Gun control opponents rally outside the Maine State House in support of the Second Amendment.
Largely absent from the Maine political stage since his unsuccessful primary bid in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Blaine Richardson stepped to the microphone outside the State House, as the snow blew sideways, and took a moment to reflect on divine providence.
"If we could just take a moment to thank God for bringing us together here, to protect our God-given rights," Richardson said. "We're here particularly for the 2nd Amendment today. Let's find the strength to carry this message across the state of Maine."
The Maine gathering is part of a national movement to stand up to gun control legislation being crafted in Washington, and at the state level, in response to proposed gun control measures in the aftermath of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Protestors carried the yellow tea party Don't Tread On Me flags and a variety of signs.
"My sign says, 'More laws by misguided politicians make us victims.' My daughter's sign says, 'Gun-free zones make her a target,'" said Maria Solorzano, of Jefferson.
Solorzano says the rally was a clarion call to all freedom-loving Americans. "Because the Second Amendment is imperative to us staying a free nation, I think when you start taking apart any of our amendments, that's a slippery slope and when is it going to stop?" Solorzano said.
"Good morning," said Gov. LePage. "I will only say very few words." LePage made an impromptu address to the crowd, drawing cheers and applause when he promised that, as long as he is governor, gun ownership rights will not be infringed.
"The Second Amendment and our state Constitution is very, very clear ,and free people, law-abiding citizens, should have the ability to carry guns. and that's what keeps us safe and free. Thank you," LePage said.
The massacre of innocents at Newtown, Conn., Virginia Tech and Columbine are routinely injected into the gun control debate as national efforts to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines are considered by lawmakers. Republican state Rep. Debbie Sanderson, of Chelsea, says the outrage is right -- but the focus is wrong.
"Now much of this debate is fueled by isolated incidents of tragedies ansd tragic violence such as the terrible day in Connecticut with the Sandy Hook shooting, but the people responsible for these tragedies all suffered from severe mental illness," Sanderson said.
Few Mainers are more familiar with the linkage between mental illness and gun violence than former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion. Now a Democratic state representative from Portland, Dion is sponsoring gun control legislation unveiled earlier this week that would keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, limit magazine capacity, require universal background checks and promote gun safety.
Dion says Maine lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure public safety. "That responsibility will demand lawmaking that is measured, committed to an objective examination of the problem and inclusive of the wide range of perspectives that are needed to craft truly effective solutions," Dion said.
Republican state Rep. Corey Wilson of Augusta sits on the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He says he will support Dion's efforts to limit gun access by those who are mentally ill -- but that's about as far as he'll go.
"I will not vote in support of anything that is going to restrict firearms for law-abiding citizens," Wilson says. "It says in the Constitution every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned."
Wilson's views on gun control and those of many others will be a focal point at the State House in months to come.
Photo by A.J. Higgins.