AUGUSTA — A bill that would have required public high schools to offer firearms safety and training courses was voted down in the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday.
While most lawmakers on the panel said the measure was a good idea and they liked the thought of providing an optional gun safety and training course for Maine teens, they didn't like the idea of mandating it, without funding, for an already overburdened public school system.
The committee voted 11-1 against the bill, with two lawmakers absent from the vote.
"The idea, I think, is a useful one," said Rep. Bruce Macdonald, D-Boothbay, the House chairman of the committee. "But I'm against a mandate on the schools or in any way adding this kind of thing to the curriculum."
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, which had spoken in support of the measure, said after the vote that he wasn't disappointed and he understood the committee's decision.
Trahan said he believed the basic goals of the measure could be achieved without a law change or a mandate. He said conversations with the Maine Department of Education led him to believe there might be room for gun safety in the state's Learning Results curriculum, which includes segments on safety and prevention.
He had suggested the safety program be modeled after the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program, which teaches young children who encounter guns to immediately leave the area and inform an adult.
Trahan said SAM would work with the Education Department and others to focus on a model safety curriculum that schools could use if they chose to. That program would focus on preventing firearms accidents and would be designed for children in kindergarten through grade five.
"I think progress will be made with what we are interested in doing, which is, we want the first experience a child has with a firearm to be a benign experience," Trahan said. "We've done a good job over the last 15 years reducing accidents and deaths associated with youth and firearms. That job will never be done until there is never a child injured by a firearm."