December 22, 2012

Maine lawmakers cool to guns for teachers

The bill proposed by a Hampden Republican will get an airing despite Democrats' reservations.

By Steve Mistler
Staff Writer

Legislative leaders are reacting coolly to a bill that would allow concealed-weapons permit holders, including teachers and school administrators, to bring guns to public schools in Maine.

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A hearse carrying the casket of of six-year-old Jack Pinto passes a makeshift memorial on its way to Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Connecticut. Legislative leaders are reacting coolly to a bill – proposed after the Connecticut shooting – that would allow concealed-weapons permit holders, including teachers and school administrators, to bring guns to public schools in Maine.


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Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, confirmed Friday that he had proposed the legislation. Duprey posted a message on his Facebook account saying schools are "soft targets" for gunmen like the one who took his own life after killing 27 people, including 20 children, last week in Newtown, Conn.

Duprey, who owns several day-care centers in the Bangor area, wrote on his Facebook page that there could have been a way to stop the killings if someone at school had been armed.

"Imagine if just one of the teachers at Sandy Hook (Elementary School) 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," he wrote.

Duprey's idea didn't get much immediate support from leaders of either party.

Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the assistant House majority leader, said "polarizing" proposals like Duprey's alienate people on both sides of the gun debate.

He said lawmakers are committed to dealing with gun violence in a comprehensive way.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the House minority leader, was reluctant to dismiss Duprey's proposal without reviewing specific legislation.

Language is not yet available for bills in the upcoming session.

"We shouldn't be making any rash decisions about guns or gun ownership when we're still dealing with what happened in Connecticut," Fredette said. "We need to look at this issue in a comprehensive way."

Duprey's bill appears to have a supporter in Jeff Weinstein, a former Yarmouth School Committee member who is president of the Maine Gun Owners Association.

Weinstein issued a statement Thursday saying that allowing school employees to bring weapons to school would better protect students.

The idea also has support outside of Maine.

On Friday, the National Rifle Association called for armed security personnel in schools and suggested that armed volunteers could be used to avoid a huge expense.

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 2011, Nebraska state Sen. Mark Christensen introduced a similar bill after a shooting in Omaha in which a high school senior killed an assistant principal and wounded a principal before killing himself.

"If you have a kid come in to shoot a teacher ... or other kids, it's best to have somebody that can take care of the situation," Christensen told the Lincoln Journal Star in 2011. Nebraska lawmakers ultimately rejected the bill.

Reached Friday, Duprey said he isn't sure if his bill is a good idea but he wants to have a debate about it. He said that all criminals know schools "are soft targets," and that trained concealed-weapons permit holders could provide "a safety net."

"Guns are allowed everywhere else, Walmart, the mall ... why shouldn't they be allowed in schools?" he said. "I want to have a debate for someone to tell me why it isn't a good idea."

Duprey, who has a concealed-firearms permit, said he carries a gun "everywhere I go, where it's legal."

Duprey, whose children are home-schooled, said he is better prepared to protect them because he is trained with a firearm. He said he served in the Navy for eight years.

Duprey, who owns Little Angels Daycare, was asked if he allows his employees to bring guns to work. He said he had "never asked, never brought it up" to them.

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