SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A small group of demonstrators weathered morning rains and a largely negative reaction outside Maine’s only Cabela’s store Friday morning, where they protested the hunting gear retailer’s decision thus far to continue selling firearms like those used in the recent elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
A group of about five people gathered at the corner of Payne Road and Haigis Parkway holding up signs urging the chain to discontinue sales of assault weapons — such as the Bushmaster AR-15 used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza to gun down 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School one week ago.
The demonstration coincided with a nationwide moment of silence in memory of the victims, which included 20 children, and started about an hour before the National Rifle Association, arguably the country’s most politically influential gun rights group, held its first news conference since the incident.
“There was a lot of reaction from vehicles spilling off the turnpike and heading into Cabela’s,” one of the demonstrators, Cindy Castleman of Westbrook, told the BDN. “We were saying that we were in the digital universe, because we got a lot of digits — middle fingers. But we also got a lot of honks and support.”
Castleman said organizers of the protest hoped for a greater turnout, but that a morning rainstorm cut down participation. She said the negative reactions, including people yelling obscenities, outnumbered the positive ones.
“There were a lot of really irate people,” she said.
Other gun retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, have taken controversial assault rifles off their shelves or websites in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting, and gun control advocates have ramped up efforts to reinstate an assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire without renewal in 2004.
“Dick’s and Walmart are taking them down and rethinking what they’re doing, but Cabela’s didn’t do that,” said Tina Swift, wife of demonstrator and protest organizer Steve Swift. “They’re trying to make people aware that maybe they need to shop somewhere they’re not selling this type of gun.”
Representatives of the Scarborough Cabela’s store referred calls on the subject to corporate spokesman Joe Arterburn. Arterburn did not immediately return a call from the BDN seeking comment.
The Scarborough demonstration represented a local outpost of an increasingly heated national debate over access to firearms.
In Washington, D.C., Friday morning, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre faced the media for the first time since the tragedy, which has galvanized supporters and opponents of stricter gun control laws alike.
LaPierre added his voice to the latter group, echoing sentiments expressed previously by Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt, among others, that the proliferation of more guns among law-abiding citizens is necessary to deter armed criminals.
According to Reuters, LaPierre called for armed guards at every school in the nation, like at banks and airports.
The NRA’s news conference came two days after President Barack Obama assembled a task force and gave it an aggressive timetable to develop “concrete proposals” to curtail gun violence in America.