Carlos Reed says he was exercising his Second Amendment rights. But he’s accused of the “threatening display of a weapon” for walking around Portland carrying an assault rifle, allegedly in a position in which it can be rapidly aimed.

Whatever Reed intended to do, this is an example of irresponsible gun ownership that places law enforcement officials in a difficult situation. Reed says he’s dismayed that police have warned the public about him, and he believes the incident has been blown out of proportion. Given the circumstances, though, police acted responsibly, and they deserve credit for their restraint.

Reed hasn’t disputed that he was out at night with an assault rifle in plain sight – and he has no reason to, because it’s legal in Maine to carry a gun openly without a permit or license.

The Iraq war veteran and college law enforcement student also has said that he was carrying his rifle pointed at the ground because he’d been taught that that was safe. But police and prosecutors allege that the “low ready” position of Reed’s rifle would allow him to “pop that weapon up and target it very rapidly,” as Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has put it.

It’s all in the context. If Reed had been walking in the woods during deer season carrying a hunting rifle, he would have been an expected sight in that setting. Considering that he was walking along a city street at 1 a.m. carrying an assault rifle, it’s not surprising that someone was concerned enough to call 911 or that city police stopped him and ordered him to put down his rifle.

And police confiscated Reed’s rifle and a handgun strapped to his ankle not because he was practicing open carry, but because of public complaints and because the position of the assault rifle appeared to be a violation of the law.

When police get a report that someone with a gun is in a public place, they must respond in a way that takes into account both that person’s liberty and law enforcement’s responsibility to ensure public safety. In this case, from what we know so far, local police have fulfilled that obligation – thus carrying out a very delicate balancing act.

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