April 25, 2010

Pro-gun rally shines light on liberal laws

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

(Continued from page 1)

Dunlap said he hopes the event in Portland spurs debate over gun laws, saying it's an issue that's best discussed before any action is taken. He said open carry is a right that many gun owners are rediscovering, and today's open-carry event mirrors similar events held around the country.

Maine law deals only with the concealment and transport of firearms. The law prohibits the threatening display of a firearm but does not spell out how an unconcealed weapon should be carried.

When in a vehicle, owners without a concealed weapon permit should put their weapons out of reach – in the trunk, for example – with the ammunition kept separate from the firearm, said Maine State Police Chief Col. Patrick Fleming. Owners with concealed weapon permits are allowed to keep their firearms loaded and with them, he said.

Applicants for concealed weapon permits must answer a questionnaire about their background, show they have knowledge of handgun safety and be of good moral character. For the last category, police or town authorities can consider criminal records and domestic abuse.

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion says he thinks Maine's gun laws are more than adequate. He said law enforcement agencies are able to work well with the laws and that it makes sense for the state, rather than the municipalities, to regulate guns.

"If you have fragmented gun laws across communities, it would be confusing," he said.

Today's event has prompted a counterdemonstration by gun control activists who hope the Legislature will consider greater municipal regulation of firearms.

That would be a reversal. In 1989, the Legislature passed a law that stripped communities of local gun control authority. That happened after then-Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood tried to use a 19th-century ordinance to ban carrying weapons in public between sunset and sunrise.

A 1980 state supreme court ruling against Freeport's attempt to be more restrictive than the state on concealed weapon permits also helped form the current landscape, according to David Lourie, a former city attorney for Portland.

"I think, in general, municipalities were chastened by what happened in the 1980s and generally backed off," he said.

In 1994, Portland drew national attention in the gun debate. Police confiscated a loaded 9 mm Glock semi-automatic handgun from a Windham man who was carrying it in a holster at the Deering Oaks Family Festival. Chitwood, who characterized the display by Bruce Mayberry as threatening, kept the gun for three weeks before returning it.

Dion said he was curious about the message open-carry participants are sending.

"Right now, they have a surprise factor on their part," he said. "But when the dust settles, let's see if it moves the conversation forward."


-- Staff Writers Edward D. Murphy and Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this story.


Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be

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