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July 6, 2013

Maine Voices: Sportsmen's group, Legislature work to build safer communities

By DAVID TRAHAN

AUGUSTA - If you read the Portland Press Herald story "Culture, vocal foes foil Maine gun limits" (July 1), you would come to the conclusion nothing good happened in the Maine Legislature to improve public safety after the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

To the contrary, several important policy changes were approved and are being implemented that will dramatically improve public safety.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine is deeply disappointed that the Portland Press Herald appears to be uninterested in covering these important changes, preferring instead to continue beating the drum of more gun control.

Just after the Connecticut shooting, several disturbing themes began to emerge as to how and why this horrible young man decided to target elementary school children.

MENTALLY DISTURBED

It is a well-established fact that most of U.S. school shootings have involved individuals with some level of mental illness.

In the Connecticut case, the young man had a disturbing history that his mother struggled to address.

Here in Maine, many were shocked to learn that going back to 2008, the names of the most severely mentally disturbed among us who had been previously prohibited from purchasing firearms had not been added to the National Instant Background Check System by the judiciary.

After the shooting, Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, a SAM board member, introduced legislation to fund this important data entry. Our organization worked hard with the Speaker's Office and members of the Legislature to bring the state into compliance. Recognizing the importance of completing this task, the judiciary worked tirelessly within existing resources and recently confirmed that all backlogged cases are now in the NICS system and all new cases will be added weekly.

In the Connecticut case, the shooter had not been restricted from purchasing firearms but had revealed disturbing signs of violence and mental illness; consequently, no new gun control could have stopped this man; he killed his own mother to gain access to guns used in the horrible attack.

What could have made a difference? Early intervention, mental health treatment and counseling, as well as family guidance on the proper storage of firearms.

SCHOOL SECURITY

Although the investigation of the Newtown school shooting is not complete, it appears the shooter gained easy access to the Sandy Hook Elementary School building. Like the tragic terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that triggered new cockpit safety standards on our nation's commercial airlines, states across the country are redesigning school security plans.

Just after the Newtown shooting, Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, on my behalf, introduced L.D. 529, "Resolve, Directing the Department of Education to Develop Safety Standards for School Access."

That bill was combined with similar legislation -- L.D. 905, "Resolve, Directing the Department of Education to Examine School Security" -- sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico. The merged bill passed unanimously.

Next year, we will work to implement the findings of national security experts tasked with reviewing our state's school security.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ISSUES

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine is also a member of the Governor's Court Order Enforcement Task Force, which just finished examining the effectiveness of court-ordered protection-from-abuse orders and will report at the end of July any recommendations to improve current law that allows courts to temporarily remove firearms from dangerous domestic violence situations.

The task force has discovered significant gaps in our system, including lack of firearm storage capacity; poor communication between officers, family members and the court, and the inability of officers to confirm that firearms have been removed from some homes. I have no doubt the group's recommendations will save lives.

Also, we will work with the Department of Education and under guidelines established through Maine Learning Results to create model firearm safety curriculum for elementary-level schoolchildren. The curriculum will be focused on what to do when a child encounters a firearm.

In the recent Press Herald article, I was asked if our organization viewed the last legislative session as a success. My answer was "yes," but the rest of my answer was not reported. Not only did SAM stop unneeded new gun laws, we helped implement all of the above initiatives, which will, in the long term, build safer communities.

Gun control controversy sells newspapers, but hard work and thoughtful policy change that strike a balance between the rights of law-abiding citizens and public safety are what will save lives.

David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine in Augusta.





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