AUGUSTA — Hundreds of flag-holding, sign-carrying people rallied Saturday at the plaza between the State House and the Burton M. Cross State Office Building in support of maintaining their right to bear arms and warning politicians against interfering with that.
The Second Amendment Rights Rally was peaceful but cold, and filled with cheers for those who took the microphone and said, “I support the Second Amendment” and the like.
“We’re facing a national crisis,” said rally organizer Tracilee Sullivan, telling people that rallies will have to be two and three times larger in the future. “We cannot give ground.”
No real firearms were in evidence. However, silhouettes were printed on flags, on signs and even carried atop helmets.
The rally site is a gun-free for all but police officers, as is all other state-owned and state-controlled property in Augusta.
Police were on site as were a number of black-clad volunteers with “Security” written on their shirts and hats.
The rally was organized through The National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans, which describes itself as “a coalition of various patriotic based group leadership that has come together to unify our ideals and diligently work together to uphold the Constitution as it exists, and improve the lives of Americans.”
On Saturday, rally organizer, Bruce Ashmore, noted the Augusta rally was geared to hear mostly from members of the public. “When you hear something from the people that’s from the heart, and it’s real, it’s awful powerful, isn’t it?” he asked attendees.
The intermittent open microphone sessions showed the geographic breadth of attendees from Windham to Eustis and Bangor and beyond.
Laura Parker, of Sidney, asked people to raise their hands if they lived in rural Maine — and she saw a lot of hands raised.
“I 100 percent back our law enforcement officers, but like many people, police response is sometimes 10, 20 and sometimes 30 minutes away from my home,” she said. “For me and my family, just like all of you, I am my own first responder.”
Renee Fortin, of Lewiston, told the crowd, “I learned how to use a gun when I was 5 years old. I grew up in a hunting family. I believe in our 2nd Amendment rights and I hope every single one of you when you’re against legislation that you’re writing to your legislators and calling them and not giving them any rest. Let them know how you feel and don’t be shy.”
Linda Scott, of Lewiston, said, “I am a mother, I am a grandmother, I am an active citizen in my community and I am a responsible gun owner.”
Nancy White, of Atkinson, talked of being the aunt of U.S. Army Capt. Jay Brainard of Newport, who died on Memorial Day in 2012 when his helicopter crashed near Kabul, Afghanistan. “If he were here to day, he would tell us, What are we doing? This is America. We need to hold onto our rights. We need to stick to our guns, and we need to know that we can protect ourselves.
“We need to teach our children and get the constitution back in the schools, teach the youth; it’s too long that this has not been happening. We’ve had too many liberals teaching our children and teaching them to not love their county and that America is not great.”
Some of those in the crowd spoke briefly. One woman said she supported allowing teachers and staff in schools to volunteer “to be trained to protect and support our children.” Another woman said the government had to be removed from the schools.
The rally comes amid heightened tension surrounding gun use. The nationwide rallies pushed back against a wave of student-led gun violence protests that some see as a threat to the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms and has become a flashpoint in the debate over gun control measures in the wake of deadly school shootings.
In March, gun-rights and gun-control advocates faced off inside the State House as the two groups brought countering messages to the Legislature. Advocates from the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a group that supports stricter gun laws, and Gun Owners of Maine, a gun-rights group, engaged in a brief shouting match in the Hall of Flags on March 1 prior to a rally held by the gun-control group.
The rally also featured speeches from those running for public office and whose platforms include protecting gun rights.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mary Mayhew told the crowd, “I’m running for governor because I’m going to defend all our rights, and I am certainly going to defend our right to own and bear arms.” She also said she “might have been a little controversial” as commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services, and received death threats.
“When I called and asked for protection, I was told, ‘Making a threat is not a crime.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s OK. I’ve got my gun.’”
She urged the crowd to tell legislators, “No more laws. We need to get government (out) of our way, out of our lives and protect our rights.”
Other Republican gubernatorial hopefuls also speaking were Shawn Moody and state Sen. Garrett Mason. Mark Holbrook, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for her 1st District seat, also addressed the crowd.
State Sen. Eric Brakey, who challenging independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, reminded the crowd of the battle in the State House three years ago to pass the law allowing people to carry concealed handguns without a permit.
Brakey was lead sponsor at the time, and a number of those in the crowd raised their hands and flags and signs, indicating they worked to help get that legislation passed.
“That was something we did, all of us together,” Brakey said.
Standing just outside the main crowd were Michael Comeau and Andrea Bosworth of Leeds. They brought their sons, Drako, 8, and Adrien, 7, and their dog Duke. Comeau said he wanted the boys to see political action in process.
He pointed to the older boy, and said “Hopefully he’s be able to look back on it and hopefully with every right I have today.”
“I’m hoping the people get our message,” said another attendee, Jonathan Yellowbear of West Gardiner.
Betty Adams — 621-5631