Maine law currently prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm onto school grounds, even by accident. But Rep. John Martin, a Democrat from Eagle Lake, is proposing a bill that would carve out an exemption to that law.
In rural areas of the state, it’s not uncommon for someone to get up long before most people are out of bed to go deer hunting at dawn. Sometimes, they’ll return home, deer in tow, and pick up their kids to take them to school.
If they forget to take their hunting rifle out of their car or pickup and they drive onto school grounds, they are violating state law. That can result in a fine, even jail time.
Martin says that’s unfair.
“A couple of police officers actually talked to me about it and said, ‘Why is the Maine law written the way it is, because there is a federal exemption?’” he says.
Martin is talking about the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1996, which made it against federal law for an adult who is not a member of law enforcement to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of public, parochial or private schools. But to be enforced in a state, there must be a companion gun-free school zone law.
Martin acknowledges that his proposal is aimed at a problem most likely to occur in rural areas of the state.
“There aren’t many people, frankly, that go hunting in the morning in the city of Portland,” he says.
In the past, similar legislation has been opposed by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. The group’s president, Portland attorney Bill Harwood, says they will likely oppose it again, given what they know about the wording of the measure.
He says the bill is a solution in search of a problem.
“I am sure that if there is an inadvertent violation, that the police and the prosecutors will take that into account, but the principle that guns and kids and schools do not mix is what we should be focusing on,” Harwood says.
In addition to his group, Harwood says other past opponents have included the Maine School Board Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association. He says all schools, whether in a city or in rural areas of the state, should not have to worry about a gun on school grounds for any reason.
Harwood says the safety of students should not be sacrificed for the interests of a few.
“A very small group who have some minor inconvenience because they have to remember that when they drive onto school property, they should not have possession of a gun or a gun in the car,” he says.
But this year, Martin says he has the votes to pass the gun exemption measure. Harwood is skeptical. But one thing is certain: Like other gun bills that have been introduced, this one will engender debate and discussion.
This story was originally published Dec. 20, 2017 at 4:49 p.m. ET.