A Maine lawmaker’s proposal to hold property owners liable if people are harmed at a location that doesn’t allow them to carry firearms for their own protection also was put forward several year ago but was quickly rejected in the face of opposition from businesses and gun safety advocates.

The proposal is certain to face strong opposition again and may not even have enough support to be among the new bills considered when lawmakers reconvene in January.

The proposal from Rep. Jim White, a Republican from Guilford who owns a store that sells guns, is one of more than a half-dozen bills proposed by lawmakers in response to the mass shootings that claimed 18 lives in Lewiston last month.

White’s bill is similar to one that came before the Legislature in 2017 and was opposed by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition and the Retail Association of Maine. It was voted down in committee and didn’t get a vote by the full Legislature.

The idea has virtually no chance of winning the support of the Democratic controlled Legislature, which this year easily rejected efforts to allow guns in schools based on some of the same arguments.

But the bill highlights an ongoing national debate about the impact of gun-free zones, especially in communities that have been hit hard by gun violence.


“I think the situation in Lewiston might bring to light the necessity of this,” said White, who owns J. White Gunsmithing, a firearms shop in Guilford. “The most vulnerable among us are put in a more vulnerable situation because of these gun-free zones.”


National data on the impacts of gun-free zones is hard to come by, so it’s unclear how many states have laws prohibiting them and whether any states make property owners liable for shootings in gun-free zones. Restrictions on gun possession range widely from state to state, including varying rules about whether firearms are banned in state capitol buildings, public transit, schools and other locations.

The Rand Corporation, a public policy research firm, said the impacts of gun-free zones are not clear, because of a lack of national data and because definitions vary in each state.

Maine Shooting

Community members gather on Nov. 2, during a candlelight vigil in Auburn after the Lewiston shootings on Oct. 25. Matt York/Associated Press

While many states prohibit firearms in government buildings, including schools, some states are moving in the opposite direction.

Eight states, according to the Rand Corporation, have passed laws requiring college and university campuses to allow students to carry concealed weapons. And 28 states allow K-12 schools to arm teachers or staff in some cases.


Legislation to make property owners liable for injuries in gun-free zones have been proposed elsewhere in the United States, including in Arizona and Michigan. But neither of those bills passed.

In Maine, White said he has been struck by comments from nurses and waitresses unable to protect themselves because the places they work are gun-free zones that have prohibitions on firearms.

He already was thinking about bringing his proposal to the Legislature before the Oct. 25 Lewiston shootings took place, and that tragedy prompted him to expedite it, he said.

White believes the two locations of the shootings in Lewiston, Just-in-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille, are gun-free zones, although the Press Herald has not been able to verify that. State law prohibits firearms in establishments where alcohol is consumed as long as the businesses post signs saying guns are not allowed.

No one answered the phone at Schemengees on Friday, and no one responded to a phone message and email sent to Just-in-Time seeking information about whether the business allows firearms and what its owner thinks of the proposal.



White’s bill reflects the view of gun rights advocates that increasing the prevalence of firearms will discourage or prevent gun violence. Some Republican lawmakers in Maine have argued that gun-free zones make them easy targets for shooters, while many Democrats and gun safety advocates say allowing anyone to carry firearms in schools, especially people without law enforcement training, would make them less safe.

Lawmakers last session took up a slate of bills seeking to increase the carrying of firearms by people other than law enforcement officers in and around schools, which are gun-free zones. Those bills were blocked by the Democratic controlled Legislature.

Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, proposed a bill that would allow school districts to arm employees, as long as they had been certified and trained under the same standards as police officers. The bill was voted down by both the House and Senate.

Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, sponsored a bill that would have allowed people with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on school property, but it was voted down in committee.

And Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, sponsored a bill that would have allowed retired law enforcement officers in good standing to carry firearms on school property, if they were hired by the school. That bill also failed in both chambers.

White said his proposal has been brought up before – in a 2017 bill from former Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, a Republican from Knox.


“Business owners seem to think that by banning law abiding citizens from carrying guns they will all be safer,” Kinney said in written testimony at the time. “This has simply not been the case. Instead they are now targets for criminals who have no respect for the law nor for human life.”

The bill didn’t make it out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee after running into a wall of opposition.

“The best academic evidence shows that more people carrying concealed weapons leads to increased rates of aggravated assaults and murder,” the Maine Gun Safety Coalition’s executive director said in written testimony at the time. Most gun massacres occur in places where firearms are allowed, the group argued.

The Retail Association of Maine also testified in opposition. Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the association, said his group would be likely to have the same stance it did in 2017 if the proposal were to move forward again. “If a retailer or any business decides to have a no-gun policy on their property, that should be their right,” Picard said.

Lynn Ellis, legislative director for the coalition, said that in the wake of the Lewiston shootings, the coalition is prioritizing an assault weapons ban, a red flag law, universal background checks and a 72-hour waiting period on gun sales.

“As far as additional legislation, we are looking into it and doing research and will come up with a statement if and when a bill comes through,” Ellis said when asked about White’s proposal.



The Maine Constitution limits the kinds of new bills that can be introduced in the upcoming second session, so White’s bill would need to be deemed an emergency measure to be considered in January. Any decisions about which new bills get taken up will be made in the coming weeks by the 10-member Legislative Council chaired by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

A spokesperson for Jackson said Friday that he does not support White’s proposal and “has serious concerns about it,” but did not elaborate further. Other legislative leaders expressed a range of opinions.

“We have a number of bills already in circulation on gun safety. … My first inclination is hesitation on letting anything in – not just this, but anything,” said House Majority Leader Mo Terry, D-Gorham. “I would really need to hear his argument as to the importance of it.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, said lawmakers should be looking at how the state’s current laws, like its yellow flag law and prohibitions on possessing firearms, are working before considering new laws, and said she would have to give further thought to whether White’s proposal should be taken up.

“One benefit of the bill is the conversation around the impact of gun-free zones,” Keim said. “I think that is a conversation worth having, even if I disagree about the liability piece.”


Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, said she would not be inclined to support White’s bill or allow it in for the upcoming session.

“I believe private businesses should have the right to restrict guns if they want to and that the person who should be held responsible for a violent crime is the person who committed the violent crime,” Arata said.

She said she didn’t believe the proposal would have much support among Republicans, though at least one other party member expressed support this week for legislation related to gun-free zones.

“Something that I think needs to be looked into, that I think is frankly ignored in the aftermath of events like (the Lewiston shootings), is that one of the underlying common denominators is the prevalence of gun-free zones,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Brakey did not mention White’s proposal specifically, but said he has questions in the wake of the shootings about gun-free zones and what kind of liability is appropriate.

“It’s hard to play games of ‘what if’ after the fact, but you do wonder what if one of those individuals who was there had a firearm with them and they were trained and a responsible gun owner who could have defended other people,” Brakey said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this story.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story