Maine group works for gun safety on anniversary of Sandy Hook school shooting

Frances Buerkens, director of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, placed backpacks on the steps of the former Emerson School in Portland this week to remember the 20 children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Frances Buerkens | Courtesy Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence
Frances Buerkens, director of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, placed backpacks on the steps of the former Emerson School in Portland this week to remember the 20 children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Posted Dec. 14, 2013, at 4:15 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 14, 2013, at 8:09 p.m.

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Frances Buerkens, director of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, placed backpacks on the steps of the former Emerson School in Portland this week to remember the 20 children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Frances Buerkens | Courtesy Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence
Frances Buerkens, director of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, placed backpacks on the steps of the former Emerson School in Portland this week to remember the 20 children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence will not hold a moment of silence Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Instead, executive director Frances Buerkens this week placed backpacks on the steps of the former Emerson School to remember the 20 students killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza on Dec. 14, 2012. Lanza also shot his mother and six adults before killing himself.

“We wish to honor those students who became victim to Adam Lanza in his struggle for mental health,” Buerkens said Friday “The parents of Sandy Hook have stated that we do not need another minute of silence – but rather that we see the anniversary of this great tragedy as a moment to impact change.”

Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence will also begin fundraising to distribute free trigger locks through Maine police departments, hoping to reduce the number of accidental shootings in the state.

“Certainly trigger locks will not prevent all household accidental shootings,” Buerkens said, “but if one trigger lock saves one life then we have already succeeded. We recognize that many Maine children live in homes with guns. A child’s curiosity often begets tragedy and we want to prevent such occurrences.”

“Maine hunters and gun owners are generally quite responsible,” Bill Harwood, a founder and board member of the organization, said in a release. “But we still see too many cases where a child finds an unlocked gun, with tragic consequences. This program should ensure that even though trigger locks are not very expensive no gun will be unlocked because the owner couldn’t afford to buy a lock.”

Efforts to reduce incidents such as that in Newtown is also a priority of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which has been “very active” in supporting legislation designed to do just that, executive director David Trahan said Saturday.

The organization “worked quite hard” on legislation reforming the concealed carry permits and making schools more secure.

“I think people are going to be very, very pleased with the new efficient law,” he said of a third law that “brings much greater integrity to school entry points and security. “We worked hard to get a study brought forward this session by the Department of Education [related to school entry points}. We brought a number of recommendations back to the [criminal justice] committee on how to make our schools safer.”

Michele Pfannenstiel, who grew up in Newtown and now lives in Cumberland, is also a member of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. The shootings continue to affect those in her hometown deeply, she said, but the community is determined to help the survivors move forward.

“This is not something the town is ever going to get over,” Pfannenstiel said. “But life does go on. … Newtown is recognized as a place of love and families, despite this happening. Newtown is stronger than this one horrifying event. [And] we are all working in various ways to make sure that what happened in Newtown doesn’t happen in our own communities.”

Of efforts underway in the Maine Legislature to pass stronger gun control laws, she said, “The family members asked us — the community — not to be silent, so I am not being silent. Quite frankly, we’ve all be silent enough. What we need to do is raise our voices and say, ‘This is not ok.’ So that’s what we’re doing.”

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