WATERVILLE — A day after President Barack Obama presented his proposals for toughening gun laws, communities around the nation are meeting to talk about stricter controls, while some gun owners are saying the conversation is shortsighted.

Waterville is one of 219 communities to host a discussion of gun control through the social action website MoveOn.org, while others say people are looking down on guns for the wrong reasons.

“Right now people look down on guns, and I think it’s unfortunate, because guns don’t have to be dangerous. We need to change now, but the focus needs to be on dealing with mental illness,” said Andy Williams, the owner of Williams Machine Gun Range in North Anson.

Williams said he is pro-gun but that he thinks there should be stricter regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and people who might use them to commit crimes.

It’s a conversation that has been percolating since last month’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and that some communities are starting to address locally.

In Waterville, Marnie Terhune has organized a community meeting through MoveOn.org that she hopes will inspire people who support the president’s initiatives to get together. Her best friend, Sarah Roman, is a lifelong resident of Newtown; and Terhune grew up in a neighboring Connecticut town.

“I feel frustrated, scared and sickened by gun violence,” said Terhune, a part-time teacher and mother of two.

She said the goal of the meeting is to talk about gun control and take action, whether it be writing a petition, sending letters or forming a committee of people who want to change gun control laws.

“I teach kids about the age of the kids at the Sandy Hook school and when that happened, I remember looking at their faces and just thinking ‘Oh my God.’ This is it. We’ve got to figure out a way to control what’s going on in our country,” she said.

Chuck Cabannis, of Vassalboro, said the way to do that is by making sure that people who have guns use them safely. Cabannis, who owns Fox Firearms, a gun shop and shooting range, said it would be a bad idea to get rid of the right to carry a concealed weapon.

A former police officer of 14 years who worked in Bar Harbor and Winslow, he said people are afraid of guns because they see violence on television.

“What they don’t see is the number of times a gun saved someone from a rape or a home invasion. Those statistics don’t exist, they aren’t reported,” he said.

He said that if people locked their guns or kept them in safes there would be less of a problem with gun violence. Teaching gun safety can also make a difference, he said.

Meanwhile, Williams said he is hearing a lot of feedback from people both in support of and against stricter gun control.

“Right now a lot of people are looking down on guns because of what happened last month, and I think its unfortunate. But when 9/11 happened, people were coming to me asking for guns,” Williams said.

He said gun control policy needs changes. For instance, when people go to buy guns, the form they fill out should include a question about whether anyone in their household has been diagnosed with mental illness, he said.

Terhune said she is not opposed to people having guns but agreed that regulations need to change.

“I’m not an absolutist. I don’t like guns, but my father was a hunter and I respect the right of people to have them,” she said.

Even if people are responsible, she said, more communities need to have conversations about gun control.

“It would be great to identify church groups and others working on this issue. When a shooting happens, we can’t just wring our hands and wonder what to do. We need to get together and get the momentum going,” she said.

William Harwood, of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, said he is pleased with the president’s proposal.

“The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary really changed the landscape of this discussion,” he said. “The big question is whether there is enough public support, but I think people are starting to feel like ‘enough is enough.'”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and a former Republican state lawmaker, said none of the Obama proposals surprised him.

He said the alliance’s board of directors plans to sift through the details of Obama’s plan, but he opposes any further restrictions on guns. He does support more background checks and the sharing of information about people with mental illness.

“Firearms for self-defense are different than those for hunting, so we shouldn’t compare the two,” he said. “But if we further regulate guns for self-defense, we’re limiting people’s ability to defend themselves.”

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
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