The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office will host a free, two-night citizen handgun safety training at the West Bath Fire Station from 6-8 p.m. on May 2 and 3 in response to 2021 shootings in which children got their hands on unsecured firearms.

The course will cover a range of safety topics, including secure storage and proper loading technique, according to Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry.

“Anybody can go into a store and walk out the proud owner of a 9mm, whether you know how to use that 9mm or not,” said Merry, who has served as the county’s sheriff for 13 years. “That’s what we want to make sure: That people know what the weapon is capable of and how it should be handled properly.”

Cable locks can help keep guns secure and safely out of the hands of children, according to Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. The Coalition buys and distributes cable lacks through law enforcement offices and pediatricians. Contributed / Maine Gun Safety Coalition

Sgt. Aaron Skolfield, a firearm instructor for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, will lead the two sessions, according to Merry. Attendees, who can register by calling or visiting the sheriff’s office, should not bring their own guns to the training.

Two accidental shootings involving children in West Bath last year were the impetus for the safety program, Merry said.

Stephen R. Ambrose, 24, and Ian Carr, 25, were both charged with endangering the welfare of a child in separate incidents involving toddlers finding and shooting loaded, unsecured handguns, according to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office. Carr’s 2-year-old son found Carr’s 9mm handgun on a nightstand and fired a single shot that injured both of his sleeping parents last May.


“In both cases, there was, in my opinion, a clear lack of respect around the proper storage and handling of firearms, particularly in the presence of young people,” Merry said. “At the heart of this (training program) is safety first.”

The problem of gun violence is worsening, according to Geoff Bickford, the executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.

“More people are being shot and killed with guns now than were a year ago or 10 years ago,” said Bickford, whose organization promotes gun safety practices and legislation. “It’s a real problem in Maine.”

Guns kill an average of 146 people in Maine each year, or 9.9 per every 100,000 people, according to Everytown Research & Policy. That rate crept up by 20% between 2009 and 2018, slightly more than the national average.

Bickford cited several factors driving the increase in gun deaths, including spiking adolescent mental illness and suicide rates across the country.

When people attempt suicide by drug overdose or other methods, they often survive, recover and go on to live healthy lives, Bickford said. But when teenagers, who are more impulsive than adults, have access to unsecured guns, they rarely get that chance.


“You can stitch a wound,” Bickford said. “You can pump a stomach. You can’t put a head back on.”

Bickford and Merry both pointed to a dramatic rise in gun purchases during the pandemic as a contributor for increasing gun violence. New gun owners may be less likely to understand safety basics than those who were raised to respect the dangers of guns, Merry said.

While the Maine Gun Safety Coalition does not advocate for eliminating gun ownership rights, Bickford argued legislators should mandate that gun owners receive at least some safety training.

“You can’t go buy a car and drive it off the lot unless you have a driver’s license,” he said. “Why? Because it’s a hulking death machine that, if in the wrong hands, can cause havoc to society. A gun is no different.”

Though Maine does not require any safety training for gun owners, Merry hopes Sagadahoc County gun owners will voluntarily take on the responsibility at next week’s trainings.

“People have a right to buy guns,” Merry said. “I just want to make sure that people are doing it safely.”

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