April 25, 2010

Pro-gun rally shines light on liberal laws

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Gun owners plan to meet in Back Cove today with firearms in holsters.

Participants in the open-carry event will be asserting their constitutional right to bear arms in a state with some of the most permissive firearms laws in the nation.

Today's open-carry event was organized by Shane Belanger, a University of Southern Maine freshman who grew up in Caribou.

"I'd like to see a bunch of people coming out, having a good time, eating some food, swapping some stories," said Belanger.

Belanger said he's got 41 people confirmed as guests to attend the barbecue, along with another 25 or so possible attendees, and three dogs. Belanger said his father may come down from The County to participate.

"He's pretty excited – he's very pro-Second Amendment," said Belanger, adding that he personally didn't plan to bring a gun to the event.

Belanger said he thought public response to the event has been positive. Some are wondering what's going to happen, he said.

"They're going to see how it goes," he said. "It's just friends with a common interest, coming together to have a barbecue – nothing more. We're not going to be in anyone's face, we're just there to have a good time."

Carrying a firearm in Maine requires no permit unless the weapon is concealed. There are no state background checks, waiting periods, licenses or safety instruction requirements for unconcealed firearms. Municipalities are prohibited from adopting more restrictive rules.

"We are on the extreme end, but there are a bunch (of other states) with us," said Cathie Whittenburg, director of the Westbrook-based New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives Maine laws a score of 11 of a possible 100. The organization takes into account several dozen criteria, ranging from gun-dealer regulations to bans on assault weapons to limits on bulk purchases. way of comparison, the highest state score of 80 went to California and the low of zero went to Utah.

"There are, certainly in rural areas, legitimate reasons people have guns," said Molly Warren, a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign. "Urban, they have more crime implications. Mayors of cities are some of our strongest advocates because they see more problems."

Maine is among the majority of states that allow firearms to be carried openly. Thirty-five states allow it, three prohibit it and 12 require permits, Warren said.

Maine has no statute that spells out the right to openly carry a firearm – there is merely no prohibition.

Matt Dunlap, Maine secretary of state and a board member of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said he remembers a time when it wasn't unusual for a hunter to carry a rifle in downtown Bangor when shopping for a new sight.

"It's almost unthinkable that in this day and age you would do that," he said. "People are very alarmed by an open display of firearms."

Dunlap said that shouldn't be the case, and he supports today's open-carry event, though he doesn't plan to take part.

Although Maine's fairly liberal gun laws may seem settled, "it's always under scrutiny," he said, making it important for gun owners to assert their rights – particularly in the state's largest city.

That Portlanders might get upset over a group of gun owners openly carrying firearms, he said, "is a vagary of urbanism that we find amusing in rural Maine."

"It's less an issue here than it is in other states," Dunlap noted, pointing out Massachusetts as an example of a state with strong gun control laws. Gun control advocates contend that Massachusetts residents can circumvent tough gun laws at home by buying firearms in Maine and other states where the regulations are more lenient.

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