This month it is expected that the U.S. Senate will begin debate on comprehensive gun safety legislation in reaction to the shootings in Newtown, Conn. Unfortunately, the one direct law that could have lessened the carnage in those classrooms, a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, will not be part of the bill.
The reason? Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to strip the assault weapons ban from the final bill. The reason he stripped it? According to a number of stories in national publications including Politics USA and Bloomberg News, it was stripped because six members of the Democratic caucus refused to support the bill if the assault weapons ban was included. Losing those six votes meant that Democrats went from 55 votes to 49 — one vote short of a majority.
The six members of the Democratic caucus who stopped the assault-weapons ban from being included were: Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia…
…and our Sen. Angus King.
Had King indicated his support for the weapons ban it would have meant 50 votes in favor. With 50 votes, Vice President Joe Biden would have cast the deciding vote. Instead, the ban will be debated as an amendment and almost assuredly will fail.
While the rest of the bill is essential, and I hope it passes, the loss of the one gun measure that could have actually prevented the assault on one of our elementary schools is tragic. None of the other provisions around expanding background checks and tightening gun trafficking laws would have mattered in Newtown, as Adam Lanza’s mother purchased the weapon legally.
So, instead of joining the moderate positions of U.S. Sens. Bill Cohen, George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, all giants of Maine politics who have supported the ban, and instead of voting with the will of the majority of Maine people, King will be succumbing to the will of the National Rifle Association.
I am not sure why King does not have the courage to stand up to the NRA on this issue. When he was campaigning for the seat he currently holds, he was shunned by the NRA for his commonsense response on guns, and Michael Bloomberg dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in support of King. In fact, before Bloomberg’s support, Republican Charlie Summers, the NRA’s candidate, had come within striking distance of taking the lead.
Now, King is parroting the NRA line that hunting rifles in Maine bear all the same features of a semi-automatic assault rifle. He is repeating the worn-out claim that a ban on assault weapons is more cosmetic than functional.
And I wonder why Lanza did not use a hunting rifle if the weapons are so similar?
Thankfully, King still has a chance to do the right thing. When the bill comes to the floor, an amendment will be offered to include the assault weapons ban. At that moment, I pray that King will do the right thing and vote for the one measure that actually had a chance of impacting the loss of 20 innocent elementary school students.
Posted by Ethan Strimling