Maine State Police troopers will be issued 105 new assault weapons that are much more powerful than the rifles they have been using.

The Legislature approved the purchase of the AR-15 assault rifles, manufactured by Bushmaster at the company’s plant in Windham. The new weapons cost a total of $76,191.

Why the need for greater firepower? Mike Edes, president of the Maine State Troopers Association, said “almost nobody” in the department has confidence in their Ruger carbine rifles, the 9 mm weapons that the AR-15s are replacing.

“My analogy is this: I’m a deer hunter. I would not go hunting with a nine-millimeter for deer,” Edes said. “So why would I want to be protected against a person that has another firearm, and wants to kill me and is coming after me, and rely on a gun I wouldn’t even go deer hunting with?”

The guns are being paid for with a combination of drug enforcement money and state funds, said Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford.

Beaudoin said she sponsored the bill authorizing the purchase of the weapons because people are bringing AR-15s into Maine from other parts of the country, and troopers must be able to defend themselves.

“The nine-millimeters they had were no good,” Beaudoin said. “In essence, what we were doing was almost saying to the women and men of the state police, ‘Go out there and get killed.’“

Before being issued an AR-15, each trooper will get five hours of training that includes firing more than 300 rounds. Distribution of the guns is expected to be complete by mid-June.

The old rifles will be given to detectives and other members of the department who don’t do regular patrols.

Beaudoin said she fired one of the new semi-automatic weapons herself on a visit to a gun range in Scarborough.

“I never shot a gun before in my life,” she said. “That was something.”

Edes, who is also president of the National Troopers Coalition, which represents 45,000 state troopers nationwide, said the AR-15 has become “the universal backup weapon” for police across the country because more criminals are wearing ballistic vests and are carrying more powerful weapons. “You’re dealing with a lot of people that are on drugs — meth and a lot of coke and stuff like that,” he said.

“These people can take a round and still function and be active on the site. We need something that knocks a person down and ends whatever we’re dealing with.”

Edes said troopers in Maine deal with such shootings “a couple of times a year.”

He cited an incident in Albion in 2008, in which Trooper Derrick Record shot and killed Johnathan Sullivan after Sullivan fired his shotgun and then pointed the weapon at Record.

A report on the shooting by the Attorney General’s Office noted that Sullivan had traces of marijuana in his blood and a blood alcohol content of 0.24 percent at the time of his death — three times the legal limit for driving.

“I hope none of these guns ever get used,” Edes said, “but as a person who’s been in a shootout — I was involved in a shooting in 2004 — I wish I had had one then. It really gives the trooper that added security when you have no other choice but to use deadly force.”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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