We owe the victims of the Lewiston shooting responsible action to prevent more gun violence

By U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine

On the evening of Oct. 25 in Lewiston, we lost 18 parents, children, cousins, friends and neighbors from an act of senseless violence. And within the span of a few hours, our community felt the horrors of what too many American neighborhoods have now experienced — losing that feeling of safety at their local restaurants, recreation centers, schools, places of worship, concerts and even just on the local street corner.

In the days and weeks since then, I have joined Maine people as we grieved and shared stories of the legacy the Lewiston victims left behind. The loss of these 18 people cast a difficult shadow over last week’s Thanksgiving, as we continued to process the tragedy.

Maine came together, including the governor, my colleagues in our congressional delegation, and even the president, to remember those we lost and support each other as we work toward healing. As I said on the floor of the U.S. Senate and again that awful day after Lewiston: mourning these deaths was the first priority; there would be time to talk policy solutions later which can reduce the chances of yet another community being torn apart in Maine or anywhere else.

U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine

But now the time for that discussion has come.

For years, I’ve been talking to people across the state of Maine – parents, sportsmen, hunters, and community leaders – and working with colleagues to craft policies that make these tragedies less likely. Saving lives now and in the future has been my single goal.

Universal background checks, red flag laws, and a strengthened mental health system are all part of the solution. But as Lewiston taught us, we must also look at the weapons like the one used that night in Maine and what makes them so deadly.

That’s why my colleague Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, an avid sportsman himself, and I, have put together an approach to better protect communities from mass shootings, while protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.

Our legislation, called the Gas-Operated Semiautomatic Firearm Exclusion (GOSAFE) Act, is focused on the way large capacity, semiautomatic weapons operate — the type of firearm used in Lewiston and most of the deadliest mass shootings across our country. For years, I have said that rather than use model numbers or the appearance of these guns to restrict them, we should instead focus our attention on the mechanisms of these weapons and what makes them especially dangerous.

To that point, my legislation with Sen. Heinrich would do the following:

Limit the number of rounds that a gun’s magazine can contain, and require those magazines to be permanent – eliminating the ability for gunmen in mass shootings to replace a magazine and reload their weapons rapidly. 

Build on previous legislative efforts by prohibiting the sale of certain semiautomatic firearms that have replaceable high capacity magazines

Make lethal conversion devices like bump stocks and Glock switches which convert a conventional rifle or handgun to fully automatic operation — effectively a machine gun — unlawful.

This law wouldn’t change Maine’s proud history of responsible gun ownership — it makes commonsense exceptions for traditional hunting firearms and those used in self-defense, for example. What this bill will do is curb opportunities for people intending to commit mass killing, without hindering the marksmen who head to the shooting range or the woods during hunting season. By mandating permanently fixed magazines, it would eliminate the opportunity for shooters to rapidly reload their weapon, a critical moment for potential victims to escape or for responders to neutralize the shooter.

This isn’t, and shouldn’t become, a partisan issue. And for the most part, saving lives from these weapons isn’t. In fact, nationally, there is broad agreement: President Donald Trump banned “bump stocks” in 2019; 82 percent of Americans support universal background checks; 72 percent of Americans support a national “red flag” law; and almost two-thirds of Americans believe that so-called assault weapons should be banned. 

Even the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia, a staunch pro-gun conservative, wrote in the 2008 Heller decision:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

I realize that nothing can bring back the lives of our family and friends, but responsible actions moving forward can reduce the likelihood of such a nightmare happening again in Maine or anywhere else. We owe the victims in Lewiston no less.

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