HOULTON, Maine — After being closed down for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, the John Millar Civic Center welcomed back guests the weekend of April 17-18 for the Houlton Gun Show.
Vendors filled spaces up and down the civic center floor, selling a variety of firearms ranging from hunting rifles and six-shooter pistols, to modern military-grade semiautomatic weapons. Other types of weapons and survival gear, such as hatchets, knives and camouflage clothing, were also being sold.
While in years past the event was hosted by the Houlton Rifle and Gun Club, the gun show this year was put together by Midcoast Promotions, which holds gun show exhibits across the state and is based in the Lincoln County town of Boothbay.
“They [the gun club] asked me to do it last year and we couldn’t,” Michael Leighton, owner of Midcoast Promotions, said. “This year I hadn’t heard from them, so the first person that said they would rent to me I did it, and I do a donation to the club.”
Being based farther downstate, Leighton said he was able to bring in more vendors from the southern and central parts of Maine that otherwise may not have traveled all the way to Houlton.
“It’s hard to get them to travel long ways for gun shows,” he said of the vendors. “But they come to a lot of our shows, so we say ‘Hey, come on up here, it’s good money and a great place,’ and a lot of them did.”
The sale of guns, in particular AR-15-style rifles and semiautomatic guns, remain a controversial issue in Maine and the rest of the United States. Recent mass shootings, such as those in Indianapolis and Austin, Texas, have renewed controversy and led calls for further regulations, while others say the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for such firearms.
The controversy extends as far as Houlton, where a man in Canada had acquired several guns there before committing the country’s worst mass shooting with the weapons. Although the gun show requires all transactions to undergo a background check, it is believed that a vendor may have sold the gunman an AR-15-style gun in an illegal private transaction undertaken outside the gun show.
But Leighton said he wants the show to promote gun safety, along with support for the Second Amendment.
“A lot of people are always telling us about the criminals, and what they do with guns, but criminals don’t buy their guns in gun shops,” he said. “What we try to do is keep it all legal and safe.”