A Raymond gun shop owner, known locally for his provocative billboards, has once again incited public opinion with his latest message.
Bill Darling, owner of Gulf of Maine Gunsmithing, chose to list: “Demarats, Sexual Offenders, Bill Diamond” (Darling’s spelling) on his sign, which is in clear sight of Route 302.
Although there has never been an accusation of any sexual misconduct against Democratic Maine State Senator Bill Diamond, Darling elected to link Diamond’s name with the negative term to express his disapproval of the title of a Raymond Road Runner article Diamond had written.
“I first learned of it when I read the sign on my way to Raymond’s Town Meeting,” said Diamond from his office in Augusta. “When people make these outrageous comments, how do you fight it?”
Darling said that he is not accusing Diamond of any offense; simply employing the same tactics he feels Diamond used when he lumped two different issues together in his article entitled, “Sexual Offenders and Guns,” published in the May, 2005 issue of the Road Runner.
In the article, Diamond highlighted two of the topics he has dealt with in his position as Senate Chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Legislative Committee: legislation concerning convicted sexual offenders and a bill that would both protect the rights of lawful gun owners and consider the problem of teen suicide.
Even though Diamond maintains the piece did not make any correlation between sexual offenders and guns, Darling believes it should have been written as two separate articles with two different titles. He feels the “liberal news media” has long been combining terms deliberately in order to convince their readers of some connection between them.
So Darling “decided to do the same,” counting on the high visibility of his billboard to help create in drivers’ minds an association between the terms. “I worded it to be cryptic and subliminal,” Darling said.
Darling admitted his sign’s message might not be understandable to everyone, but added, “I don’t care if people get the point as long as I do.”
Experts agree that belief can be manufactured through association. When consulted on the possible effect of the billboard’s message, Dr. Bruce Thompson, psychology professor at the University of Southern Maine, said, “There is fairly good evidence that mere exposure to a repetitive message, even if it is unsubstantiated, fosters belief. In other words, if someone hears something enough they will come to believe it.”
But is this “mere exposure” to misleading information enough to accuse Darling of libel or defamation of character? Not necessarily, according to Windham attorney, Laurence Minott. Libel, an untrue written statement about another person that could do harm to the person or to his or her reputation, is difficult to establish. The individual who feels defamed must prove his or her reputation has been impugned.
As a person in the political arena, it’s even more difficult for Diamond. “Bill is a public figure,” said Minott. “As a result, he loses some of the stature of a private citizen.”
Another Raymond public figure, Republican Maine State Representative John Robinson, issued this statement: “While I respect the right of the shop owner to put up whatever message he deems fit on his own sign, I feel a line was crossed in the direct reference to Senator Diamond and sex offenders… In my opinion, regardless of the intended political message, the implication tied to the Senator was inappropriate…”
Robinson stopped by the gun store on Saturday to ask Darling to “reconsider the reference.”
“If Mr. Darling checked out my record on voting in the legislature on gun issues,” said Diamond, “he’d be very supportive of many of the positions I’ve taken.”
Recently, Diamond’s vote helped defeat a bill in the Legislature that would have made it illegal to own, transfer, or manufacture assault weapons in Maine. Had the bill passed, Bushmaster Firearms of Windham would have acted on plans to move out of the state.
Darling acknowledged that Diamond has crossed his party’s lines on occasion to protect the rights of gun owners. But that doesn’t sway his opinion of what he feels is the liberals’ agenda.
Darling’s friend, Raymond resident Leonard Adams, agreed: “He [Diamond] lumps sexual offenders and guns together. And not all sexual offenders do it with guns.”
Betty McDermott, chair of Raymond’s Board of Selectmen, expressed her regret over the sign: “He has every right to do it,” McDermott said, “but I think it’s disgusting.”