Politics

February 19, 2013

Gun advocate not afraid to speak out

But Jeffrey Weinstein is less outspoken about membership in his Maine Gun Owners Association.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Jeffrey Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, talks with reporters after a news conference at Portland City Hall last month.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

It is a fear many share, as Mainers flock to gun stores in record numbers to buy weapons and ammunition.

Requests for permits to carry a concealed weapon in Maine have skyrocketed in recent years, with 2013 expected to exceed past rates. In each of the two months since the shootings at Sandy Hook, applications for background checks in the state have been at their highest since the federal government started the program in 1998.

Weinstein said he is open to some gun law reforms, such as expanded background checks, and said he would be a willing partner in discussions with law enforcement and legislators as the gun conversation unfolds in Maine.

"Clearly he is more reasonable and more moderate than some gun owners," said William Harwood, founder of the Maine Coalition Against Handgun Violence, who has debated Weinstein on radio shows and before legislative committees. "But still, there are other gun owners who are more willing to pursue more comprehensive gun regulation than Jeff."

CALLING FOR ARMED TEACHERS

Weinstein has stood fast against defining semiautomatic assault-style firearms differently than hunting rifles, saying they operate in mechanically identical ways; he has also resisted limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.

His most controversial pitch, however, came a week after the Newtown shootings. In a statement that blasted national media outlets for their coverage, and called for improvements to a deteriorating mental health safety net, Weinstein, who served for four years on the Yarmouth School Committee, suggested school districts encourage trained and certified teachers to carry concealed weapons into classrooms.

"If one of the 'good guys' had had a firearm immediately available during the Newtown shooting, things would have likely turned out significantly different," Weinstein wrote. "Places designated 'gun-free' zones are recognized as defenseless; you might as well post a sign out front saying, 'Attack me.' "

The proposal was panned by police officials and some educators in Maine, but was echoed in a nationally televised statement a day later by the nations's top gun lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, who called for armed guards to be posted in schools nationwide. Now, a bill is under consideration in Augusta along the same lines.

GROUP'S MEMBERSHIP HAZY

Unlike the NRA or the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, a statewide advocate for gun rights, membership in Weinstein's group is difficult to discern.

The NRA boasts a membership of 4 million "moms and dads, daughters and sons."

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said his group reached 10,000 members after the shootings at Sandy Hook.

Weinstein, on the other hand, has refused in past interviews to disclose the number of members who pay $10 annual dues or $300 for lifetime memberships.

The issue of membership was raised in 2010 when Weinstein briefly ran for the Maine Legislature to represent the 107th District in Yarmouth, said Melissa Walsh Innes, who handily defeated Weinstein for the seat.

"The question we always had was, was this (group) one person, or was this a pulpit to speak for 500 people?" Walsh Innes said. "It's easy to say you're part of an association."

At the time, Walsh Innes said, Weinstein was the chairman of the Yarmouth Republican Party and entered the race at the last moment. "He may have been doing it as a favor to the party," she said.

Before Weinstein's written statement about Newtown was published Dec. 20, the Maine Gun Owner's Association website appeared inactive since about 2006. Other than Weinstein, only two men are listed on incorporation papers filed in 2003: Fogg, 80, and Harold Fairfield of Yarmouth, who is listed as the treasurer. Fairfield could not be reached for comment, and a message left at a phone number listed for him was not returned.

Fogg said members of the group communicate largely by email when necessary.

To Fogg, the Second Amendment is evidence that the framers of the Constitution shared his fear of an escalating role of government to control the private lives of its citizens.

"It was all about the tyrannical use of government to put down the people," Fogg said.

"That is probably the biggest reason that people have been buying assault weapons like they're ice cream cones."

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at: 791-6303 or at

mbyrne@mainetoday.com

 

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