SCARBOROUGH, Maine — The first time state Rep. Paulette Beaudoin of Biddeford ever shot a gun was last week at a range in town where Maine State Police troopers fine-tune their marksmanship skills.
A trooper placed a Maine-made AR-15 assault rifle in her hands and gave her tips about how to fire the gun safely. Beaudoin is the one who submitted a bill to supply the weapons to every trooper on regular patrol.
“It was the first time I ever, ever had a rifle in my hands,” said the 76-year-old great grandmother. “It was quite a thrill.”
Beaudoin is not exactly sure how many shots she fired with the AR-15, but knows she emptied the gun’s clip.
“It was quite a whopper on the shoulder,” she said. “I had never done anything like that. They had two targets set up, one was in the shape of a man and one was a woman. I was going for the man and I found out I hit the woman. They thought that was funny,” she said of the troopers and dignitaries around her.
A total of 105 of the guns were recently purchased for the state’s regular patrol troopers, who have been using semi-automatic 9 mm Ruger carbine rifles. The $76,191 price for the new guns was paid by a combination of drug funds and state revenues, Beaudoin said.
“They’re very happy, but I think I’m happiest of all because they’re safe and have the equipment they need,” she said. “They do so much for us, putting their lives on the line.”
Bushmaster Firearms Inc.’s Windham plant, which Beaudoin recently toured, won the bid to provide the rifles.
“Before being assigned the new weapon, troopers are completing five hours of training and instruction with the new rifle, which include firing more than 300 rounds,” wrote Stephen McCausland, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman, in his weekly memo.
The Chief of the State Police, Col. Patrick Fleming, said, “The new weapon is more user-friendly and has more firepower than the Ruger carbine rifle that it is replacing,” McCausland’s memo states.
Troopers have been using assault-style weapons for several years, Fleming said Friday. He said the weapons were necessary “for the safety of our officers.”
“It has been a growing trend nationally that people are committing more crimes with these types of long guns,” he said. “When an officer goes to a situation where the person involved has a long gun and the officer doesn’t, it can become a very dangerous situation.”
Fleming said the guns were paid for by money from court-ordered seizures and forfeitures.
The carbines will be retained by the State Police and issued to detectives and other members of the department who do not patrol on a regular basis, McCausland said.
Troopers began getting their new weapons earlier this year and the distribution of the new guns should be completed by mid-June.
“I’m very proud of the men and women we have as state troopers,” Beaudoin said.
Reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.