By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau
AUGUSTA – Members of a legislative committee voted along party lines Wednesday to recommend rejection of a bill that would give schools the option of allowing teachers and other staff members to carry concealed handguns to school.
The outcome could change, however, because four members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee were absent.
The committee considered the bill for more than two hours before voting 5-4 against it. Democrats voted to reject the bill; Republicans voted for it.
Legislative rules say committee members who are absent from the State House at the time of a committee vote have two business days to vote.
Democrats have an 8-5 majority on the committee, although Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, a former state trooper, often votes with Republicans on gun-related issues. He left the committee room before the vote on Wednesday.
L.D. 1429, sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, another retired state trooper, would allow school boards to create procedures and guidelines to allow trained employees to carry concealed guns.
The school district would have to carry liability insurance, and it could pay stipends to trained staff members.
The bill also would require the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to form a training program for school officials who elect to carry guns.
Burns said he submitted the bill in response to the mass shooting in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 26 students and teachers.
"I still have eight grandchildren," Burns wrote in his testimony supporting the bill. "Because of the many tragic events we have seen, I feel we can no longer depend upon good intentions and traditional emergency response protocols to protect our children and the people we entrust them to five days a week."
On Wednesday, Burns said many school districts would not choose the option, but it could help rural schools in emergencies when police may not be able to respond as quickly as the staff.
"That first officer on the scene might be an hour, two hours away and then he's still alone," said Rep. Thomas Tyler, R-Windham, a member of the committee. "In protection of especially the northern half of the state, I have to go along with (the bill)."
The Maine Education Association, the state teachers union, does not want Burns' bill as an option.
In written testimony submitted last week, union President Lois Kilby-Chesley said school resource officers, not educators, should be trained to protect schools. She said the bill "has a lot to do with personal political agendas and much less about the true safety of our schools."
Individual gun-rights advocates filed written testimony in favor of the bill, but prominent pro-gun organizations did not, including the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
David Trahan, executive director of the sportsman's alliance, said in January that he was reluctant to support the bill because the only people who should have guns in schools are police and security officers.
If the committee doesn't reconsider the vote, the bill will go to the full Legislature for consideration.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: