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Guns in Maine Schools: Should Communities Let Staff Carry Weapons?
05/10/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A retired Maine state trooper who now serves in the state Legislature says Maine's schools would be safer if communities had the option of permitting qualified school staff to carry guns. State Sen. David Burns, a Republican from Whiting, says if approved by a certain percentage of the voters, school districts should be able to arm employees to respond to a threatening situation. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Jonesboro's Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Look says residents of his Washington County community know they can rely on their first responders to protect them in an emergency. But he wonders who will protect students if someone with a gun gains entry into one of the area's schools.

"What I've heard was a concern about the liability of school teachers being called on to defend students," Look said. "I would ask you, who's responsible if the teachers are not?"

State Sen. David Burn, a Whiting Republican, doesn't want to wait until Maine has an actual school tragedy. And lawmakers on the Criminal Justice Committee are considering his bill to give schools the option to arm qualified employees as a way to make them safet. Burns says getting his bill through the Legislature will not be easy.

"I realize that many are opposed to allowing anyone other than a police officer to be armed while on the school grounds," Burns said. "But I would ask those people and this committee to consider the alternative of having no defense against an armed intruder in their school. These personnel would not be trained to be police officers. But they would be trained to intervene in an extreme emergency."

An emergency such as the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where Adam Lanza went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of 26 people. State Sen. Gary Plummer, a Windham Republican and a committee member, says he continues to believe that story could have had a different ending.

"Could the principal of the Sandy Hook Elementary School have stopped Adam Lanza, if she had a firearm?" Plummer said. "I believe she could have taken him out and thus saved the lives of staff and those children. We will never know for sure if I'm correct about this assumption. But we do know for certain that without a gun, she was not able to stop him from carrying out his terrible plan."

The Burns bill would require training for employees in firearms competency, crisis intervention and hostage situations and the use of deadly force. This bill carries a provision that allows school district residents to turn to local voters for support. It could also require the employee who volunteers to carry a gun to submit to a psychological evaluation.

"But what it fails to cover are the other implications when weapons are allowed into a school," said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association.

Kilby-Chesley says she is uncomfortable with some of the less restrictive language in the bill that leaves a lot of decisions about who is psychologically stable enough to carry a gun up to school administrators.

"Provisions of the bill do not require individuals that carry guns into schools to actually have a psychiatric evaluation," she said. "Instead the language of this bill is permissive, saying only that they may be required."

Jeff Matranga, president of the Maine Psychological Association, says that while the bill appears to address the psychological stability of the individuals who would be allowed to carry guns, the measure also leaves something out.

"The bill doesn't state what the referral question would be, and what the expectations would be," Matranga said. "And therefore it's hard for us to address whether a psychologist can really effectively answer those kind of questions."

Committee members are scheduled to review the bill again on May 15.



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