The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife canceled a class about how to clean and maintain an AR rifle after getting complaints that it was inappropriate in light of the Lewiston mass shooting.

A spokesperson for the agency said the class was canceled less than 24 hours after it had been announced last Thursday. The agency received a flurry of complaints after promoting the class online.

“After reflecting upon these concerns, the Department ultimately agreed that a class focused exclusively on AR-15s was insensitive in the wake of the violence our state has recently experienced,” Director of Communications Mark Latti said. “Therefore, we decided to cancel it Friday morning.”

The shooter who killed 18 people and wounded 13 others in Lewiston in October used an AR-10 rifle, a semiautomatic weapon that can be quickly reloaded with large capacity magazines. The military-style rifles have become the weapon of choice in many mass shootings and a bill in Congress would ban their sale.

They also are used for target shooting and can be used by hunters as long as the magazine capacity is limited.

The class, to be led by a trained IF&W staff member, was one of several firearm classes being offered in the coming weeks at the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, a powerful lobbying group for gun owners and hunters that has mounted a public defense of AR firearms, as state and federal lawmakers consider banning assault-style weapons.


Latti said state law requires the department to offer firearm safety courses either on its own or in partnership with a private organization.

This description of the class was removed from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department’s website and the class was canceled after a flurry of complaints. Press Herald screenshot

Last week’s newsletter advertised a Feb. 15 workshop on how to clean and maintain an AR. The newsletter said the class would teach skills that will “help prevent jamming or malfunctions.” The department said there would be an AR firearm available for people who don’t already own one.

“If you have your own AR Firearm, please bring it along with the owner’s manual, an empty magazine, and your cleaning kit. If you haven’t purchased one, there will be an AR on site for practice,” the class description said.

Latti said ARs are becoming increasingly popular among hunters and can be used with clips that hold only five bullets – the maximum allowed under state law for hunters. The class has been offered for at least three years, he said.

The newsletter was sent to nearly 411,000 people and generated about a dozen complaints. All of those classes, including one focusing on handguns, were canceled, Latti said.

The cancellation reflects the changed political landscape of the gun control debate in Maine, a state with a long tradition of gun ownership and hunting.


Since the Lewiston shooting, lawmakers are reevaluating their positions on a variety of gun safety measures, including banning assault-style weapons, adopting universal background checks and strengthening laws that allow police to confiscate weapons if someone is deemed dangerous.

The opening day of the Legislative session drew hundreds of people to the State House calling for more gun safety legislation. And Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have submitted possible bills for lawmakers to consider, though the details have not yet been released.

David Farmer, a spokesperson for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which includes dozens of groups, said he was unaware of the class, though some of the group’s members had heard about it.

Farmer said banning military-style weapons is a top priority, but until that happens, the state should continue to teach people how to handle the weapons safely.

“We don’t believe that individuals should have access to weapons of war,” he said. “But while they are legal, we support educating owners to operate them safely and responsibly. We know that guns are most dangerous for their owners and people in their households. It would be smarter, however, to require the training before someone purchases an assault-style weapon, not after the fact. As long as these weapons are legal, we support efforts to reduce harm and keep people safe.”

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said nobody contacted her with concerns about the class.

“It is not surprising that the Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife would offer firearm safety courses,” Rotundo said. “However, I can certainly understand why some would find it insensitive.”

David Trahan, executive director of the sportsmen’s alliance, did not respond to an interview request or emailed questions on Wednesday.

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