PORTLAND – The City Council endorsed a resolution Monday night calling on the Legislature to prohibit firearms in publicly owned facilities where large gatherings are held.

The 6-1 vote came after a long public hearing in which gun advocates — several wearing handguns in hip holsters — and people who supported the resolution spoke.

Cheryl Leeman was the only councilor to vote against the resolution, arguing that the issue of prohibiting firearms in public places is not within the purview of the City Council.

“I think this is a noble and a good thing to do,” said Councilor Dory Richards Waxman. “It’s not about taking away your rights. If this goes to Augusta and it just goes away, then that’s OK. At least we had our voice.”

The resolution was brought forward by Councilor Dan Skolnik, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. The committee held two hearings, at which gun advocates and those who oppose weapons in public places were given opportunities to express their opinions.

Skolnik argued that the resolution, which would be introduced to the Legislature by the city’s legislative delegation, is an issue of public safety.

The resolution asks the Legislature to enact a law prohibiting firearms in any publicly owned facility where mass gatherings are held, or to pass legislation allowing municipalities to impose their own restrictions.

Under current law, guns are prohibited in courthouses and jails, on school grounds and in the state Capitol area of Augusta.

Skolnik said during Monday’s hearing that no gun owner has a good reason for carrying a loaded weapon into an event at the Merrill Auditorium, the Portland Expo or the Cumberland County Civic Center.

He said people who display weapons in public places create fear and anxiety.

“People who don’t know who you are don’t know if you are a constitutionalist or a killer,” he said.

Gun owners disagreed. They argued that an armed public makes for a safer community because armed citizens can prevent criminals from harming anyone.

“Simply carrying a firearm is not dangerous,” said Norman Hamann, a gun owner from Lyman. “You can’t stop a criminal with a silly ordinance like this.”

Addressing the councilors, Tom Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, said, “I’d ask you to ask them why are they carrying guns at this hearing. It’s not necessary.”

He said it’s inappropriate for someone to carry a gun into a public performance center such as Merrill Auditorium. “I don’t want an amateur vigilante carrying weapons into those places,” he said.

Shane Belanger, who founded the Maine Open Carry Association, wore a weapon at Monday’s hearing. “More gun laws do not save lives because they do not deter the criminals,” he said.

Steven Scharf, a Portland resident, asked the council to table the resolution indefinitely. “It’s a Republican-controlled Legislature with a Republican governor, who won’t do anything but put this in the trash,” he said.

But Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. rebutted such thinking, saying the City Council has the right to express its opinion regardless of which political party is in power.

“I don’t mind people knowing where I stand,” he said. “Guns are an issue that have their own constituencies. I’m not sure it can be broken down by party lines.”

 

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

[email protected]