On December 21, the Chapel bells tolled 26 times—once for each victim of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The unthinkable violence that cost 20 first graders and six adults their lives has shaken the nation. In the weeks since, there have been five more school shootings in the United States, including one this Tuesday at Lone Star College in Texas.
New legislative sessions have begun in Augusta and Washington, and in the aftermath of these tragedies it looks as though lawmakers are finally serious about reforming gun laws nationwide. Maine’s senators will vote on President Obama’s gun control proposal in the coming months, and Brunswick’s state representatives will soon evaluate a number of bills that would alter gun regulations throughout the state. One bill submitted this week would permit school employees to carry concealed firearms in the classroom.
Carrying a concealed weapon on a college or university campus is banned in 21 states, but Maine is not one of them. Here, the decision to ban or allow concealed weapons on campuses is made by each institution individually. Compared to other states, Maine has relatively lenient laws when it comes to gun ownership: no permit is necessary to purchase a rifle or a handgun and no registration is necessary for these guns, although a permit is required to carry a handgun.
Bowdoin prohibits the possession of firearms and ammunition on all College property. Students who want to bring a firearm to campus must request to store the weapon with Security and provide a trigger-lock for their guns, though very few students elect to do so. We often feel secure at Bowdoin because we have such a capable Security force protecting our campus, but there are some things that are beyond its control. The Walmart in Cooks Corner—a ten-minute drive from campus—sells an array of firearms that can be easily purchased due to Maine’s permissive gun laws.
In the wake of the Newtown massacre, 336 college presidents—including Barry Mills and presidents from eight other Maine schools—signed a gun safety letter advocating for a weapons ban on all campuses, ending the gun-show loophole, and requiring the highest level of safety in gun manufacturing. Putting more guns in our schools is not the answer to these issues and will only increase the potential for violence.
We support the Obama administration’s recently proposed legislation that would ban the commercial sale of assault weapons, which are unnecessary for self-defense or hunting. The proposal would also mandate waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases. On the state level, Maine legislators should not permit school employees to carry firearms while at work, and should introduce similar measures as those being considered by their federal counterparts.
As new gun control bills are entertained, many have argued that more stringent gun laws will not prevent gun violence. The fact is that there will always be people who want to cause violence, but good governance can limit their ability to do so.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Bowdoin in 1964, he said,“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.” We urge our state and national legislators to heed the call of Dr. King and work together to pass more stringent gun control laws.