Friday, April 18, 2014
From staff reports
YARMOUTH — A gun-rights advocate who served on the Yarmouth School Committee is calling on Maine lawmakers to pass legislation to allow educators to have guns in public schools.
Police search a building after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14. The president of the Maine Gun Owners Association says teachers with firearms training should be allowed to carry guns following the Connecticut shooting in which 20 elementary school children were killed.
Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association in Yarmouth, issued a news release Thursday urging the Legislature to enact a law that would let school administrators and teachers who have concealed-weapons permits carry guns on school grounds.
Weinstein's proposal drew an immediate reaction from educators in Maine, some of whom said it may be time to have people who are trained to deal with a violent intruder stationed in Maine schools.
They agreed on one point, saying teachers should be focused on keeping their students safe, not on using a gun to defend them.
Referring to the school shootings a week ago in Connecticut, Weinstein said in his release, "I really don't want to see another Newtown. Seeing another helpless, defenseless school being decimated by a crazed individual or gang is totally unacceptable.
"Hopefully," he wrote, "we will collectively find the courage and determination to build the first responder defensive line within our schools in order to truly protect our kids."
In response to last week's shootings, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon have said they will consider legislation to allow school administrators and teachers to carry weapons.
In 2007, the town of Harrold, Texas, started allowing its administrators and teachers to bring guns to school. The nearest law enforcement office is about 30 minutes away.
"We didn't have the money for a security guard but this was a better solution," Superintendent David Thweatt told The Associated Press.
Under Weinstein's proposal, an administrator or teacher who is trained and certified to carry a concealed weapon would be allowed to enter a school with a gun.
Only those who want to be armed would carry guns, said Weinstein, who served on the Yarmouth School Committee from 1993 to 1996.
"I think it's the only thing that is going to work," Weinstein said Thursday night. "Everything else is pie in the sky. If a perpetrator is under the impression that he will encounter major resistance, then he won't go into a school."
Weinstein said he founded the Maine Gun Owners Association around 2000. He testifies regularly before the Legislature on gun issues.
He refused to speak in detail Thursday about who belongs to his organization, saying only that it has "several hundred" members.
He said he has spoken with about a half-dozen legislators who have told him they would be willing to sponsor a bill in the coming session that would allow guns in schools. He would not identify the legislators.
Brian Duprey, a Republican state representative from Hampden, might support such legislation.
Duprey, when contacted at his home Thursday night, declined to be interviewed.
But a message on his Facebook page says he has proposed legislation to allow anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to carry a weapon in a public school. The message says his proposal would include teachers, principals and parents.
"Imagine if just one of the teachers at Sandy Hook had a legally obtained concealed firearms permit and was carrying that day, could he or she have stopped the gunman? Possibly. At least they would have had a chance. As it was they had zero chance," Duprey's posting says.
Paul Stearns, superintendent of School Administrative District 4 in Guilford and president of the Maine School Superintendent's Association, said he is a gun owner and an avid deer hunter.
He said the issue of allowing guns in schools has not come before the association, but speaking personally, he doubts that such a proposal would be acceptable.
"From my perspective, if there are no guns in schools, then no one will ever get hurt. If there are guns, then there is the possibility someone might get hurt," he said.
Stearns said he respects Weinstein's view but a better solution might be to hire armed security guards.
"Educators have a lot of other things on their mind. They need to be focused on their students. You don't need to have a teacher thinking about where their weapons and ammunition are located," Stearns said.
Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said the teachers union believes "there is no place for guns in schools."
She said the association, representing about 24,000 teachers and other school staff members, believes that violence can be avoided by expanding school mental health services and diagnosing mental health issues at an early age.
Maine should also renew its focus on preventing bullying and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
"Our kids and communities deserve common-sense laws that protect our safety. No one needs a weapon of war for hunting or self-protection," the MEA said in a statement released late Thursday night.
Augusta's superintendent, Connie Brown, said, "We need to be more thoughtful about (allowing guns in schools). I'm not sure this is the right course."
Brown, who will become executive director of the Maine School Management Association in January, said she might support posting someone in a school who is trained to deal with a violent perpetrator.
She would not arm that person with a gun, she said, but might consider giving him or her a Taser. Brown said the person would not be a teacher.
Brown, who also has been a school principal, said, "I am not suggesting we go with armed security guards."
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: