AUGUSTA — Top lawmakers agreed Tuesday to allow legislative debate on three bills designed to prevent gun violence in Maine, after 17 students and staff members died in a mass shooting this month in south Florida.

One bill would ask voters to approve a $20 million bond issue for school security projects. A second bill would set up a process for police to temporarily confiscate guns from a person whom a court has found to be a danger to the community. The third would seek to build community education programs to raise awareness of those who may be a danger to themselves or others.

But Republican and Democratic leaders on the Legislative Council also rejected several other bills in a series of split votes. One of the rejected measures would have allowed school districts to decide if they want to arm teachers and other staff with concealed handguns. Another bill would have banned firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

In a 5-5 party-line vote, the council also rejected a bill by Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, that would have banned the purchase and sale of bump stocks, devices that can make a semi-automatic weapon fire as quickly as a fully automatic one. After the vote, Jim Cyr, a spokesman for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, said Republicans rejected the bill because Congress and President Trump could take action on the devices.

In voting on the magazine-capacity measure, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, sided with Republicans, and the Senate Assistant Majority Leader Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, voted with Democrats in support of the magazine ban.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, noted that hunting laws in Maine prohibit the use of a magazine with more than five rounds.


“So when it is our kids that have to face the terror of a gunman in their school, a gunman who can fire off dozens of rounds without having to pause a moment to reload because we did nothing and made sure that high-capacity magazines would continue to be legal and readily available for purchase in every Maine gun store, despite the fact they can’t be used for hunting – what will we tell our kids?” Sanborn said. “When I talk to my son, I want to be able to tell him we did everything we can.”


The Legislative Council is made up of the top five lawmakers in both parties. Its approval is needed for bills to be introduced because the deadline for new legislation to be considered in the current session already had passed.

In a 7-3 vote, the council allowed a bill offered by Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, that would set in place a process for a community protection order that enables police to seize weapons from a dangerous person.

Dion likened the measure to state law that allows victims of domestic violence to obtain restraining orders and requires the surrender of firearms by alleged perpetrators while their criminal case is processed by the courts.

Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, said he didn’t know whether his proposal, if it was the law in Florida, would have stopped the gunman from killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14.


“On a personal level, sitting outside of my legislator’s role, I would say I would much rather have access to this tool than not,” Dion said. “That if we’ve got the focus and clarity to gather this information we could well put ourselves in the position where we could convince a judge that order should be issued.”

The council also voted unanimously to approve debate on the $20 million bond bill offered by Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham. Corey said the bill’s intent is to improve school security by allowing the Maine Department of Education to identify schools that need upgrades. Corey also said he did not want the bill to be heavily amended and turned into legislation that would allow the arming of teachers or other school staff.

“I know that stuff is politically unpalatable,” Corey said. He said his bill was intended to provide funds for physical improvements to schools, such as security cameras, locking doors and bullet-proof glass. He said he didn’t intend to prescribe specifically what each school might need, leaving those decisions to the Department of Education.


Also accepted was the bill from Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, that would seek to build community education programs to raise awareness of those who may be a danger to themselves or others.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a prepared statement that she was pleased that the council allowed Dion’s so-called “red flag” bill, but also voiced disappointment with the pace of legislative action around school and gun safety.


“I find it unconscionable that we aren’t doing more or moving faster, but I want to make it clear that this remains my priority and that it is the responsibility of all lawmakers to say enough is enough,” Gideon said. “We must take serious action to reduce gun violence.”

Although the council rejected the bill that would have allowed school districts to consider arming teachers, Gov. Paul LePage told a Fox News host Monday night that he agreed with President Trump’s position that public school staff who wanted to or were trained to should be allowed to carry guns at school.

LePage also told host Neil Cavuto that he believes background checks for gun purchases should be expanded to more broadly include mental health issues.

“And I said to the president today, I think we need to take a look at our federal laws,” LePage said. “And I think that mental illness is a big problem, that we just look the other way. And when we look the other way, people die.”

In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, reintroduced a proposal that would prohibit individuals on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “no fly” list from being able to purchase a firearm. If enacted, the proposal would affect about 3,000 Americans, Collins’ office said.

Collins’ bill has several Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.


“Our bipartisan bill is based on one simple principle: If you are considered to be too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you should not be able to buy a firearm,” Collins said in a prepared statement. “This bill is a sensible step we can take right now to reform our nation’s gun laws while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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