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Military-style guns on the WMNF trail raise concerns


November 09, 2011
LINCOLN A Wolfeboro couple have set off a debate about the presence of military-style weapons on the public trails in the White Mountain National Forest, but as frightening as it may be for them -- it is permitted by law.

"It is unsettling. We don't expect (it), " said Tiffany Benna, Public Affairs officer with the White Mountain National Forest, but it is permitted under state law. The national forest staff follows state law.

In an opinion editorial in last week's Concord Monitor, Paul and Edith DesMarais, described an encounter in September with a young man carrying in the "ready position" a large semi-automatic M-16 type assault weapon. There was no altercation, but DesMarais felt uncomfortable and asked if it was loaded. The young man show them the magazine clip.

"We asked why he would carry a loaded weapon on a busy hiking trail in the White Mountains," they wrote, "He said, 'This is New Hampshire, so I can.'"

Lincoln Police Chief Ted Smith knew nothing of the incident before reading of it in the newspaper. The state, he said, has an "open-carry" law, which allows people to carry guns unconcealed in most public places except places like schools and courts. "The reality is we have weapons (and open-carry law and) we have to accept that."

But Smith was quick to add that he understands the fear that such a situation may cause and just because "you can carry it doesn't mean you should." The goal of responsible gun ownership is "not to scare people and be safe."

His force had a similar incident where a person was on Lincoln's Main Street with a military-style weapon. His officers stopped an armed man "at gun point" and asked what he was doing. The man supplied a sufficient answer and "in this case it was unloaded." When pressed about the legality of detaining someone who was not breaking any laws, the chief said his force has an obligation to protect the public.

"We need to be responsible," he added.

Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster) thinks the "open-carry" law needs to be revisited. "I don't believe military style weapons should be allowed on the trails of the National Forest," she said, "It's sole purpose is to kill other human beings."

She worries that these types of gun-toting encounters jeopardize public safety.

Most people agreed that this incident is isolated and there never has been a problem of this sort. "For the most part our hiking trails here in the Whites are 'gun free' except during hunting season," said Outdoor writer Mike Dickerman, who writes a column for the Littleton Courier and has written several books about hiking, "If the fellow packing the assault rifle was doing so just to cause a stir, well he obviously succeeded."

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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