THOMPSON ISLAND, Maine — A rally Sunday afternoon in support of openly carrying handguns in Acadia National Park drew about two dozen supporters who stood for about two hours in a downpour to make their point.
The federal law allowing weapons to be carried in national parks was overridden by state law effective at midnight Monday, and those attending the rally wanted one more chance to sport weapons on their hips and speak about their personal freedoms.
“I am here to support my brother’s right to carry a gun,” Susan Wolfe, 48, of Greenbush said. “It is just not appropriate to take away our rights here at the park.”
Her brother Terry Smith, also 48 and from Greenbush, said, “Crime doesn’t stop at the park’s gates. I want to carry a gun for self-protection. Other visitors need protection, too.”
Smith said he has a collection of about 50 guns. “Maine has a long tradition with firearms,” he said. “A ban like this is just carving away at our rights.”
The purpose of what the Maine Open Carry Association billed as a picnic — which in reality was a group of mostly men gathered around a wet campfire or standing under dripping trees with no food in sight but plenty of firearms — was to protest a law that the Maine Legislature adopted earlier this year. When Congress passed a law saying that firearms laws in national parks had to be consistent with local state law, it gave people the right to carry firearms openly in Acadia National Park, beginning in February when the federal law took effect.
State Sen. Dennis Damon, whose district includes Acadia, introduced a bill in the Legislature that would have banned weapons in Acadia and other federal lands in Maine, but the bill was amended to ban only the open carrying of firearms in Acadia. People who have Maine concealed-weapons permits will be allowed to carry their firearms into Acadia.
Several at the rally said that to allow concealed weapons and ban openly carried guns was absurd.
“How is a concealed firearm safer than an openly carried one?” asked Norman Hamann, 25, of Lyman.
The group also was quick to point out that many of the recent murders and attacks in Maine did not involve guns.
“Although I have collected guns for years, I didn’t carry one until the machete attack” at a family’s home in Pittston in 2008, Smith said. “That struck a nerve with me. The recent murders in Amity involved a knife also. Are we going to outlaw knives?”
Elizabeth Jutras, 23, recently moved to Bar Harbor and said she has found it difficult to openly carry the .357 Sig Sauer she wears on her hip.
“I walked to the beach the other day. It’s just a short walk to Compass Harbor, but that is within the park. It really makes it difficult to live spontaneously,” Jutras said.
Mike Webster, 28, of Presque Isle said he openly wears his 1911 Para-Ordnance and it is not seen as odd in his hometown.
“If we bring attention to open carry,” he said, “it won’t be looked at as out of the ordinary. We can change that social norm.”
Shane Belanger, 20, of Caribou, who organized a similar gun-rights rally in Portland in April, said there is nothing wrong with openly carrying a gun.
Standing in the rain Sunday, Belanger said there have been no problems with weapons in Acadia and that because of the ban he was losing his constitutional rights.
Hamann, however, said that since 2006 there have been nine homicides in other national parks across the country.
“At the end of the day, the question is basic: Why should our rights stop at Acadia?” Hamann said.
Hamann likened the right to openly carry a weapon to the right to choose a religion, the right of free speech and the right to an attorney.
“The Second Amendment holds as much weight as any other amendment,” he said.
Paul Mattson, a private firearms instructor with Maine Concealed Weapons Permit Training, also addressed the group, reiterating the places in Maine where open carry is not allowed, such as the State House, other state-owned properties and at post offices.
Mattson said several state legislators also are working to change the law to re-establish the open carry of firearms in Acadia.
The group had a permit for the gathering, which allowed for up to 50 participants, but no park rangers or others stopped by.
No anti-gun protesters appeared at the rally.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Belanger said. “We as Americans must stand up and make our voices heard.”