More than a hundred demonstrators gathered Sunday in Portland to demand gun safety legislation in response to the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas.

Wearing red shirts and toting handmade signs, speakers at the rally in Congress Square Park repeatedly called out U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King by name. They demanded universal background checks on gun sales, as well as “red flag” legislation that would allow authorities to take weapons away from people deemed an immediate threat.

Debby Adkins of Portland shares her thoughts on a sign during Sunday’s rally at Congress Square Park in Portland in support of gun control laws. “I was around for Kent State when our government killed people,” Adkins said. “I’ve been supporting gun control ever since.” Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Nacole Palmer of Moms Demand Action, one of the event’s main organizers, said she wanted to remind the lawmakers that “they work for us.”

“The highest duty of our elected officials is to keep us safe, and in that duty they are failing us,” she said, drawing cheers from the fired-up crowd.

Collins told a Fox News interviewer last week that she supported closing “some loopholes” in background checks, but gave a flat “no” when asked if she supported “universal” checks on all sales, including private ones.

In a statement to the Portland Press Herald on Sunday afternoon, Collins said she does support “red flag” laws. She also pointed to her past efforts to improve the background check system, including making it easier for prosecutors to go after gun traffickers and straw purchasers.

“Congress needs to come together to take action on gun safety,” Collins said. “I have had many discussions with my colleagues, including Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), about proceeding in a bipartisan way to enact responsible gun safety legislation that would not infringe on our Second Amendment rights.”

A spokesman for King cited the senator’s recent response to the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which he called for red flag legislation and universal background checks, with exceptions for sales between immediate family members.

“Universal background checks are a commonsense solution and first line of defense to ensuring that firearms do not end up in the hands of criminals,” King said in the lengthy statement.

At Sunday’s rally, Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, said she worries about her children when she sends them to school.

“Every time I say goodbye to my children, I pray that they will come home safely,” she told the crowd.

Sara Gideon, Maine’s House speaker and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks during Sunday’s gun control rally in Portland. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport who is running against Collins next year, promised to keep fighting for gun safety legislation. The Maine Legislature in June rejected red-flag and universal background check bills, with Gov. Janet Mills and a handful of other Democrats – not including Gideon – opposing the legislation.

“I will always stand shoulder to shoulder in this fight until we actually enact sensible legislation to save the lives of our children and each other,” Gideon said.

Meanwhile, a handful of pro-gun demonstrators stood a few yards away on the corner of Congress and High streets. They hoisted signs that read “Guns Save Lives” and “Bloomberg Go Home,” a reference to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who funds gun-control activism.

Moms Demand Action is part of a Bloomberg-funded nationwide nonprofit called Everytown for Gun Safety. The group endorsed Collins for re-election in 2014, but so far has not said whether it will do so again.

“They’re inanimate objects,” Michael Coleman, a volunteer for Gun Owners of Maine, said of firearms. “Like anything else – a chainsaw, a hammer – they ought to be used responsibly.”

Coleman, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, said policy solutions to spree shootings, suicides and domestic violence should focus on mental health care rather than gun control. Limits on guns come at the cost of would-be owners’ safety, he said.

Counterprotesters in orange, with signs saying that guns save lives, stand behind protesters supporting gun control laws during Sunday’s rally at Congress Square Park in Portland. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“We all have that natural right to self-defense,” he said, nodding to the pistol on his hip.

Parents, schoolchildren, and at least one military veteran stood up Sunday to testify to the personal losses and daily sense of danger they felt from guns.

Judi and Wayne Richardson of South Portland lost their daughter, Darien, in a 2010 home invasion in Portland. Her assailant shot her several times in her apartment, and she died in the hospital months later.

Even though police located the gun used in the shooting, they couldn’t find the person who used it to kill their daughter, the Richardsons said. The weapon had been sold privately the year before, and the original owner didn’t know where it ended up.

“I don’t think people understand that that’s how guns get onto the black market,” Judi Richardson said. “There’s no accountability.”

For years, Darien’s parents have been attending events like these to push for background checks on private sales. And they say they’ll keep doing so.

“We don’t want people to have to live like we do,” Judi Richardson said.


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