AUGUSTA, Maine — Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the State House Saturday as part of a national movement called Guns Across America to support gun ownership in the wake of President Obama’s recent announcement of plans to boost gun control.
Hundreds more lined up in front of the Augusta Civic Center to attend the gun show inside, which had been scheduled about a year earlier.
Many said they were concerned about their Second Amendment right to own guns.
“I’m afraid of the present administration that we’ll lose our rights. I don’t think the Constitution will be upheld over the long run,” said Kevin Winne of Saco, who was one of the hundreds to attend the gun show. “Personally, I want to be able to defend my family and my country.”
On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled 23 steps he intends to take immediately to curb gun violence without the need for congressional approval. These include improving the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research on gun violence, putting more counselors and resource officers in schools and increasing access to mental health services.
He also called on Congress to renew a prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, require criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and pass a new federal gun trafficking law — long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.
“What better thing to do on a Saturday than to check out the guns and see what I can get while I still can get them?” said April Benner of Bowdoin. “I want to make sure I have what I need for me and my family. I’m a single mom and I live in the country. I need to make sure I can protect them.”
Benner wasn’t alone in worrying about what the future holds for gun rights.
“People are buying more guns,” said Mark McQuaid of Brunswick while outside the gun show. “People are scared that they won’t be able to get guns because of the current administration.”
Blaine Richardson of Belfast stood in front of the State House as cars drove by honking their horns in support of Guns Across America, a pro-gun rally taking place in state capitals across the country.
“I’m here standing up for my Second Amendment rights,” said Richardson. “We have the Second Amendment to protect the First Amendment. There’s nothing more special in this country than the First Amendment. One of the things that protects that is the Second Amendment.”
Martha Alward of Windsor was holding a sign that read “I support the 2nd amendment” at the rally. It’s something she hasn’t done before, she said.
“I had never been to a gun show [before today],” said Alward. “I never felt that I needed to support the Second Amendment like this. I don’t want to lose any of my rights. I’m taking proactive action.”
Several people at the rally and outside the gun show said that guns aren’t the problem, it’s people.
“It’s been pointed out that Maine has the second-highest per capita ownership of firearms in all 50 states,” said David Waterhouse of Augusta while at the rally. “And we have one of the lowest gun crime rates in all 50 states. Guns don’t create crime, armed citizens solve the problem.”
Jason Davis of Greene agreed.
“I want to defend my family if I need to. The old saying is, if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have them,” said Davis.
McQuaid said he was at the gun show in order to see what he might get for his AR-15-like rifle. Prices on the rifle have skyrocketed in the past week, he said.
“Before all this craziness, [this gun was] going for $900 to $1,000. Now I’ve seen them go online for as high as $3,000,” said McQuaid. “Some friends in North Carolina said the stocks of guns on the shelves down there are just gone.”
Not all Mainers were upset about Obama’s plans.
Tom Franklin, head of Portland-based Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, praised the president for his inclusive approach to gun control.
“Polls show the majority support improvements to gun laws nationally and in Maine,” Franklin said on Sunday. “There’s been strong support for some improvements to Maine gun laws.”
He said his organization would like to see Mainers united on the issue.
“We are very supportive of gun owners’ rights and hunters’ rights, and we believe that a lot of gun owners and a lot of hunters will support gun laws in Maine to protect all of us better,” he said. “[We] simply [want to see the] enforcement of the existing law, not to infringe anyone’s right to own a gun or sell a gun.”
Richardson said another Guns Across America rally will be held outside the State House from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 8.
Reuters contributed to this report.