Monday January 14, 2013 | 02:31 PM

WASHINGTON – Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, caused some confusion on Monday regarding his position on a potential assault weapons ban.

During an interview on the CBS “This Morning” show, King said that the size of ammunition magazines is “the biggest issue . . . [and] the common thread that connects a lot of these massacres.” His comments on a potential assault weapons ban, however, drew the most attention in social media.

“The assault weapon ban is a tough one because it is hard to define what an assault weapon is. And if we are just defining it by what it looks like, that doesn’t do much for me,” King said. “I’m much more interested in the functionality and whether that’s really a different weapon than my buddy’s semi-automatic hunting rifle.”

Here’s what King had to say several days after the Dec. 14th shooting in a Connecticut elementary school:

We still don't have a clear picture of all the facts in this horrific tragedy, but we know enough to conclude that it is time to take a close look at two gun-related issues: assault weapons and large ammunition magazines,” King said on Dec. 16th. “Given the role both appear to have played in this and other recent incidents, this discussion is vitally necessary as we try to balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners under the Second Amendment and the interest we all share in the safety of ourselves and our children.”

So has King’s stance on assault weapons softened or cooled, as some suggested on Monday?

Asked for clarification, King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said Monday afternoon that the senator "remains committed to finding the most effective way to prevent gun violence while balancing Second Amendment rights."

"He will continue to study any and all proposals as they are developed, including an assault weapons ban," Canney wrote in an email while traveling back to DC from New York. "The senator believes, though, that effective and enforceable gun control legislation must not be centered on the aesthetic appearance of a weapon but rather the magazine capacity and its functionality in order to achieve substantive and meaningful change."

Canney subsequently declined to provide further clarification on what, exactly, "functionality" means but said that King wants to focus on how a firearm works, not what it is called or how it looks.

Some gun control advocates have complained that the last assault weapons ban, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004, was somewhat toothless. That's because he way the law was written allowed manufacturers to make relatively minor and some would say "cosmetic" changes to guns in order to make them legal again.

The result, according to both sides of the debate, was that Americans were still allowed to purchase many military-style firearms that gun control advocates wanted off the streets.

King's statements leave room for wiggle on his part – and for interpretation by parties on all sides of the polarizing issue.

His willingness to take another look at an assault weapons ban post-Newtown is different than his stance during the fall campaign when he did not support reviving a ban on assault weapons.

On another hot gun control topic, King reiterated that he would support mandatory background checks, including addressing the so-called “gun show loophole.” That “loophole” allows private gun owners to sell a firearm – whether at a gun show or through an ad in Uncle Henry’s – without conducting a background check on the buyer.

As more middle-of-the-road senators from a rural state with a rich hunting tradition, both King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine could play higher-profile roles in any legislative action over guns. Collins has not yet taken a stance in the current debate on specific gun control measures.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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