Gun advocates brush off Portland City Council's gun ban resolution

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PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday passed a resolution calling on the state Legislature to change the law and allow municipalities to prohibit people from openly carrying firearms in public areas and buildings.

Gun rights advocates, however, scoffed at the council’s 6-1 decision after the meeting, saying they were confident the newly elected Republican Legislature and governor would block any efforts to restrict gun rights.

“There’s really no concern about this going anywhere in Augusta,” Shane Bellanger, founder of the Maine Open Carry Association, said.

The resolution was brought forward by Councilor Dan Skolnik, who leads the Public Safety Committee.

State law currently allows people to openly carry loaded firearms in public. But the resolution calls on the Legislature to allow towns and cities to enact their own gun control laws.

Supporters of the resolution included Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, who said openly carrying guns in public is an issue of public safety and local control.

“I for one don’t want amateur vigilantes taking guns into those (public) spaces,” said MCAHV President Tom Franklin.

Gun advocates, however, argued their right to carry was protected by the Constitution and that the presence of handguns actually makes the community safer, especially when crimes and shootings are in progress.

“When seconds count, police are minutes away,” said Bellanger, who was wearing a Heckler & Kock USP Compact .357 Sig handgun. 

Skolnik said it was the city’s responsibility to seek the authority to ban guns from public gathering spaces, such as the Cumberland County Civic Center and City Hall, equating it to fire safety codes.

Skolnik said the resolution was not meant to target gun owners, but protect the public.

“(Openly carrying a handgun in public) is no different than shouting fire in a crowded theater,” he said. “In the same way, carrying a gun in a public meeting creates fear.”

Lyman resident Norman Hamann, who is a member of Maine Open Carry, pushed back against that analogy.

“You can’t ban someone’s mouth from coming into a theater,” said Hamann, who wore a fully loaded Glock 19, including one bullet in the chamber, as well as two loaded spare clips. “You can’t stop a violent criminal with a silly ordinance.”

Resident Shoshana Hoose said the presence of weapons at the meeting made her uncomfortable speaking her mind.

“I feel uncomfortable and intimidated being in this room tonight to discuss a controversial issue when there’s people carrying guns,” Hoose said. “That’s exactly why I think you should pass this resolution.”

Councilor Cheryl Leeman voted against the resolution, because she believed concerned residents should contact their state legislators, rather than the local council.

“My suggestion is you take your argument to Augusta,” Leeman said.

Councilor David Marshall unsuccessfully suggested tabling the resolution indefinitely, in light of the election results that ushered in a Republican Legislature and governor, the latter of whom received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

“Do you really think they’re going to do anything with this resolution besides file it in the trash?” resident Steven Sharf asked.

But Councilor Dory Waxman said it was important for the city to take a stand, regardless of who holds power in Augusta.

“I think this is a noble and good thing to do in Portland,” Waxman said. “If it goes to Augusta and doesn’t go anywhere, it’s OK. At least we had a voice.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Lyman resident Norman Hamann with a loaded Glock 19 holstered at his side, addresses a resolution calling for a ban on handguns in public spaces before the Portland City Council Monday night, with City Manager Joe Gray (left) and Mayor Nicholas Mavodones looking on.

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