AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers in Maine, home to one of the nation's most-visited national parks, are considering whether to override a new federal law that allows guns in the sanctuaries.
A law that took effect Monday lets licensed gun owners take firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges — provided state law doesn't say otherwise. No states have laws that supersede the new policy, officials say.
The Maine bill would outlaw guns in Acadia National Park and the St. Croix Island International Historic Site.
"There are places where we don't carry guns. There's families in this state that really appreciate that," said Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, a Brunswick Democrat who is co-chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee — and a hunter and gun owner. "Now, there's also families in the state that also want to be able to pack bazookas, but that's a little different story."
But Wayne Bosowicz, a seasoned hunter and licensed guide from Sebec, said Wednesday that he wished he'd been allowed to carry a gun when a bear confronted him in Yellowstone National Park two years ago.
"If there's something that brings a level of comfort to folks, why not?" said Bosowicz, adding that he sees the new federal law as "a little like going back in time to apple pie and motherhood."
The National Rifle Association lobbied hard to allow guns in parks and has spent millions to challenge opponents, who feared allowing them would lead to more violence in national parks.
The Maine Senate public safety committee is split on the state proposal, with seven members in favor of banning guns and six against, Gerzofsky said. The sharply divided vote sets the stage for a big debate when the bill hits the full House and Senate.
The new federal law prohibits firing weapons unless in self-defense, said David Barna, spokesman for the National Park Service. Most national parks banned firearms until Monday, but more than 40 allowed limited hunting.
Hoping to ease debate on the issue, Gerzofsky said, negotiators agreed to remove from the Maine bill a provision that would outlaw weapons along the Appalachian Trail, which abuts many popular hunting areas.
Still, gun-rights activists think the proposal goes too far.
"Crime does not stop at the gates to our park systems, and neither should the right to self-defense," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
The NRA, which has been monitoring state legislatures to see if similar bills have come up, has not found any other states where similar proposals are being advanced, Arulanandam said.