AUGUSTA – A proposal to require high schools to teach gun safety and handling would be yet another mandate taxing schools and undercutting local control, critics said Thursday at a legislative hearing.

Maine Principals’ Association Executive Director Dick Durost said most communities in Maine already have such courses available nearby, and some even are offered through school districts’ adult education programs.

The sponsor of L.D. 93, Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said his bill is not a reaction to the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December.

Even so, Durost said, the issue of guns in schools has become emotional since then, and passage of the bill could cause controversy and angst in communities.

Davis wants to require public high schools to offer a firearm safety and handling course that would be optional for students.

He said instructors at gun clubs probably would be happy to teach the courses at little cost to the schools.

Davis said that in his law enforcement career — 23 years with the Maine State Police – he saw the aftermath of terrible accidents that happened because of ignorance about guns.

“I’m not asking you to have teachers armed, and I’m not asking that signs saying ‘gun-free zone’ be removed (from schools),” he said.

“I only want children and students to know about guns, how they work and how to be safe with them.”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, testified in favor of the bill and said elementary schools need to provide firearm education to younger children.

He said Maine could use as a model, or adopt, the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, which trains young children not to touch guns.

Maureen King of Kennebunk, a past president of the Maine School Boards Association, said the association supports teaching young children to avoid guns, perhaps alongside other health and safety topics.

But decisions about gun safety courses — including those that involve handing guns — must be made by school boards, not the state government, she said.

Public schools already must fit a wide range of subjects and tests into 175 days, King said.

“To then carve out a time where we now put kids on a bus, drive them off site for an afternoon or for a day, it’s going to be one more thing that we chip away,” she said. “And what do we give up? Do we give up English? Do we give up foreign language? Do we give up math?”

Michael Cianchette, chief legal counsel to Gov. Paul LePage, said the governor could offer qualified support for the proposal.

Cianchette said LePage believes that responsible gun ownership begins with education and respect for firearms, but a mandate is not the way to accomplish it.

Instead, the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee should find a way to encourage schools to share information about existing firearm safety and handling courses, he said.

 

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

smcmillan@mainetoday.com