Nothing refocuses the spotlight on gun legislation like a legislator with a gun.

It likely will be months before the full story emerges to explain what drove state Rep. Fred Wintle, R-Garland, to pull a loaded .22-caliber handgun on a complete stranger Saturday morning in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Waterville.

But this much is clear: It wasn’t Wintle’s increasingly erratic behavior at the State House in recent months, or his disjointed ramblings last weekend to his alleged victim, MaineToday Media photographer Michael Seamans, that put him on front pages and atop television and radio newscasts throughout Maine for four news cycles and counting.

It was his gun.

Without the weapon, Wintle’s court-ordered timeout for a psychiatric evaluation would have registered barely a blip on the public-interest meter. He’s hardly the first guy, after all, to come unhinged because of an undiagnosed mental health condition, which left those around him tiptoeing between collegial worry and outright alarm.

With his gun, however, Wintle became a danger to society — not to mention a game changer within the State House.

“What we’re working on right now is looking at how we can make sure the State House is secure in a way that makes everybody comfortable,” said Lance Dutson, spokesman for Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, in an interview Tuesday. “The speaker doesn’t feel that further arming people is the prudent path.”

A little background:

Among the bevy of gun-related bills introduced during this rough-and-tumble legislative session is L.D. 932, “An Act to Allow Concealed Weapons in the State House.”

Sponsored by Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, the measure would allow anyone with a valid concealed-weapons permit to pack their heat under the Capitol dome — a practice that’s now prohibited, with or without a permit.

An over-the-top solution in search of a yet-to-be-demonstrated problem?

Some already thought so.

As Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, put it so tactfully during a public hearing on the bill last month, “I think this is extremely ill-advised. I think we’ve got a long history of not shooting each other up here.”

Nevertheless, the bill made it through its most recent vote before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with an 8-5 recommendation that it be passed by the full Legislature.

Enter Wintle, who now faces a felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, a ban on setting foot on the Capitol campus and an anything-but-certain future as a legislator.

Crafts, who sponsored the packin’-in-the-State House bill, declined an interview request to say how Wintle’s arrest might, ahem, affect his pending legislation.

But Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, author of a bill that would require employers to allow concealed firearms in employees’ vehicles on company premises, said this is no time for everyone to run off half-cocked about the dangers of legally concealed weapons.

“Reasonable people (with valid permits) are the people who you want to have guns,” insisted Cebra, who has held a concealed-weapons permit and carried a gun on and off for the past decade or so.

Cebra’s position: A well-trained person with a concealed weapon is not the problem. In fact, in a life-or-death situation, that person just might be the solution.

With emphasis, it should be noted, on the “might.”

If one good thing came out of Wintle’s meltdown, it was that no one was hurt. Police took Wintle into custody without a single shot being fired, shortly after Seamans exited the line of fire and called 911.

But try adding a player to that mix — say, a guy like Cebra, with a legally concealed weapon, who happens upon the standoff with a hot coffee in one hand, a box of doughnuts in the other and a Smith & Wesson holstered under his coat.

Same peaceful ending?

“I don’t know,” Cebra replied. “I’d have read the situation and reacted with as little response as I could.”

Meaning maybe it ends without bloodshed — or maybe the sudden introduction of a second weapon nudges the deranged gunman over the edge.

At the same time, maybe the legally armed passer-by shows the same cool restraint as Cebra — or maybe this is the heroic moment he’s long fantasized about.

In short, the more guns you bring to a volatile situation — be it in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot or the State House Hall of Flags — the better the chance bullets will fly.

Which brings us to the good news: With the image of a state legislator in an orange jumpsuit still reverberating all over Maine, even the backers of “An Act to Allow Concealed Weapons in the State House” are reportedly running for political cover.

And while there’s still lots of talk this week about the need to beef up State House security, it now centers on yet-to-be-used scanning equipment that the state bought with a federal homeland security grant way back in 2004.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said Tuesday that he hopes to have the two metal detectors and an X-ray machine “ready to be turned on” within the next week or two.

At the same time, Gauvin said, he’s talking with legislative leaders about hiring, at long last, the people he needs to run the devices.

“I think they’re going to probably go toward doing more screening as opposed to less,” Gauvin said. “I think their intent is to secure the building.”

An unfortunate sign of the times? No doubt.

But it beats walking around on tiptoes.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]