For 12 years, Anne Verrill kept her politics out of her business.
But after this weekend’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Verrill could no longer stay silent. Late Tuesday, she went where most people now go to voice their opinions – Facebook – to share her thoughts on the latest mass shooting and the role of guns in American culture.
The backlash was swift – and angry – both on Facebook and Yelp, where many people post their opinions of restaurants.
On the Facebook pages of her two restaurants, Grace in Portland and Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, Verrill wrote, in part: “If you own this gun, or you condone the ownership of this gun for private use, you may no longer enter either of my restaurants, because the only thing I want to teach my children is love.”
Verrill’s post included a picture of an assault-style weapon that appeared to be an AR-15, which is similar to the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic assault rifle that Omar Mateen used to kill 49 people early Sunday.
“You don’t privately own this weapon to protect your family, or to hunt. I understand that I may be offending members of my community, but this is a human issue, not a gun owners issue, or a Second Amendment issue, it is about humans,” she continued. “I cannot, in good conscience, accept anyone inside of my restaurants who believes that this is OK.”
Most of the diners who were interviewed Wednesday evening outside the Foreside Tavern praised Verrill for having the courage to take a stance against the use of a weapon they believe does not belong in the hands of civilians.
“It’s her prerogative to take a stand on an issue that may cost her money,” said Raquel Boehmer of Falmouth, whose son is a gun collector. “She should be admired for putting her mind and beliefs where her money is. She is going to lose money because of what she did, but I am thrilled to hear about her decision. She has earned my respect.”
Boehmer’s husband, Peter, served in the Army during the Korean War. He agreed with Verrill that civilians have no need to own an assault rifle.
“I have no taste left for anything military in my life,” he said. “She did the right thing. It will certainly increase the amount of tips I leave when I come here.”
James Kelly of Falmouth said he owns a handgun that he uses for personal protection and for target practice. He believes in the constitutional right to bear arms, but said the nation’s founding fathers had no idea that these types of sophisticated weapons would be developed.
After being told about what Verrill wrote on Facebook, Kelly said she could very well lose some business from gun owners.
“I guess she is allowed to have her opinion,” said Kelly, who has no plans to boycott the Foreside Tavern.
Judith Pollack had been talking about the Orlando nightclub massacre with her friend just moments before they arrived at the tavern for dinner.
“Someone like you or me are not the type of people who buy assault weapons. Only a person with bad intentions would buy one,” she said.
Pollack praised Verrill’s Facebook comments and said it took courage for her to take such a controversial stand. She said the government should consider a ban on assault weapons.
Several diners did not want to be identified when asked about Verrill’s Facebook message.
One man, who said he is a gun owner, said, “Putting that type of message, especially on social media, is not the answer.”
Facebook commenters responded with strong opinions of their own.
“What a stupid thing to do,” one commented. “Go ahead. Alienate half your customer base.”
“Your wish is granted,” wrote another. “We’ll never visit your establishment and we’ll make sure to spread the word to the 200 million some gun owners who you have insulted.”
Verrill said she removed other comments that took a harsher, more personal tone.
“It was everything from, ‘You’ve just made your restaurant a sitting duck,’ to more personal insults about how ignorant I am,” Verrill said in an interview Wednesday. “I expected some disagreement but I didn’t really expect it to be this personal and this mean-spirited.”
In a follow-up Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, Verrill tried to explain herself further by saying she doesn’t want to take people’s guns away, but she does have a problem with military-style weapons.
She said Tuesday’s Facebook post “was born from a simple question from my younger sister about whether my daughter was going to march” in Portland’s Pride Parade on Saturday.
“My response was no. No, because I just don’t want to run the risk of having my daughter in a group of happy and proud people celebrating equality in a public space in a city that I love because I am scared. I let the fear win.”
Later, in the same post, she wrote, “I don’t want to take away guns of responsible gun owners. I don’t care if you have 12 hunting rifles if you are a responsible hunter. I want people to not have the power to own weapons of war.
“… If you do not understand why I do not want a weapon designed to kill at that kind of rate of speed in my restaurants then there is nothing I can do about that. But I am not going to hide behind not politicizing myself for fear of my economic security. If evil and hate want to boycott my restaurants then so be it, because I believe good will be on my side on this.”
Even that post wasn’t spared.
One commenter wrote, “Your (sic) a special kind of stupid.”
Another wrote, “It’s far too late to hide your moronic post from earlier, your stupidity has since gone viral and your rating on Facebook has plummeted. You should have stuck to not being political and just served your food. You brought this on yourself by being uneducated in your opinions.”
Verrill’s emotional Facebook posts and the reaction they got are illustrative of the broader debate over guns in this country – a debate that is often reignited after the latest tragedy, in this case the mass killing of 49 clubgoers in Florida by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The debate over guns and access to guns has become increasingly political, with most Republicans citing the Second Amendment when they fight attempts to restrict gun ownership, while many Democrats favor banning some weapons and tightening background checks.
Because of the tenor of some comments, Verrill said she has notified Falmouth police to keep an eye on Foreside Tavern, a casual eatery on Route 1, and plans to contact Portland police as well if any issues arise at Grace, an upscale restaurant in an old, converted Methodist church. As of late Wednesday afternoon, there had not been any problems at either restaurant.
“I think the people who are on the other side of those are louder, a little more vocal,” she said. “But that’s part of the problem in America right now, too. Since when could people not have different opinions?”
She said she knows her words could hurt her business. By Wednesday afternoon, some negative reviews on Yelp referenced her stance on guns, with some posters vowing never to visit.
But Verrill said she couldn’t stay silent anymore.
“What does it say to my children if I stay silent?” she said. “I can’t pretend that it’s not my problem. We live in fear. I’m scared for my children to go on field trips in public places.
“At some point you have to take a stand. At some point you’re accountable. It has to be about more than just posting a Facebook meme with a rainbow flag.”
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.
Comments on this story have been disabled because of excessive personal attacks.