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Maine Group Calls for Allowing Teachers to Carry Concealed Weapons
12/21/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

As the gun control debate across America heats up, and mayors, college presidents, parents in Newtown, Connecticut and politicians call for more restrictions, the National Rifle Association has entered the fray with a call of its own: Equip every school in the country with an armed police officer. And if doing that is cost prohibitive, a Maine gun owners group is also suggesting that school administrators be allowed to carry concealed weapons of their own. Susan Sharon has more.

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In Lewiston, Maine's second-largest city, full-time police officers are already assigned to the high school and middle school. Another officer divides his time between Lewiston's six elementary schools. A similar arrangement is in place for the neighboring city of Auburn.

In fact, many schools in Maine already have police officers assigned to schools. A spokesman for the Maine Department of Education says there is no firm count of how many are in place. Still, Lewiston School Superintendent Ed Webster says the presence of these so-called "school resource officers" have been helpful in important ways.

"Number one, those relationships they develop with students carry on to later in life when those students become adults in the community, and that healthy relationship is important," Webster says. "I think also their presence is a calming influence."

Both Webster and Deputy Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen say the resource officers have helped diffuse potentially violent situations and may act as a deterrent in some cases.

But it's not clear that even a trained police officer could have stopped gunman Adam Lanza's deadly rampage at Sandy Hook. Lanza was heavily armed. In addition, Moen says providing school resource officers carries a fairly high price tag.

"Those costs are estimated at about $75,000 in start-up fees between the time you figure training the officer, equipping the officer, the officer's salary," Moen says. "Those first year costs average about $75,000."

Auburn has had resource officers in place for more than 15 years. Moen himself was one. So was his chief. And the department continues to help foot the bill. But for other schools that have not yet made the financial commitment, the NRA has a proposed solution. Here's Wayne LaPierre, the group's executive vice president speaking at a news conference Friday:

"I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation," LaPierre said. "And to do it now. To make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January."

Lewiston School Superintendent Ed Webster says he does not object to trained security guards being present in more schools. What he does oppose is another idea being suggested by the Maine Gun Owners Association and other groups around the country: to allow teachers to train and qualify to carry concealed firearms on school grounds.

"I don't see how someone can be well-trained to respond with a firearm and be as effective as a teacher in the classroom," Webster days. "I think just as we are not sending an army to Afghanistan that's made up of untrained civilians, I just - it's the wrong message, I do believe."

The president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, Jeff Weinstein, says teachers should simply be given the option of carrying a concealed weapon. He points out that they, not the police, are the first line of defense in school emergencies.

"Between the time the call is made and the police arrive, chances are there will be a lot of bodies around, as has been the case, by the way, the last several years," Weinstein says. "So, essentially, you cannot count on the police whatsoever."

Weinstein says he knows teachers who would be willing to carry guns. But the president of the Maine Education Association, which represents 25,000 teachers, administrators and support staff, says she has not witnessed any support among teachers.

"I haven't had any calls from anyone saying that they wanted to have weapons in schools," says Lois Kilby-Chesley. "I've had conversations with people in the last week, certainly, about the situation in Sandy Hook and how sad we all are at what happened. But no one that I've spoken to has said, 'And that's a good reason to have weapons in schools.' In fact, I think the people that I've spoken to, it would be just the opposite - that they feel strongly that schools shouldn't have weapons in them."

Kilby-Chesley says lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss what she calls "this dangerous idea" of filling schools with guns. And in Maine, one lawmaker has done so already. Rep. Brian Duprey says he is no longer interested in sponsoring legislation to allow teachers to carry guns, given the tragedy that has unfolded in Connecticut.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents some employees of MPBN.



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