Politics

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 smistler@pressherald.com
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.

"Day-cares are different," from schools, he said. "We have security systems in place."

He said, "Our biggest threat is a deranged parent in a custody battle."

Duprey said the proposal to put an armed police officer in every school is "impractical and fiscally irresponsible."

It's doubtful that Duprey's bill will make it through the Democratic-led Legislature. Republican-led legislatures in other states have rejected similar proposals.

In the last session, Republican leaders rejected a bill that would have allowed guns on college campuses.

Fredette, the House Republican leader, said he recently got a phone call from someone who works in a school and thinks it would be appropriate to allow concealed-weapons permit holders to bring guns to school.

"I'm not saying that I support that kind of proposal," he said, "and I'm not saying that I don't."

McCabe, the assistant House Democratic leader, said he, too, had been contacted by at least two constituents who support arming educators.

McCabe said Democrats are wary of diving into "polarizing proposals" like Duprey's.

"We're really trying to look at this issue in a thoughtful way," he said. "If we get into these extreme proposals, we end up alienating people on both sides of the issue, and that's not helpful."

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, which will review Duprey's bill, said the proposal will get a fair hearing.

However, Gerzofsky said, "Wyatt Earp thought it was OK to have guns in town, but I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to have guns in churches and schools."

Gerzofsky said the Legislature passed bills to make schools gun-free zones after the shootings in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado.

"I understand the argument that giving guns to people is supposed to be a defense against the bad guys," he said. "But once they've got the drop on you, it doesn't matter how many guns you have in your pocket."

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the administration is reluctant to comment on a bill that has not gone through the legislative process.

McCabe noted that Duprey has a history of introducing controversial bills.

In 2005, Duprey submitted a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage. However, he opposes same-sex marriage, and later acknowledged that he submitted the bill so he could vote against it.

In the same session, Duprey submitted a bill to ban abortion if it could be determined that the fetus was homosexual.

Both proposals drew attention from the satirical program "The Daily Show," which filmed a segment at the State House mocking Duprey.

 

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@mainetoday.com

twitter/stevemistler

 

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