‘Open carry’ event planned in Acadia, rain or shine

7/9/10 | 1 comment
By Bill Trotter
BDN Staff

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Before the short-lived legal right disappears, Shane Belanger wants to exercise his ability to openly carry a firearm in the only national park in Maine.

Even if it rains on Sunday, Belanger said, his group plans to go ahead with a picnic planned at 1 p.m. on Thompson Island, where Route 3 crosses onto Mount Desert Island. A ban in Acadia on openly-carried firearms goes into effect on Monday, so the event has to held Sunday or never, he said Friday.

“We kind of have to have it,” Belanger said. “It’s only 50 percent chance of rain. It’s not that bad.”

The purpose of the picnic, at which people are invited to carry firearms in plain sight, is to protest a law that the Maine Legislature adopted earlier this year. When Congress passed a law saying that firearms laws in national parks had to be consistent with local state law, it gave people the right to openly carry firearms in Acadia National Park, beginning in February when the federal law went into effect.

State Sen. Dennis Damon, whose district includes Acadia, introduced a bill in the Maine Legislature that would have banned weapons in Acadia and other federal lands in Maine, but the bill was amended to ban only the open carry of firearms in Acadia. People who have Maine concealed-weapons permits will be allowed to carry their firearms into Acadia.

“We lost this right for absolutely no reason,” Belanger said Friday, referring to the open carry prohibition. “There were no problems [in Acadia while the open carry of firearms was allowed]. There were no reasons to ban it.”

Belanger, a Caribou resident who organized a similar gun-rights rally in Portland in April, said that the main issue about openly carrying firearms in Acadia is exercising his constitutional rights. He said he doesn’t think he is likely to be attacked in either Portland or Acadia, but he has the right to be prepared in case he is.

“Why can I not defend myself in Acadia?” Belanger asked. “Is it my right? Yes.”

Sunday’s picnic will be the first-ever event held by the Maine Open Carry Association, which was founded by Belanger in late April, after the Portland gun-rights rally. He said he was not sure how many people might attend the event in Acadia and declined to estimate how many members his organization has, saying he was not at home and did not have access to his home computer.

Belanger said he plans to address the gathering and that state Rep. David Cotta of China and Paul Mattson, a private firearms instructor with Maine Concealed Weapons Permit Training, also plan to speak. He said that, ultimately, the group’s goal is to change the law to re-establish the open carry of firearms in Acadia.

Stuart West, head ranger for Acadia, said Friday that the group has a permit from the park to hold a gathering for up to 50 people. He said rangers likely will stop by to see how things are going, as they do with all permitted gatherings in the park, but that he doesn’t anticipate any problems.

“We’re not concerned about it at all,” West said of the picnic.

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