Maine to Consider Self-defense Immunity for National Guard

Members of the Maine Army National Guard and Maine Air National Guard march in the 26.2 mile Maine Marathon Tribute March Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 to honor fallen service members. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Sarah Myrick.)
Members of the Maine Army National Guard and Maine Air National Guard march in the 26.2 mile Maine Marathon Tribute March Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 to honor fallen service members. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Sarah Myrick.)

PORTLAND, Main -- Maine's veterans department wants state lawmakers to pass a bill that provides civil and criminal immunity to Maine National Guard members who act in self-defense while on duty.

The state Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management proposed a bill that states a guard member's use of deadly force for self-defense or to defend someone else will be considered "in the performance of that member's duty."

The bill is motivated by the killing of five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last year, the veterans department said in a statement. The rule changes would ensure soldiers and airmen who responded to a similar active-shooter incident would be shielded from liability, the department said.

"They should be held to the same standards as our law enforcement officers and not have additional penalties because they are in the military," said Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a co-sponsor of the bill. "That's just a commonsense thing."

The bill, which seeks to amend existing state military laws, would also ensure that law enforcement agencies have the ability to provide criminal records relating to the enforcement of the Maine Code of Military Justice to the Maine National Guard. It also states that military police have the same rights and immunities as law enforcement if activated for an emergency.

The proposal was the subject of a hearing before the state Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs on Monday. A future step is for the committee to vote on the proposal, after which it could head out of committee for a full vote.

The veterans departments' proposal comes six months after Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed four Marines and a Navy specialist during an attack on two military facilities in Chattanooga. He later died in a shootout with police.

The shootings opened up a debate about the arming of soldiers on American soil and whether service members should have legal immunity in the event of an attack.

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