December 17, 2012

Pingree, King: Time to revisit gun control

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Members of Maine's congressional delegation were largely tight-lipped Sunday on specific gun-control proposals following the Connecticut shootings that killed 20 children and re-ignited the national debate about how to stop mass shootings in America.

While U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen.-elect Angus King indicated they could support significant changes to the nation's gun laws, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were less committal.

"At a time when so many continue to grieve, this is not the time for politics," Michaud, D-District 2, said in a statement. "However, in the days and weeks ahead, there will be time for reflection and discussion."

It remains unclear whether gun-control advocates will be able to win any new restrictions on sales of guns or ammunition next year with Democrats in control of one chamber of Congress and Republicans the other. But some are suggesting that Friday's elementary school killings -- unlike other recent mass shootings -- may tip the scales in favor of those supporting stricter gun laws.

In Maine, like many rural states with a rich outdoor heritage, lawmakers from both parties are often strong supporters of gun-owners' rights. The National Rifle Association regularly donates to Michaud, a conservative Democrat, and has supported both of Maine's Republican senators in the past. The CEO of a former manufacturer of the model of high-powered rifle used on Friday has donated to Michaud, and to Republican Sens. Collins and Snowe.

On Sunday, Pingree and King were the only delegation members to call for reform of the nation's gun laws.

Pingree, the delegation's most liberal member, indicated that she would support banning military-style assault weapons as well as high-capacity ammunition clips or magazines -- two issues on which she has co-sponsored bills in the past. Pingree also called on Congress to require background checks for gun buyers who purchase firearms from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or through private sales, such as Internet ads.

"Unfortunately, Congress has allowed the powerful pro-gun special interests to block action on any reasonable gun laws," Pingree said in a statement. "But we can't avoid the issue any longer. It would be tragic if Congress and the president can't now come together to take a serious look at how the nation's gun laws can be reformed."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority shareowner of MaineToday Media, publisher of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

The shootings appear to have affected the views of King, a political independent and former two-term governor.

During the campaign, King said he would not support re-enacting the ban on assault weapons in place under the Brady Bill from 1994 to 2004. But King said Sunday that there is sufficient reason to take a close look at assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

"Given the role both appear to have played in this and other recent incidents, this discussion is vitally necessary as we try to balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners under the Second Amendment and the interest we all share in the safety of ourselves and our children," King said in a statement to the Portland Press Herald. "I intend to engage the gun-owning community in Maine in this discussion as well as those who advocate for stronger regulation and control."

King's critics are likely to point out that, during the campaign, he was the beneficiary of more than $1 million in ads aired by Americans Elect, an outside group heavily supported by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent gun-control advocate.

But the other Maine delegation members -- like many lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- said little when presented Sunday with a list of questions on specific gun-control proposals.

(Continued on page 2)

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