Lawmakers gun down bill that sought to arm more college students

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AUGUSTA — House members shot down a proposal Tuesday that would have allowed people with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms on public colleges except in dorms and in entertainment facilities that post signs barring their possession.

By a 90-56 vote, House members turned aside a plea by the measure’s sponsor who worried that prohibiting weapons would “create victim zones” where innocents could be easy prey for criminals or terrorists.

A majority instead endorsed the Maine Medical Association’s assessment that the proposal represented “a threat to public safety and public health.”

Gov. Paul LePage, who backed the proposal, had a different take. His deputy counsel, Hank Fenton, told lawmakers last month the bill “would make Maine public college campuses safer. “

Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said the proposal is “a women’s issue” because there are spots on every campus “where people can’t defend themselves” unless they are allowed to carry a weapon.

“A small, concealed handgun creates an equality between a 100-pound woman and a 225-pound attacker,” Cebra said.

His bill would have changed existing law that lets the trustees of the University of Maine, the Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy adopt whatever rules they see fit for the campuses they oversee.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, said most lawmakers want to leave it in the hands of trustees to decide what’s best for safety at Maine’s colleges and universities.

A psychology professor at the University of Maine, Jordan LaBouff, warned legislators that putting more guns into the campus environment won’t help.

“People who support campus carry are falling prey to a comfortable illusion imagining themselves or other citizens as the hero in a terrifying situation,” he said.

“The facts simply do not support this illusion. The facts demonstrate that this bill would be counter-productive; concealed weapons are more likely to create violence” at colleges that are now “extremely safe,” LaBouff said.

Fenton said, though, that allowing law-abiding students to protect themselves “could provide them with additional security that is so crucial in this era that has been plagued by mass shootings at venues that disallow the possession of firearms.”

Cebra argued in the House that areas where guns are barred become easy targets.

He cited as an example the recent terrorist attack in London, where three jihadists mowed down pedestrians with their van and then stabbed and cut many victims.

Cebra said terrorists like them choose places where resistance would be minimal because people “are unarmed and they’re prepared to be victims.”

He said that because the victims didn’t carry weapons, they were left with few options except “throwing pint glasses” to try to fend off the terrorists.

Cebra said that when his daughter heads off to the University of Maine in the fall, he wants her to be able to protect herself wherever she goes.

He said he doesn’t want Maine to have places “where it’s OK to be a victim.”

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