Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Office to conduct gun safety training in wake of 2021 shootings

The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office will be hosting a free two-night citizen training on handgun safety at West Bath Fire Station from 6-8 p.m. May 2-3 in response to the 2021 shootings during where children got their hands on unsecured firearms.

The course will cover a range of safety topics, including safe storage and proper loading technique, according to Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry.

“Anyone can walk into a store and walk out the proud owner of a 9mm, whether you know how to use that 9mm or not,” said Merry, who served as the county’s sheriff for 13 years. “That’s what we want to make sure that people know what the gun is capable of and how it should be handled properly.”

According to Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, cable locks can help keep firearms safe and out of reach of children. The Coalition purchases and distributes missing cables through law enforcement offices and pediatricians. Contribution / Maine Gun Safety Coalition

sergeant. Aaron Skolfield, firearms instructor for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, will lead both sessions, according to Merry. Participants, who can register by calling or visiting the sheriff’s office, should not bring their own weapons to the training.

Two accidental shootings involving children in West Bath last year sparked the safety program, Merry said.

Stephen R. Ambrose, 24, and Ian Carr, 25, have both been charged with endangering the welfare of a child in separate incidents involving toddlers finding and firing handguns loaded and unsecured, according to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office. Carr’s 2-year-old son found Carr’s 9mm handgun on a bedside table and fired a single shot that injured both his sleeping parents last May.

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“In both cases, there was, in my view, a clear lack of respect around the proper storage and handling of firearms, particularly around young people,” Merry said. “At the heart of this (training program) is safety first.”

The problem of gun violence is getting worse, according to Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.

“More people are being shot and killed with guns now than a year or 10 years ago,” said Bickford, whose organization promotes gun safety practices and legislation. “It’s a real problem in Maine.”

Guns kill an average of 146 people in Maine each year, or 9.9 per 100,000 people, according to Everytown Research & Policy. This rate increased by 20% between 2009 and 2018, slightly more than the national average.

Bickford cited several factors behind the rise in gun deaths, including soaring teenage mental illness and suicide rates across the country.

When people attempt suicide by drug overdose or other methods, they often survive, recover and lead healthy lives, Bickford said. But when teenagers, who are more impulsive than adults, have access to unsecured firearms, they rarely have that chance.

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“You can stitch up a wound,” Bickford said. “You can pump a stomach. You can’t put your head back.

Both Bickford and Merry pointed to a dramatic increase in gun purchases during the pandemic as a contributor to increased gun violence. New gun owners may be less likely to understand the basics of gun safety than those who were raised to respect the dangers of guns, Merry said.

Although the Maine Gun Safety Coalition does not advocate the elimination of gun ownership rights, Bickford argued that lawmakers should require that gun owners receive at least some safety training.

“You can’t go buy a car and drive it off the lot unless you have a driver’s license,” he said. “Why? Because it’s a massive killing machine that, if in the wrong hands, can wreak havoc on society. A gun is no different.

Although Maine does not require any safety training for gun owners, Merry hopes Sagadahoc County gun owners will voluntarily take on the responsibility during trainings next week.

“People have the right to buy guns,” Merry said. “I just want to make sure people do it safely.”

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