A crowd gathers Thursday for a gun control rally in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

AUGUSTA — Gun rights and gun control advocates clashed Thursday at 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 ahead of a rally planned by the gun-control group.

About 200 gun control advocates carried signs that read, among other things, “Pencils, not pistols” and “We call B.S.” while about 75 pro-gun protesters wearing National Rifle Association hats and blaze orange shirts that read, “Guns save lives.”

Among the speakers was Pearl Benjamin, a student from Camden Hills Regional High School, who said she and her peers were tired of being ignored by lawmakers as they demanded action and stricter gun laws.

“It’s time for universal background checks,” Benjamin said. “It’s time to ban high-capacity clips. It’s time to raise the minimum age for gun sales to 21. It’s time to ban assault weapons. It’s time to dismantle the manipulative NRA.”

Benjamin noted that students may not yet be able to vote but when they can they won’t forget.

“Take action while you still can,” she warned, “because if you don’t fit into this new world we are creating, believe me, we will vote you out.”

The gun control measures Benjamin and other advocates are hoping for have never found any traction in a Legislature that is near evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Omar Andrews, a University of Southern Maine student, a combat Marine Corps veteran and the leader in a student veterans group, said military-styled firearms like those he wielded in Afghanistan have no place in a safe American society. “If you are 18 and you want to fire some weapons, I’ve got some people in dress blues who would love to talk to you,” Andrews said, referencing Marine Corps recruiters.

Todd Tolhurst, president of Gun Owners of Maine, said Maine does not have a firearms safety problem, and he noted that the state was recently ranked the safest in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

“Maine is the safest state in the country,” Tolhurst said. “We don’t have a crime problem and we certainly don’t have a gun problem.” Tolhurst said the gun controls being pushed for have only produced “bad effects in other states.”

“What they have really accomplished is to disarm the innocent victims and put the predators at an advantage,” Tolhurst said. “We don’t want that here in Maine. We believe we can make people safer simply by allowing them to defend themselves. Allow people not to be a flock but to be a pack. Let the predator attack a pack and see what happens. When they attack a flock a lot of sheep get hurt.”

This story will be updated.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.