We have been both alarmed and confused when, over the past year, we have seen Tea Partiers and others carrying guns to rallies and other gatherings.

Each time we see such a scene, we wonder: Why? Why would you possibly feel compelled to take a gun to a political rally? Do you expect to be attacked, and think you will need to defend yourself? Were those questions posed to the people carrying the guns, we believe the answer would likely include some variation of, “It’s my right.” Such a response, however, only modifies our question slightly: Why do you feel the need to exercise that right in such a place?

Recently, the surreality of the situation struck closer to home. According to an article in the Bangor Daily News, a group of people who want to be able to carry handguns openly in Acadia National Park held a rally there July 11. They were expressing their dismay that a federal law passed earlier this year, which effectively allowed weapons to be carried openly in Acadia and other national parks, was to be superseded by a state law that took effect July 12.

One 23-year-old woman who recently moved to Bar Harbor complained that “she has found it difficult to openly carry the .357 Sig Sauer she wears on her hip,” according to the article.

“It really makes it difficult to live spontaneously,” said the young woman, regarding the effect of the new state law.

See what we mean about surreality?

It seems to us that statements like that, and other (perhaps more logical) comments from gun rights advocates, sidestep the powerful truth about guns and what they are intended to do.

Simply put, guns are designed to kill and to make killing easy.

No matter what direction a conversation about guns, gun control or gun rights may take, that fact should be kept in mind. It is inherent in the history of firearms: whether the intended target is another human being or a wild animal destined for the dinner table, a gun is designed to allow the shooter to kill something more easily than by other means (with one’s bare hands, for example).

As one Web site devoted to all sorts of weaponry states, “For centuries, wars were won and men died by the sword. All of that changed with the invention of the gun.”

Over the centuries from their unwieldy beginnings in the 1300s — think here of matchlock guns, which required the use of a slow-burning fuse and (in the words of one Web site) discharged a bullet “in the general direction of the target” — to the present day, guns have continually evolved to more efficiently and effectively deliver death.

Many people appreciate this. The soldier who counts on his gun to defend himself and his country surely does, as does the hunter who relies on her gun to help put food on her family’s table. The police officer who wears a gun daily relies on it to help carry out the job he is sworn to do, and the older couple who live alone in a rural community take comfort in believing their gun will help defend them if they are victims of crime.

Were these the only purposes for which guns were kept and used, this editorial would not be necessary. Such a world, however, is not the one we live in. Today, we find ourselves in a culture where guns can be — and far too often are — used in a twisted attempt to solve even the most petty differences. The revelation that an alleged dispute over a pickup truck muffler apparently led to the recent shooting death of Brooks resident Debbie Littlefield only underscores that point.

Clearly, millions of Americans use guns for legal, legitimate purposes and have no intention to commit a crime with a gun. This is neither a call for the abolition of guns, nor a suggestion that all gun owners are somehow criminals or dangerous people. They are neither.

Yet at the same time, it seems to us that an increased presence of guns only makes it easier and more tempting for some people to use guns in ways that are not appropriate. For some individuals, anything that goes bump in the night may be an excuse to reach for a gun. As the saying goes, “When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

We read, for example, of a 2008 case where a man in Texas shot (not fatally) a teenager who happened to be going across his lawn late one night. The teen was reportedly looking for a nearby party, while the man apparently believed the teen was going to break in to his home. Was it the smartest move by the teen to be doing that? Perhaps not. But did it justify the man’s reaction? Hardly.

As one person who commented on the story wrote, it points to the need for people to weigh “the difference between what is legal and what is a wise course of action.”