PORTLAND – The man who walked through Portland on Monday with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder says he wasn’t trying to make a statement by doing it.

Justin Dean, whose name wasn’t reported Monday because police didn’t know it, came forward Wednesday night, telling the Portland Press Herald that he wanted to clarify his position and correct police, who characterized him “as an open-carry activist who was exercising his Second Amendment rights to openly carry a firearm.”

Dean said his AR-15 rifle was loaded when he walked from the West End to Parkside to the busy Back Cove Trail. Police said 65 people called the department to report concerns about a man carrying a gun along city streets.

Dean was stopped and questioned by police, but it is legal in Maine to carry a gun in public, so he was not charged with any crime. Police did not know who Dean was because he had no obligation to identify himself.

“At no point did I describe myself as an activist, and I certainly do not consider myself one,” said Dean, a 24-year-old college student who lives in Portland’s West End. “I am not a member of the (National Rifle Association), nor am I a Republican.”

Dean has been criticized by gun-rights advocates since his public display of the rifle.

On Wednesday, Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, issued a news release saying “virtually all responsible gun owners with whom I’ve spoken since the incident are disturbed by it and wish it hadn’t happened.”

He said, “While I fundamentally support the right to openly carry firearms, that right is accompanied with the responsibility to employ sensible behavior during the exercise of the open-carry right. Alarming people unnecessarily is not the intended purpose of open carry.”

Weinstein said that publicly displaying an AR-15 rifle is not conducive to building trust between gun owners and people who don’t own guns.

Shane Belanger, president of the Open Carry Association, said Monday that his group does not advocate for carrying rifles openly. He said handguns are preferred because they are more effective for defending oneself or another person.

Police said Dean’s rifle is the same type of weapon that Adam Lanza carried into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 10 days earlier, when he killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults. Lanza also killed his mother before turning the weapon on himself.

Dean said in an email to the Press Herald on Tuesday that he had planned to carry his firearm in public “long before an evil human being selfishly took 26 innocent lives. I did not open carry because of that heinous act.”

Police described Dean’s gun as an AR-15 assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine. Dean said Wednesday that his firearm is not an assault rifle because it cannot carry more than 30 rounds.

Dean, who said he left the Army in July after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he had planned to open-carry his rifle for a while but didn’t do it until he bought a sling for it. He said it wouldn’t have made sense to be seen carrying a rifle in his hands around Portland.

During his walk on Dec. 24, Dean said, he mailed letters at the post office on Forest Avenue — in the dropoff boxes outside the building — before going to Back Cove.

“I wanted to go for walk because I haven’t exercised in ages,” Dean said.

In response to the gun-rights advocates who criticized him, Dean said, “Instead of demonizing me and attacking me, they should be coming up with solutions.”

He didn’t elaborate about any solutions.

Dean, who described himself as a law-abiding, peaceful person, said he plans to carry his gun openly again. He did not want to be photographed by the Press Herald, saying, “I don’t want to become the face of a movement. I’m not an activist at all.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com