Sen. Angus King’s proposal to reduce the lethality of weapons commonly used in mass shootings won the support of the White House and gun safety advocates soon after it was introduced Thursday, but it also stirred swift criticism from the NRA and others opposed to firearm restrictions.
“Our goal is simple: to save lives in Maine, New Mexico and across the country,” King, an independent, said Thursday during a news conference with the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico.
The bill would limit the bullet capacity of magazines to 10 rounds for rifles and shotguns, and 15 rounds for handguns. It also would ban detachable magazines that make it easy to rapidly reload weapons. Instead, the magazines would be a fixed, internal component of the gun, and weapons would have to be reloaded manually.
King said the man who shot and killed 18 people in Lewiston last month was likely able to take so many lives because he had high-capacity magazines on his AR-10 rifle that he was able to reload by duct-taping two magazines together.
“Two people charged the shooter in Lewiston, but he killed them both because he didn’t have to stop and reload,” King said, referring to two men who died after charging Robert Card at one of the shooting sites, the Just-in-Time bowling alley.
King’s proposal quickly attracted opposition Thursday from gun rights advocates, including the influential National Rifle Association.
“This legislation blatantly violates the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court rulings by banning the very types of firearms and magazines most often utilized by Americans for defending themselves and their families,” Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA’s legislative arm, said in a prepared statement. “This bill unjustly and improperly places the full burden of the law on law-abiding residents, while doing nothing to take guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. The NRA opposes this legislation and will fight to protect the constitutional freedoms of all law-abiding Americans.”
Criticism came from within Maine, as well.
“Semi-automatic arms have been commercially available in the U.S. for well over a century, and standard-capacity magazines are commonly owned. Senator King’s bill, which would limit arms to a certain design and firearm magazines to a specific, arbitrary capacity, would clearly violate the people’s civil rights,” state Rep. Donald Ardell, R-Monticello, said in a statement.
“I oppose Angus King’s new effort to limit law-abiding Mainers’ constitutional rights,” state Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner, said in a prepared statement. “In 2016, Michael Bloomberg came up here and thought he could get Mainers to vote against their Second Amendment rights (by expanding background check requirements for gun purchases). That proposal was defeated, but Sen. King’s new gun control bill makes it clear that the lessons of Bloomberg’s defeat were not learned by progressive Democrats like King.”
King is an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
SUPPORT FROM WHITE HOUSE
The White House, however, announced its support for the bill.
“We support any effort to keep assault weapons and high-capacity magazines out of dangerous hands, as this bill would do,” said Stefanie Feldman, director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. “President Biden led the passage of the assault weapons ban through Congress in 1994 (when he was a senator from Delaware), which worked to significantly reduce mass shootings. And since Senate Republicans allowed it to expire in 2005, he has tirelessly fought to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines once and for all.”
Lindsay Nichols, policy director for Giffords Law Center, which advocates for gun safety reforms, said the GOSAFE Act and another bill banning assault weapons both would be effective at saving lives.
“The Heinrich/King bill represents a newer approach, and we are very grateful to all these members of Congress who are working to address the horrific damage done by these weapons. The most important thing is that Congress and state policymakers should move forward to address this problem. Either approach would be a huge step to making our communities safer,” Nichols said.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, announced her support for King’s bill on Thursday. Pingree has long advocated for an assault weapons ban and supports King’s approach to regulating key components of the weapons.
“It’s devastating to consider that if we had strong gun legislation before the Lewiston shooting, Mainers’ lives may have been spared,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “I am encouraged by Senators King and Heinrich’s proposal to stop these weapons of war from flooding our communities.”
Spokespeople for Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd District, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. The day after the shootings, Golden announced in his hometown of Lewiston that he had reversed his stance against an assault weapons ban, and would work to get a bill passed.
No Republicans have pledged to support King’s bill, called the GOSAFE Act, an acronym for Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion.
King’s fellow Maine senator, Republican Susan Collins, was briefed on the bill before it was introduced and her staff said she is continuing to review it.
‘FOCUS ON LETHALITY’
Fred Guttenberg, a gun reform activist whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, died in the shootings Parkland, Florida, in 2018, said the GOSAFE Act would help reduce gun violence.
“I don’t look at things as ‘first steps’ or ‘best steps.’ I look at it that if passed will it help reduce instances of gun violence and the gun violence death rate? From that standpoint, (the bill) does,” Guttenberg said.
King has opposed a so-called assault weapons ban focusing on specific models of assault rifles, arguing that manufacturers could easily work around such a law. He said the goal of the new bill is to “focus on the lethality of the weapon, not what it looks like.”
The GOSAFE Act would prohibit the manufacture, sale and resale of guns that would not meet the regulations, but such guns that already have been manufactured could be passed down to family members or sold back to the government through a buyback program. The bill also would ban bump stocks, which make guns fire much like a machine gun.
Gun control legislation such as King’s bill faces long odds in the divided Congress, but King and Heinrich pointed to the recent success of the Safer Communities Act – which contained modest gun reforms such as making it harder for those convicted of domestic violence to possess guns. The Safer Communities Act was signed into law in 2022.
“We are very much hoping we can generate some momentum,” King said. “You never know when the time will come, and the time will be right for a particular piece of legislation.”