An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted organizer Shane Belanger as saying “people who openly carry weapons are less dangerous than those who conceal weapons.” Belanger did not say that. The online version has been edited to reflect this correction.
David Nelson drove his 1951 Willys M38 Jeep into Portland for the first time ever on Sunday.
Nelson, a retiree from Gorham who collects and sells WWII memorabilia, said he rarely takes the Korean War era relic outside of Gorham, where police don’t think twice about the 30 caliber Browning machine gun poking out of the top of the jeep.
“I just always wanted to drive my jeep with a machine gun in Portland,” he said.
Nelson was among 75 gun owners and gun rights advocates who attended a barbecue at Back Cove Park in Portland on Sunday to celebrate the right for Mainers to openly carry firearms. Many at the barbecue wore holstered handguns.
“Some people like to come home and drink a whiskey. I like to come home and blast my gun,” said Nelson.
The barbecue was organized by Shane Belanger, a freshman pre-med biology major, who said he had no political motive other than to simply throw a barbecue for like-minded people.
“We’re your neighbors, your sons, your daughters. You shouldn’t be scared of us,” he said. “We’re just here to have a barbecue.”
The event drew dozens of onlookers and a group of 30 protesters organized by Dan Skolnik, a city councilor for District 3 in Portland.
Maine state law allows the open carrying of a loaded firearm, but guns cannot be loaded when in a car.
Police sectioned off areas for each group. The open carry advocates set up a grill and a ladder croquet game on the field next to the parking lot. Those protesting the rally were on the grass along the trail, about 50 yards away.
At one point, Raymond Rawlings of Portland, who was among those protesting the gun carriers, and Dick Roberge of Scarborough, an open carry advocate, stood face to face, yelling at each other, until a police officer escorted Roberge back behind the barricade set up for the open-carry crowd.
“I just think marching with guns on your hip with a holster – whether it’s meant to be intimidating, it intimidates people,” said John Ersek of Gorham, who was among those protesting the gun advocates.
Lt. Don Krier of the Portland Police said Belanger had an event permit for the barbecue. Half a dozen officers were on hand.
Skolnik called Maine’s current law “unreasonable,” and said laws should exist in urban areas that restrict the open carrying of a loaded gun. “In today’s world, nothing good can come of walking down a crowded street with a loaded weapon,” he said.
Skolnik said he had anticipated some confrontation between the two groups. He had initially envisioned setting up the protest across the street, but police set up an area for them along the water.
Belanger, who left his gun at home in Caribou, said he organized the event to make opponents of the law realize those who openly carry guns aren’t necessarily dangerous.
“People shouldn’t be the afraid of anyone carrying,” he said.