SOUTH PORTLAND — It may soon be illegal to possess non-lethal weapons, such as BB guns, air guns, bows and arrows or slingshots, in public places in South Portland.

After listening to several speakers who said such a law would violate their rights, the City Council voted 6-1 Monday night to amend the city’s weapons ordinance to ban non-lethal weapons.

The change does not restrict possession of firearms in public places.

To take effect, the measure still must be ratified in a second reading, on Oct. 4.

Thomas Blake was the only councilor who objected to the ordinance change, saying it would go too far.

“Are we really going to go there and regulate this?” said Blake, who made a slingshot out of a rubber band while sitting in his council seat. “People aren’t asking for this regulation. We can deal with this problem in other ways.”

But the remaining councilors, led by Linda Boudreau, said the ordinance change is needed to prevent potentially deadly confrontations between police and people with air guns and BB guns, which look authentic.

Boudreau said she is concerned that an officer responding to a complaint of a person with a gun could end up shooting someone who has a toy gun. In 2009, South Portland police responded to 33 complaints involving guns that shoot metal or plastic pellets.

“It gives me goose bumps thinking about that,” Boudreau said of the potential for an innocent person to be shot.

Police Chief Edward Googins said the proposed ordinance change came out of a review earlier this year of the city’s weapons ordinance, which officials said needed to be updated.

Googins said Portland and Bangor have adopted similar ordinances regulating non-lethal weapons.

Councilors rejected a more restrictive option, to ban possession of non-lethal weapons citywide.

The option they supported would allow a resident, for example, to use a bow and arrow in their backyard. Violations of the law would be civil violations, punishable by fines, and would not be considered crimes.

The proposal still angered many gun owners, at least one of whom wore his sidearm to Monday’s meeting.

“I look at this as a gateway drug to enhance police power,” said James E. Hoy, a resident who owns a slingshot, a nail gun and a hunting rifle. “All this law does is provide the police with an opening to come into my life.”

“Punish the criminals, not us. You are pushing the limits of our civil liberties,” said Gary Crosby. “If a 10-year-old boy wants to go over to a neighbor’s house with a slingshot, he can be arrested. I think this law is way out of line.”

“If you want to make the city safe, using a little common sense would go a long way,” said James Roy, a bow hunter.

Mayor Thomas Coward, who supported the ordinance change, indicated that he might consider an amendment at the council’s next meeting to drop slingshots and bows and arrows from the regulation.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]