Maine law allows colleges to regulate firearms on campuses

4 weeks ago

Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle is looking at how to better communicate its firearms policy after a student carried a gun on campus Thursday, leading to a brief lockdown.

Presque Isle police located the student and released him without charges. There was no threat and no one was in danger, police said.   

In a separate incident Thursday, schools in Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield and Topsham sheltered in place because of threats that allegedly came from 36-year-old Adam Green of Fort Fairfield. Police arrested Green for terrorizing. He was also linked to threats against President Joe Biden.

In light of the horrific tragedy in Lewiston last week, where gunman Robert Card killed 18 people and injured 13 more, all of Maine is on heightened alert especially when it comes to people carrying firearms. 

Many Mainers embrace hunting and the Second Amendment right to carry firearms. And, though the designation carries no legal weight, several communities have established themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries. Piscataquis was the first county to declare itself as a sanctuary. 

But how do higher education institutions, where most students are over 18, mesh citizen rights with school safety?

“I don’t think we need to review the policies. We need to review how we present that to students,” Northern Maine Community College President Timothy Crowley said Friday. 

Firearms, explosives and weapons of any kind are prohibited on the Presque Isle campus, according to the 2023-24 student handbook. That includes paintball or pellet guns, knives, firecrackers, gunpowder, primers, chemicals and sparklers, and any other explosive or dangerous item. Those violating the policy will have their housing contracts canceled, the handbook states.

The student who had the gun does not live on campus, Crowley said.  

The student did not commit a crime or threaten anyone, and no one was in danger, Crowley said, adding that campus officials and police addressed the problem with the student.   

Crowley described the campus weapons policy as solid, but said now college leaders need to evaluate the rule and ensure everyone understands it.

Maine’s Constitution gives every resident the right to keep and bear arms. And due largely to the popularity of hunting and sport shooting, the state’s gun laws are often considered loose. State and local police regulate concealed carry permits, but under a law passed in 2015, legal gun owners can conceal carry without a permit if they are 21 and older, or 18 to 20 if they are or have been in the military. 

But there are exceptions. For instance, under Maine education law, firearms are prohibited in schools, and post-secondary facilities can set their own regulations. Acadia National Park prohibits guns except: in a residence, for legal hunting, in a vehicle where it isn’t readily accessible, for active or retired law enforcement, and for concealed-carry permit holders. 

On Maine Community College System campuses, only law enforcement and people specifically approved by the system president can carry guns, according to the system’s health and safety guidelines.

“We follow the laws and policies of the state,” said Griffin Goins, Northern Maine Community College’s dean of development and public affairs. “Similar policies restrict firearms at other state and federally operated locations.”

The system does not allow guns in residence halls or vehicles despite the state’s right-to-carry laws, because a concealed carry permit doesn’t authorize possession of a gun where they are prohibited, according to the guidelines. 

Anyone violating the rule can be removed, disciplined or subject to “other lawful remedies,” the policy states.

Similarly, no guns are allowed at any University of Maine location, except for those licensed to carry them as part of the police unit, said Betsy Sawhill Espy, chief business officer at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

This has been the system’s policy for many years to ensure everyone’s safety, she said.

Some students ask to bring guns with them for hunting season, but the campus informs them of the policy that they are not allowed, she said.