This story was updated at 11:07 a.m. to correct the description of some firearms protesters carried.

 

PORTLAND – From a distance, the gathering at Back Cove looked like an ordinary social gathering on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

But up close, it was clear this was no ordinary barbecue. Most of the 125 people who showed up were carrying some kind of gun.

They were there to show their support for their constitutional right to bear arms at a rally organized by University of Southern Maine freshman Shane Belanger.

The event featured some flag waving and anti-Obama posters. A Jeep with what appeared to be a mounted machine gun was on display. Mostly, people stood around, talking and eating.

“This is a pretty good turnout,” said Belanger, who left his gun at home in Caribou.

At the same time, about 30 people gathered nearby to protest the rally and advocate for gun control. They stayed for about an hour, while the gun enthusiasts lingered an hour more.

About a half-dozen Portland police officers were on hand. Lt. Don Krier said other than some confusion among participants about where to gather at the beginning, both the rally and the protest had gone off smoothly.

“Our goal is to keep the pathways open,” said Krier.

Many of those at the rally said they wanted to remind the public of its constitutional and statutory rights.

Maine has permissive gun laws compared to some other states that require licenses, waiting periods, background checks and safety instruction. In Maine, a permit is required only for concealed firearms.

Gene Glaser of Brunswick was wearing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, which he said he wears almost all the time, even when he mows the lawn. He said he sometimes does get strange looks.

“I don’t really care,” said Glaser, whose longtime partner, Marcia Ready, donned a .380-caliber semi-automatic.

Joy Aikey of Biddeford, who wore a Sig Sauer pistol clipped to her belt, said she doesn’t often wear it out in public.

“But this is an occasion,” said Aikey.

Aikey said she grew up around guns, and it feels natural to have firearms in her own home.

“I was raised in a house with guns, and my dad is a big proponent of having us able to take care of ourselves,” said Aikey.

Bruce Sterling Micucci of Portland arrived with his sons, Bruce, 14, and Colin, 7, but without any guns. Micucci said guns get a bad rap in public schools and in the media.

“I wanted my kids to see another side of an argument that most of their lives they don’t see,” said Micucci.

Colin said he was mostly excited about the news cameras all around, while his older brother said the rally was about what he expected.

“This is fine,” said Bruce.

Some of the protesters across the way said they were disappointed that police had directed them to stand away from the rally.

“They separated us and said, ‘This is not a place for dialogue,’ ” said Michael Beaudoin of Portland.

Dale and Priscilla Doucette of Portland said they wanted to stand up and be counted as gun opponents. “And to support the government’s right to control guns,” said Priscilla Doucette.

While some motorists beeped their horns as they passed the event, other passers-by didn’t stop as they walked or ran by on the popular Back Cove trail.

Jeremy Haskell was out walking his black Labrador retriever, Jeter, when he encountered the rally.

He said he is a lifelong Mainer and hunter but doesn’t have the need to flaunt a gun in public.

“I just don’t get it,” said Haskell.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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