Parks gun ban is cut from bill

Posted April 02, 2010, at 12:38 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci is expected to sign an amended bill next week that regulates guns in Acadia National Park, relaxing restrictions that a sponsor of the original measure had hoped to preserve.

Sen. Dennis Damon’s original bill would have outlawed all firearms in national park sites in Maine, essentially continuing a policy that had been in effect. Exceptions were allowed in the bill for guns carried by law enforcement officers and those that are packed so they can’t be immediately used.

The bill sponsored by Damon, a Democrat whose district covers the state’s only national park, came up as a federal law took effect in February allowing owners to take firearms into national parks — provided state law doesn’t say otherwise.

But as it emerged from the Maine House and Senate, the amended version allowed those with concealed weapons permits to bring guns into the oceanside park.

Also, it lacked a provision in Damon’s bill that would have outlawed guns on the Appalachian Trail and St. Croix Island International Historic Site in eastern Maine.

Damon said Friday the bill doesn’t accomplish what he intended.

“I still don’t see any reason why there has to be concealed weapons going through the park,” said Damon, who also dismissed arguments that park visitors need guns to protect themselves.

“It seems to me to make it a more dangerous place, a less pleasant experience, rather than a less dangerous place and a more pleasant experience, and I think that’s the wrong direction,” said the senator, noting that he is a gun owner.

Baldacci is expected to sign the bill next week, said spokesman David Farmer.

Gun control advocates were also disappointed.

“This is a radical expansion of guns into national parks in Maine,” said Cathie Whittemore of the National Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. “The only thing this did was address the narrow issue of open carry in Acadia.”

Whittemore also expressed disappointment that the two other areas that Damon’s original bill covered were dropped from the bill.

A call and e-mail message left with the National Rifle Association was not immediately returned Friday, but the gun-rights group pushed for the federal policy to allow guns in parks. The NRA has cited a self-defense argument, saying crime does not stop at park gates.

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