Bucksport resident Bruce Ashmore said children deserve to be protected at school – and that means allowing staff or security guards to be armed.

“Make it legal for adults to protect children,” Ashmore pleaded with lawmakers Wednesday.

Sandy Lovell of Portland, who has two grandchildren in elementary school, said that’s a recipe for disaster.

“Where there are guns, people die.”

Amid a rising number of mass shootings around the country, including many targeting schools, scores of Maine residents testified Wednesday before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, which is considering a range of proposals to enhance school security that includes allowing teachers to be armed, permitting security guards to carry firearms and requiring schools to tighten safety protocols, including by physically designing schools to defend against active shooters.

Another measure would criminally charge teachers or other school staff who allow an unauthorized person to enter the school or leave a school entrance unlocked if that person injures or kills someone in the school.


The bills garnered an avalanche of testimony, with most who testified opposed to having guns in schools.

With an estimated one-third of U.S. adults owning guns, the weapons aren’t going to disappear from the nation anytime soon, proponents said. Allowing, but not requiring, schools to arm educators and security staff would let them act quickly to protect their students and give them a fighting chance in the case of an attack.

Opponents said bringing guns into schools would only increase the potential for gun deaths. Accidental discharges, misfires and students getting their hands on guns are all risks elevated by bringing more guns into schools. They said students deserve learning environments free of violence and that it is time for Maine and the nation to address the root causes of mass shootings, not add more guns into the equation.

The discussion at the Maine State House echoes a fierce national debate over what to do about the epidemic of shootings targeted at schools and other public gathering places. One side says guns need to be taken out of the picture. The other says more good actors need guns to stop the bad actors. Both groups say a shift in the wrong direction could be fatal.

A record 48,830 Americans, including 178 Mainers, died of gun-related injuries in 2021, according to the most recently available information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Slightly more than half died from suicide, slightly less than half from homicides.

Mass shootings, those that result in the death of four or more people, have been and remain enormously prevalent in the U.S.


There were 646 mass shootings last year and there have been 172 so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Schools have been the target of 465 shootings resulting in 22 deaths so far in 2023.

Around 30 states allow teachers to carry guns, according to Giffords Law Center. Maine law allows only law enforcement to bring and discharge a firearm on or near school grounds.


Educators and education advocacy groups came out in large numbers to oppose the proposals.

“As a future teacher, I am frightened by the thought of my fellow faculty members carrying firearms within the school,” Tagan Vance, a USM student studying elementary education, said in written testimony. “The idea makes me question whether or not I am willing to become a teacher here in this state.”

Susan Twombly, a retired Maine high school guidance counselor of 30 years, said allowing guns in schools will increase the risk of death and injury by gun, not reduce it. She expressed concern about students getting hold of guns, and student and teacher anxiety knowing there are lethal weapons in school, and implied that bringing weapons into schools will teach students that the cure for violence is more violence.


“I am appalled that you are even considering allowing guns in schools,” she said.

The Maine School Boards Association and Maine School Superintendents Association were clear in their opposition testimony. “We do not want guns on school property,” Victoria Wallack, director of communications and government relations for the MSMA, said in opposition to three of the four bills.

Other opponents, including parents, pediatricians and nurses, said society should not be trying to prepare for school shootings, but rather trying to prevent them by investing in mental health, banning assault-style weapons and passing legislation requiring secure storage of firearms, among other things. Many opponents said they grew up hunting and currently own guns for that purpose, but that they don’t see school as an appropriate place for weapons.

But proponents said with the number of guns in the United States, schools need to be prepared for shootings and that labeling schools as gun-free zones makes them easy targets.


While schools around the country have been targeted in deadly shootings, Maine has been spared. But the mass shooting in Bowdoin last week reminded many that Maine is not immune to the nation’s widespread gun violence.


Security professionals, retired military and law enforcement, and other Maine residents said allowing guns in schools would both deter potential shooters and give educators a chance to defend themselves and their students, while allowing schools who don’t want to allow guns on campus to continue to bar them.

James Trask, a retired Maine State Police detective, a former member of the governor’s protective detail and currently the director of school safety at Thornton Academy in Saco, said in written testimony that allowing retired full-time police officers to carry weapons on school grounds could help make schools safer.

“If I was able to carry a weapon I would be able to immediately act to protect school students and staff,” said Trask, who noted he is opposed to arming educators or other non-police staff.

Timing was a major talking point for bill supporters. Many said that while police officers could take many minutes to arrive, especially in rural areas, armed school security officers or staff could act at once.

“When facing violent threats, seconds count,” said Rep. Danny Costain, R-Plymouth, who co-sponsored L.D. 52, an act to allow certain school employees to carry firearms on school property.

With a pervasive “not if, but when,” point of view, proponents said it’s important to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best and to get ready for a quick response in the case of an attack.

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