AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow trained teachers to carry guns in Maine schools was rejected by the state Senate in an initial vote Tuesday.

The bill, L.D. 1429, sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, a retired state trooper, was defeated 19-14. It faces another vote in the House of Representatives, where it is also likely to fail.

The proposal would allow school boards to create procedures and guidelines to allow trained employees to carry concealed guns. The district would have to carry liability insurance, and it could pay stipends to trained staff members.

Burns said the bill was a response to mass shootings in schools, notably the December killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where gunman Adam Lanza killed 26 students and educators, including the school principal, Dawn Hochsprung. It was reported that she died trying to save students from Lanza.

“Does anyone think the brave principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have had a better chance to save her life and the lives of her children had she been armed with a weapon?” Burns said on the floor Tuesday. “This bill is not a Second Amendment issue; it is a school-safety issue.”

The bill, however, was opposed by the Maine Education Association, a teacher’s union, at a public hearing in May. It was rejected by seven of 13 legislators on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in a mostly party-line vote.

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, called the bill a “costly, radical distraction” to educators. Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said schools can already hire police officers or contract with sheriffs’ offices to provide trained officers to protect schools.

“There’s nothing here that’s going to enhance our safety,” Gerzofsky said. “A matter of fact, I think it would be just the opposite: it would detract from some of of our safety for our children.”

Individual gun-rights advocates testified in favor of the bill at the May public hearing. Prominent pro-gun organizations did not, including the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Minority Republicans on the committee supported the bill, some largely on the theory that it would help rural schools in active-shooter emergencies when law enforcement may not be able to respond as quickly as the staff. Burns echoed that argument on the floor Tuesday.

“Please consider our situations and allow our communities to have the tools that they need to safeguard their children,” he said. “Rural communities are just as prone to incidental acts of terrific violence as urban communities are.”

In March, The New York Times reported that South Dakota became the first state in the nation to pass a law explicitly allowing school staff to carry firearms at work.

David Trahan, executive director of the sportsman’s alliance, told the Portland Press Herald in January that he was reluctant to support the bill, as the only people who should have guns in schools are police and security officers.

Michael Shepherd -370-7652
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