AUGUSTA — Hundreds of people expected to attend a 2nd Amendment Rights Rally set for Saturday on the grounds of the State House complex would be well-advised to leave firearms at home.

Regulations authorized under state law say only police officers can carry weapons on state-owned and state-controlled property in Augusta. That includes the planned rally site at the plaza between the State House and the Burton M. Cross State Office Building, making it a gun-free zone for everyone but police.

But that message became confused Thursday after The Associated Press reported that national organizers were encouraging gun rights supporters to bring unloaded rifles to rallies at state capitols across the U.S., according to Dave Gulya, spokesman for those organizing the rally in Augusta.

“The word has been getting out from the very beginning” that guns are not allowed for the Augusta rally, Gulya said Friday. “We have been right on top of that. All of our people until late (Thursday) morning were pretty clear the rally will be in a gun-free zone.”

The rally comes amid heightened tension surrounding guns use. The nationwide rallies are pushing back against a wave of student-led gun violence protests that some see as a threat to the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms and has become a flashpoint in the debate over gun control measures in the wake of deadly school shootings.

In March, gun-rights and gun-control advocates faced off inside 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 on March 1 prior to a rally held by the gun-control group.

The rally on Saturday is being organized by The National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans, which describes itself as “a coalition of various patriotic based group leadership that has come together to unify our ideals and diligently work together to uphold the Constitution as it exists, and improve the lives of Americans.”

Gulya said the Maine rally site was selected particularly because it is a gun-free zone.

“We chose it because if the children and teachers have to go to work in a place where they can’t have weapons — gun-free zones where they’re not able to defend themselves — I think we can probably pull it off for a few hours,” he said.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin cited the rules that prohibit carrying of weapons by anyone other than police officers on state-owned or controlled property Augusta.

“Violations are civil, not criminal, but the civil violation would be grounds for police to order anyone with a weapon to leave state property,” Gauvin said via email Friday. “The person could then be arrested for criminal trespass if they refuse. No one here remembers, in recent history, anyone with a weapon refusing to leave the property when asked.”

Gulya also said it is a safety issue because it is outside, in a public setting, without the ability to screen people.

He said organizers obtained a permit that estimated a crowd of 500 to 1,500.

So far, about 400 people indicated through a Facebook page that they plan to attend, he noted, with about 1,000 checking “interested.”

Discussion on the Facebook site, shows people offering and seeking rides to the rally from around the state and urging each other to bring American flags, not firearms.

The rally is in response to the March for Our Lives rallies March 24, including one in Waterville, calling for legislation to end gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. At the Waterville rally, those in the crowd held signs demanding an end to gun sale loopholes and calling for schools to be made safer. They called out “Enough is enough” over the course of that two-hour event.

Organizers of Saturday’s rally offered an updated list of speakers, among them, two Republican gubernatorial hopefuls: state Sen. Garrett Mason and former Health & Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Also scheduled to speak are state Sen. Eric Brakey, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by independent Angus King; Mark Holbrook, a Republican who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for her 1st District seat; and Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols.

Gulya said Capitol Police are planning a presence at the rally, and Maine State Police might be there as well, along with Augusta police officers.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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