News Column

Maine Senators 'Shocked,' Angered by Gun Vote

April 18, 2013

Maine's two U.S. senators expressed strong disappointment about Wednesday's Senate defeat of a proposal to expand background checks on private gun sales.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Angus King were among 54 senators who voted in support of the background check compromise, falling six votes short of passage. The legislation would have required background checks prior to any private, person-to-person firearm sales at gun shows or that were advertised online or in print, including through popular classified listings in Maine such as Uncle Henry's.

"It was an entirely reasonable bill and I think it is very disappointing that people didn't look at the details more and, instead, listened to descriptions about the bill that were just not accurate," Collins said.

The proposal was one of seven gun-related measures -- including one sponsored by Collins -- that failed Wednesday to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate, delivering a major blow to gun control advocates' hopes for major legislative changes. With conservative Republicans in control of the House, the Senate was regarded as the easier of the two bodies to pass the first major gun legislation in decades.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said afterward that he has "yet to hear or dream up any rational reason" for opposing the bill.

"So I am shocked," King said while leaving the Capitol building. "We had a bipartisan bill supported by 90 percent of the American people."

The 90 percent figure comes from several polls, including ones conducted by The Washington Post-ABC News and Quinnipiac, which show between 86 and 91 percent of Americans support background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows.

King added that "in a normal universe" the measure would have passed because it received more than 50 of the Senate's 100 votes. But because the Senate often requires 60 votes to pass major issues, the amendment was unsuccessful.

Asked whether today's votes made him question the filibuster reform negotiated earlier this year, King simply replied, "Yes."

Collins said she was pleased with exemptions for gun transfers among family members, liability protections for private sellers, the proposed creation of a national commission on mass shootings and language explicitly prohibiting the creation of a national registry of gun owners.

Maine's two senators voted on both sides -- and sometimes on opposite sides -- of the various measures considered Wednesday.

For instance, both were among the 60 senators who opposed a proposal to ban the type of military-style assault weapon used by the gunmen who killed dozens in a Connecticut elementary school and a Colorado movie theater. But King voted to ban large-capacity ammunition magazines while Collins opposed the measure.

Collins, who has been under pressure from both sides in the gun debate, was a co-sponsor with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont of a bill that would have strengthened federal laws to prevent gun trafficking and "straw purchases" of guns.

That proposal, which was widely viewed as having strong bipartisan support, fell just two votes shy of the 60-vote threshold.

Collins blamed "an environment where nothing was going to pass."

"It was strongly supported by a wide range of law enforcement groups -- very widely supported -- and I think that is a testament to the fact that straw purchasing and gun trafficking put guns in the hands of criminals," Collins said.

"But I think this was an environment where nothing was going to pass. And I think that once the [background check] compromise by Sens. Manchin and Toomey was defeated, it spelled the end of the debate."

Source: (c)2013 Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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