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Guns and School Safety: Maine Lawmaker's Bill Ignites Debate
01/23/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A bill that would give Maine teachers the option to carry firearms in school is already getting a mixed reception across the state. Republican state Sen. David Burns says he decided to propose the bill after consulting with constituents and others in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Burns wants people reserve judgement, at least until the measure's official language is released next week. The bill is one of many proposals the Legislature is expected to consider, as it looks to take meaningful action to address gun violence. Jay Field reports.

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Guns and School Safety: Maine Lawmaker's Bill Ign
Originally Aired: 1/23/2013 5:30 PM
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 Duration:
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One week after Newtown, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, stepped to a podium in Washington and spoke: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

The good guy, the theory goes, could be a police officer, a security guard - or even a teacher.

"The school district would carefully select and vet teachers or staff that might qualify to do this," says Republican state Sen. David Burns, of Washington County. Burns is talking about the school safety bill he plans to introduce soon.

Some districts in Maine already have police officers with guns assigned to schools. Under Burns measure, schools would have the option of arming individual teachers and support staff. Districts that opt to participate would send carefully selected participants to special training course.

"Very similar to what we require of new law enforcement officers in this state," Burns says. "For firearms proficiency it's approximately a week of training." Burns, a former state trooper, says participants would also undergo psychological testing to determine their fitness to carry a weapon.

Since the Newtown tragedy, districts and states across the nation have been looking at all kinds of ways to better protect students and the adults who teach and care for them during the school day. Burns says constituents in his Downeast district, and people in other parts of the state, including teachers, have expressed support for his bill.

More than a third of states already allow teachers and other adults to carry guns in schools. And in recent weeks, other states, including New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, South Carolina and South Dakota, have moved to either arm teachers or put armed guards on campuses.

"I do understand people who say, 'Well, if these terrible people knew that someone in the school might be carrying a weapon'"... says Paul Stearns, superintendent of SAD 4, a rural district in Somerset and Piscataquis Counties. Sterns says he still couldn't see outfitting teachers, or any other adults inside his schools, with guns.

"I don't think it would be wise to arm folks at school, whose first priority has to be worrying about education and all the details of school life," he says.

Stearns also serves as head of the Maine School Superintendents Association. The group, he stresses, has not taken a position on Sen. Burns bill, and won't until it has the chance to go through it carefully. Law enforcement groups are also witholding judgement. Robert Schwartz is executive director of the Maine Police Chiefs Association.

"I'm sure there's going to be many bills pertaining to firearms in the schools, as well as suggestions of amendment changes and what not. And we've got to see all those before we could make any decision on what we would do," Schwarz says.

In the days after Newtown, nervous Maien parents sent e-mails to the state's education commissioner, asking him to do something make schools safer. Steven Bowen says he's discussed the issue with Gov. Paul LePage and lawmakers in passing. He says the only thing he can say, with certainty, is that those discussions will continue as the legislative session gets underway.

"How do you make our schools more secure?" he asks rhetorically. "Whether having people, adults, inside the buildings with guns makes them more secure or not - I really don't know."

Bowen says educators and politicians will be looking to the law enforcement community for guidance as discussions begin in the coming weeks.



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