AUGUSTA, Maine — A measure that would make it a crime to bring a fake firearm onto public school property was shot down Thursday by a 10-2 vote of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
LD 1728 would define “replica or simulated firearms” as objects that are similar in appearance to a real firearm and that a “reasonable person” would believe is a firearm. The bill would make no differentiation between replicas that can and cannot fire projectiles.
The bill would make the offense a Class E misdemeanor in Maine’s criminal code, though the panel did consider an amendment that aimed to change the penalty to a civil offense.
Though several members of the committee said they understand the danger of a student wielding a toy that looks like a gun, they did not favor requiring that minors who bring such an item to school be dealt with through the criminal justice system.
“I don’t think this is a police problem. This is a school problem,” said Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais. “I think we need to be dealing with it in the schools.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, originated after an incident last year at Traip Academy in Kittery. The Kittery Police Department asked Hill to sponsor the bill.
“This bill is not about toy guns,” said Hill earlier this month during the bill’s public hearing. “We’re not talking about Super Soakers or Smurf guns, we’re talking about BB guns that look exactly like the Glock pistols they are designed to resemble.”
Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, who is a retired educator and public school principal, said he supports the measure because students need to understand the seriousness of brandishing what at least appears to be a real weapon.
“I think a kid who in this day and age brings a replica of a gun that’s realistic enough is seriously out of touch with what’s going on and what are the realities of life,” said MacDonald, who cast one of the two votes in favor of the bill. “I do think they need the social work and other help … but they also need a jolt. A civil violation is something that would add to what a school can do to let a kid know that there is something seriously wrong.”
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, argued that putting the issue in the hands of the criminal justice system would direct offenders to counseling and other interventions, whereas a school department is likely to respond with a suspension or expulsion.
“There are very few services that a school can actually get to them,” said Millett. “I would really love the adults who recognize the problem to have more avenues available to them to help these kids.”
The bill now heads to the full Legislature for consideration.