Activists in Wiscasset rally against proposed concealed carry permit changes

About 150 people turned out for a gun rights rally on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Wiscasset. The rally was organized by the Maine Gun Rights Coalition.
About 150 people turned out for a gun rights rally on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Wiscasset. The rally was organized by the Maine Gun Rights Coalition. Buy Photo
Posted March 09, 2013, at 3:14 p.m.
Last modified March 10, 2013, at 6:17 p.m.

WISCASSET, Maine — About 150 gun rights activists from all corners of Maine gathered in Wiscasset on Saturday to protest bills proposed in the Legislature on concealed carry permits.

Organized by the recently formed Maine Gun Rights Coalition, the rally targeted Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, who has proposed several adjustments to Maine’s concealed weapons permits laws.

Jessica Beckwith of Lewiston, who founded the coalition, said her goal is to make sure that when lawmakers propose changes to gun laws — whether they constitute gun control or not — they’ll hear from their constituents.

“Our representatives’ job is to represent the people,” said Beckwith. “They need to know how we feel. By putting forward anti-gun legislation, we don’t support that. Why should it be allowed to pass? We need to make our politicians accountable for their actions. For far too long, our rights have been trampled on and we need to draw the line in the sand right here, right now.”

Marks, a retired state trooper who is in his first term as a legislator, did not attend the rally and could not be reached Saturday by the Bangor Daily News. Marks has proposed seven bills that he said would create a centralized database of concealed carry permit holders for use by law enforcement agencies. He also proposes making the Maine State Police the only agency that can issue permits, which would be a change from the current town-by-town, police department-by-department system. Marks also proposes criminalizing the possession of an expired permit, raising the minimum age to hold a permit from 18 to 21, and inserting questions about a person’s mental health history into application materials.

But Marks has said he is not generally in favor of gun control.

“I support the Second Amendment and I always have,” Marks told the Bangor Daily News last month. “I support gun owners’ rights and my votes will reflect that.”

But for many in the crowd in Wiscasset on Saturday, the requirement of a permit to carry a concealed weapon strikes at the core of gun control. Most of them believe it violates the Maine and U.S. constitutions.

“About half of the people here are gun rights people and people who cherish their firearms,” Paul Trommer of Bangor said. “The other half are people like me who worry about the Constitution being torn up. that’s why I’m here.”

One bill under consideration in Augusta, sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, was a favorite among the rally’s crowd. Wilson’s bill, “An Act to Ensure the Confidentiality of Concealed Weapon Permit Holder Information,” is scheduled for a public hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Last month, in response to a freedom of information request from the Bangor Daily News, the Legislature hastily enacted a temporary ban on the release of concealed carry permit data until Wilson’s bill could be heard.

Gary Harvey of nearby Woolwich brought his semi-automatic AR-15 rifle with him to the rally. He was one of several participants carrying weapons. The AR-15 is one of the weapons that some, including some members of Congress, would like to ban, though Harvey insists that mechanically, it is no more capable than a hunting rifle.

“If you go to a car rally, you bring your car,” he said. “If you go to a gun rights rally, you bring your gun.”

Harvey said he has been a firearms collector since childhood and more recently has become a competitive shooter, but those weren’t his chief reasons for attending Saturday’s rally.

“If you don’t exercise your rights like your muscles, they’ll get weak after a while and when you go to use them, they’re either going to be gone or they’re not going to be much use,” he said. “You don’t want to let people just ebb away at stuff. If you don’t take a stand at some particular time you’re going to end up not knowing what you’re going to stand for and how you’re going to teach the next generation coming up behind you.”

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