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Shaheen, Shea-Porter and Kuster back assault-weapons ban; Ayotte wants ‘thorough review’ of laws

Last modified: 12/18/2012 12:47:39 AM
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen yesterday declared the country must “get deadly assault weapons off our streets” in the wake of Friday’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. New Hampshire’s other senator, Republican Kelly Ayotte, has opposed banning assault weapons, but her office said she “supports a thorough review of our laws” in the wake of the killings.

“While Sen. Ayotte believes that denying the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens will not change the behavior of those intent on using firearms to commit horrific crimes, she supports a thorough review of our laws, including how we deal with mental illness, to determine what can be done to deter and prevent mass shootings,” spokesman Jeff Grappone wrote yesterday in an email.

New Hampshire’s two newly elected Democratic congresswomen, Reps.-elect Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, both said they support a renewed federal ban on assault weapons. And Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan said state lawmakers must work together to address the issues of mental health and assault weapons, though fellow Democrat Steve Shurtleff of Penacook, the new House majority leader, said he believes significant gun-control legislation is more likely to come at the federal level.

The issue of gun control took on new prominence after Friday morning, when a 20-year-old man armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle murdered 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. During a vigil in the town Sunday, President Obama said the nation must do more to prevent such mass shootings, though the White House hasn’t announced any specific measures.

In the new year, Congress will likely consider legislation that would ban assault-style semiautomatic weapons, which were outlawed in 1994 but became legal again after that ban expired in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Sunday she would introduce a bill to ban assault weapons as well as ammunition clips or drums carrying more than 10 rounds.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia yesterday indicated they would be open to new gun-control legislation. All three Democrats have typically opposed restrictions on gun ownership.

Joining a chorus of Democratic officials calling for a ban on assault weapons was Shaheen. Despite earning an “F” rating from the NRA during her unsuccessful 2002 and successful 2008 campaigns for the Senate, Shaheen hasn’t been vocal on the issue of gun control.

“After a heartbroken weekend where the nation grieved with the families of Newtown, it’s time for elected leaders to come together and determine what we can do to help end the culture of violence that is leading to these tragedies,” Shaheen said yesterday in a statement. “We need a comprehensive approach that includes improving access to mental health services, better enforcement of our current laws, and we need to get deadly assault weapons off our streets.”

Ayotte has an “A” rating from the NRA. The former attorney general was a vocal supporter of gun rights when she ran for the Senate in 2010, declaring in one campaign statement that “gun owner rights are constantly threatened in Washington by anti-gun liberals.”

In 2009, she was one of 23 state attorneys general who signed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder opposing any reinstatement of the 1994 assault-weapons law that banned specific models of military-style semiautomatic guns.

“As attorneys general, we are committed to defending our constituents’ constitutional rights – including their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms,” the letter stated.

Grappone, Ayotte’s spokesman, didn’t directly respond yesterday to questions about Feinstein’s proposed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Feinstein said similar legislation will be introduced in the House, where it seems likely to gain support from Shea-Porter and Kuster, who will take office next month.

In an interview yesterday, Shea-Porter said people have the right to defend themselves and hunt for sport or food. But, she said, she favors outlawing assault weapons and high-magazine clips, and requiring background checks for people purchasing firearms at gun shows.

“I absolutely plan to support a bill to establish responsible gun-safety laws,” Shea-Porter said. “I think it’s long overdue.”

She also said she supports a push for more public awareness and assistance on mental-health issues and “some kind of voluntary effort to control the amount of violence” on television and other entertainment media.

Kuster, in a statement, said she believes “we can and must respect the Second Amendment while also doing more to protect our children, our families and our communities. I am eager to partner with law enforcement and members of Congress to pursue common sense reforms that keep guns out of the wrong hands, rid our streets of assault weapons and keep our communities safe.”

State action?

Hassan, who will replace Gov. John Lynch on Jan. 3, has indicated she’d be open to a state ban on assault weapons.

“I certainty don’t think people use assault-style weapons to hunt or in their homes, so I do think it makes sense to look at common-sense gun-safety provisions, and that would be one of them,” she told WMUR during the fall campaign.

But in a statement yesterday, Hassan stopped short of explicitly calling for such a ban.

“While we continue to learn more facts about the horrific tragedy in Connecticut, we owe it to those we’ve lost to come together and determine what can be done to make our communities safer and better, including improving our mental health system and addressing the proliferation of deadly assault weapons,” she said.

Shurtleff, the House majority leader and a former chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said the Legislature will take up gun-related bills next year. For example, he said he’s filed a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s “stand-your-ground” law, a 2011 measure expanding the legal use of deadly force by civilians acting in self-defense.

But, Shurtleff said, “I think the majority of things to come forward will be done in Washington.”

State Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican and vocal advocate for gun rights, has filed a bill for next year that would lift the state’s licensing requirement for carrying a concealed weapon, a policy known as “constitutional carry.” A similar bill passed the House last year but was tabled in the Senate; since then, Democrats gained seats in the Senate and took control of the House.

Hoell said yesterday that he doesn’t know whether the House will take action in the coming session in response to the Newtown tragedy. But, he said, the solution isn’t to further restrict guns.

“Almost universally, every shooting that has taken place in the last 20 years has taken place in a gun-free zone. That’s the problem,” he said.

Hoell added, “We need to be more proactive about protecting children. We’re not going to do it by taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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