Muhammad “Humza” Khan, right, president of the student body at the University of Southern Maine, and Alexander Buzzell, student body press secretary, oppose a state bill that would allow guns on campuses.
GORHAM/PORTLAND – A legislative bill that would allow guns on all campuses of Maine’s public colleges and universities drew some fire this week.
Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, presented L.D. 1370, which is aimed at enhancing campus safety, according to a printed description about the bill. The measure would impact the University of Southern Maine with campuses in Gorham, Lewiston-Auburn, and Portland, as well as Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. The measure would not apply to private colleges such as St. Joseph’s in Standish.
Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, opposes allowing guns on campuses.
“I personally don’t want to be sitting in a room alone with someone who is packing heat,” McLean, a University of Southern Maine employee, said in an email Monday.
“I think it is a horribly dangerous idea.”
Muhammad “Humza” Khan, president of the student body at the University of Southern Maine, also criticized the move to allow guns on campus. “Putting guns on college campuses makes no sense,” Khan, a junior, said in an interview Tuesday on the Gorham campus.
According to Khan, students planned to host a public forum at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 13, in the Woodbury Campus Center in Portland about the gun bill.
Under language contained in the bill, public institutions could not prohibit lawful possession of firearms and ammo carried onto campuses by those authorized under state law to carry a concealed handgun. Firearms now are not permitted statewide at either the University of Maine System or the Maine Community College System.
Cebra did not respond to a request through the Maine House Republicans Office for a telephone interview.
The bill appears to be in response to the growing number of national incidents involving shootings in schools. In preparation for an incident, Gorham Police Department in the past has conducted active-shooter training on the Gorham campus in tandem with university police.
Joint crisis training proved valuable in Jan. 2014, when Gorham and campus police responded to a report of an armed student barricaded in an off-campus fraternity house. The suspect, after leaving a restaurant that serves alcohol, allegedly pointed a gun at someone’s face.
A standoff shut down the heart of Gorham Village for hours, but led to an arrest without a shot being fired.
Gorham Police Chief Daniel Jones said Tuesday that allowing guns on campus is a university issue and wouldn’t “day-in, day-out” affect his department.
“I could argue either side,” Jones said about the issue.
If it passes, the bill would not allow concealed weapons in campus auditoriums, theaters, and stadiums with a seating capacity of 1,000 or more, or in dormitories.
“I don’t think dorms are the best place for guns,” Jones said.
Under the wording being proposed, Jones said, “schools would still have some control.”
Trustees of the various educational institutions would appear to have limited latitude in adopting rules and regulations over permitting firearms on their campuses.
“The universities are now analyzing the proposal and will participate in the hearing process when the bill comes before the Education Committee later in the legislative session,” Dan Demeritt, executive director of public relations for the University of Maine System, said in an email.
A USM freshman, Alexander Buzzell, press secretary for the student body government, said Tuesday that Maine campuses rank among the top 10 safest in the country. Allowing guns could “potentially” make college campuses less safe, Buzzell said.
Trustees at the Maine Community College System share Buzzell’s opinion.
“MCCS trustees have long followed the advice of law enforcement in this area,” said Helen Pelletier, public affairs director for the Maine Community College System. “The consistent advice from those who have served in the state police and municipal police departments is that more guns on campus will not make our campuses safer, and, to the contrary, would make our campuses less safe.”
Buzzell hopes that U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King will publicly speak out against the bill.
The bill’s language, released Monday, comes the week following a threatening, anti-Muslim message scrawled on a poster, advising students how to react in the scenario of an active shooter. In a building on USM’s Portland campus, someone wrote on the poster, “Kill the Muslin.”
Khan, who is Muslim, said Portland Police are assisting university police in the investigation. Khan said he meets regularly with USM President Glenn Cummings. Khan said Muslim students are frustrated combined with a little bit of fear. “We take it as a legitimate threat,” Khan, a Gorham High School graduate, said.
About mixing the threat with allowing guns to be carried on campus, Khan said, “It won’t make the situation any better.”