Earlier this year, a fully loaded 15 round gun magazine was found under a chair on the third floor of David Saul Smith Union. The 9mm clip belonged to a student who is a highly trained EMT and licensed gun owner. While the firearm itself remained at the student’s home and did not possess a threat, the student still broke the College’s weapons policy according to the Office of Safety and Security.
“The student possessed a permit. However, he violated policy by having that ammunition on campus,” said Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols.
The College’s weapons policy states that students may bring firearms and weapons to campus to be stored with the Office of Safety and Security in a secure gun cabinet. These weapons can be checked out for use outside of campus, but must immediately be returned for storage upon arrival at campus.
While the nation has been grappling with the complex issue of gun control, the College’s policy has remained the same throughout Nichols’ 12 year tenure at the college.
“If someone wants to take it for a week or a month that’s their business, not ours, as long as when they return to campus, they immediately bring it to Security to be secured, and do not take it back to [their] residence hall to clean it or unload it or anything of that nature,” said Nichols.
There are currently six registered weapons being stored with the Office of Safety and Security: three shotguns, one hunting rifle, one antique bow and one decorative Lord of the Rings sword. One of the shotguns, the rifle, and the sword are student-owned; the two other shotguns are faculty-owned and stored for use by faculty members.
Maine’s gun laws allow adults 18 and over to openly carry handguns and do not mandate a waiting period before a potential owner purchases a gun. Adults over the age of 21 can carry a concealed handgun without a permit.
Laws may become even more lax in the future. Currently, Sen. Eric Brakey–R, Auburn, is advocating a measure that would lower the concealed carry age from 21 to 18, and eliminate the requirement to reveal a concealed carry upon encounters with law enforcement.
Ava Jackson ’20 stores her 20-gauge shotgun with Security. “You don’t need any kind of license to possess a gun in Maine or New Hampshire, so I literally just can bring my gun from my house in New Hampshire, drive it to the security office, drop it off, fill out some forms and that’s the baseline of it,” said Jackson.
Jackson, who grew up in rural New Hampshire, has a hunting license in both Maine and New Hampshire.
“Whenever I check out my gun I am often going home. I haven’t spent a lot of time on campus on the weekends here,” she said.
Firearms can be picked up with either advance notice or at the communications center window 24 hours a day. While it can be convenient to check out firearms from Security, Jackson emphasized that they are extremely cautious.
“They do lock it. There is a trigger lock that only I and security has the keys to. All my ammunition is also stored with security,” Jackson said.
Like Jackson’s gun, the majority of firearms stored are for hunting according to Nichols.
While some of the weapons are very rarely checked out, like the professor-owned antique bow and shotguns, Jackson checks out her shotgun frequently for bird-hunting.
“I live in very rural New Hampshire—hunting is a huge part of our culture,” she said.
“I live in a place that doesn’t have a grocery store, so men often rely on getting a deer for their family to support them through the winter. It’s not as extreme as it once was, but it is a very essential part to our heritage.”
According to Nichols, Bowdoin has a relatively small hunting community, and Jackson said she often worries about the perception of having a firearm on campus.
“It’s this really beautiful culture that people overlook since they think ‘oh, you’re trailer-trash, wearing camo and shopping at Walmart,’” said Jackson. “There is such an incredible side to it: people in my community know how to survive off the land, and where I live is all woods, all forested—and so people take all the benefits they can from the woods.”
Jackson said that while bird-hunting season is ending soon, she plans on competitively shooting in the spring and she plans to check out her gun around once a week.
“The thing about gun ownership in Maine and New Hampshire is [that] it’s so intertwined with our culture that people have so much respect for guns,” said Jackson.