't think anybody cares, I don't think I care or the NRA instructors about the politics of it as much as getting the information to the kids."

"I taught my children the rules that we heard earlier by one of the proponents, if there is a gun you need to find an adult right away, stop don't touch it find an adult," said Maureen King.

She is the Maine School Board Association and she told the panel that there were already numerous organizations in Maine to promote proper firearms handling and that the state's high schools did not need another unfunded mandate from the Legislature. Her view was supported by Sandra MacArthur, the deputy director of the Maine School Management Association.

"In a state like Maine with such a long hunting tradition, we believe the students who are going to use firearms need to be trained on how to safely handle them, the law requires training for any child 16 years or older who wants a hunting license," MacArthur said. "It's not the responsibility of the school districts to provide that training where the parents will make the decision on whether they want their children to attend classes that are already available in the community."

The Education Committee is expected to hold a work session on the bill later this month.

Photo by A.J. Higgins.

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