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Newtown Shootings Renew Gun Control Debate in Maine
12/17/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

In the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, Democratic leaders in Augusta say that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have an obligation to review state laws governing school safety and access to firearms.  But Republicans are urging a cautious approach to any proposals that might erode rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Newtown Shootings Renew Gun Control Debate in Main
Originally Aired: 12/17/2012 5:30 PM
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At the moment, there are no proposed firearms bills up for consideration by the Legislature. But the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut is prompting some Maine lawmakers to look at the issues of school safety - and public safety.

"I think we need to take a comprehensive view of a number of complex areas. whether that's mental illness, school safety and our existing gun laws," says House Speaker Mark Eves. "So it's really a comprehensive approach that I think is most appropriate at this time."

Eves says that as father of three young children he shares the concerns of many Maine parents who are questioning how safe their children are in the state's public schools. Eves says it's time for Republicans and Democrats to join in a larger discussion about whether the state is doing enough for some of its most vulnerable citizens.

"A tragedy of this magnitude has nothing to do with partisan politics, it has everything to do with bringing good ideas to the table and making sure that we're providing safe environments for our children and making sure that our mental health delivery system is strong and making sure that we're providing a safe environment and that we're enforcing the laws that we have on the books," Eves says.

Some lawmakers are already getting the message from voters in their districts. State Rep. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat, is among them. "There have been constituents who have phoned me and talked about the issue of access to firearms," Dion says.

Dion attended a Portland rally Sunday evening to show solidarity with the victims of the Connecticut shootings. Some at the vigil suggested that Maine should require background checks for those buying guns at private shows or through classified ads. As a former Cumberland County Sheriff, Dion says he's more concerned about Mainers with mental illness, who might be able to get their hands on a gun.

"I think it would be a mistake to say it's simply about the guns," Dion says. "We need to look at the individuals who have access to those guns and if we can determine that there's a way that we can restrict access, we can examine that."

Republican leaders say they're open to discussions on public safety, but they urged the majority Democrats to proceed cautiously. Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, says there will be plenty of time for reviewing legislation. "Today's probably the poorest day we could pick to start talking about a debate on gun control," he says.

And House Republican Leader Ken Fredette says efforts to improve school security are a worthy topic, but proposals that would restrict a Maine resident's access to firearms would be a completely different discussion.

"I think that we need to have a conversation and that we can talk about these sorts of things, but at this point in time, I'm obviously going to be on the right of gun owners to have the legal right to possess a gun that they have," Fredette says.

Democratic leaders hope to begin bipartisan talks on firearm access and school security when lawmakers convene for the new session in January. 

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