April 7, 2013

In Senate, gun laws will be 'a challenge'

Their constituents keep Maine’s Sens. Collins and King in the middle on stronger controls, but they are seen as potential swing votes.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Sen. Susan Collins

Angus King
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Sen. Angus King


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Senators from across the country who, like those in Maine, represent rural states with large numbers of gun owners or hunters will be making similar political calculations in the coming weeks as they try to balance competing interests on guns. King's staff said the roughly 6,000 people who have contacted his office on guns since the Newtown shootings have been about equally divided on the bills.

Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine, said the only member of Maine's delegation who "really has it easy" on the gun control issue is Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine's more liberal southern district.

"Her district is such where it's very easy for her to be fully on board with everything President Obama is proposing and, in fact, she could even go beyond what the president has proposed," Brewer said.

By contrast, Michaud represents a large, rural and more conservative district filled with gun owners. Michaud is also weighing a run for governor in 2014.

"He really has to walk a very fine line here between what he does with regard to his party and what he does to represent his constituents," Brewer said. "And when you get in this kind of situation, you find that, almost always, members of Congress side with their constituencies."

Brewer said Collins' gun control votes could come up in her re-election campaign in 2014, although to what extent is unclear. And while Spitzer -- the SUNY professor and author -- said he believes the NRA's influence is not as great as its reputation, he said the organization can make noise in political campaigns.

"Politicians would rather not have any more headaches than they have to have," he said.

Both of Maine's senators have been targeted by groups on either side of the debate.

The NRA took out ads in Maine newspapers earlier this year, urging readers to tell Collins and King to reject Obama's gun control proposals. The NRA most recently gave Collins a grade of C- and has not donated to her campaign since 2002. As a freshman senator, King has not served long enough to receive an NRA rating, but the association ran ads against him during the Senate campaign.

The organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been airing television ads in Maine in support of the gun control measures. The multimillion-dollar campaign targeting senators in key swing states is financed by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as the counterpoint to the NRA post-Newtown.

The organization's news releases announcing the initial ad buys in Maine mentioned only Collins. But in a clear sign that the group also wants to put pressure on King, Mayors Against Illegal Guns delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to King's Portland office Friday, urging him to support universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a gun trafficking law.

The petitions were delivered by Judi and Wayne Richardson, whose 25-year-old daughter, Darien Richardson, was shot by an intruder in her Portland apartment in January 2010. She died several months later from medical complications linked to the injury.

The gun was later linked to another Portland murder. But when police attempted to trace it, the trail dead-ended at a private sale in which the seller did not conduct a background check.

The Richardsons, of South Portland, traveled to Washington, D.C., in February to lobby Congress on the background check expansion and Judi Richardson will share her family's story with members of a Maine legislative committee Monday, during hearings on state gun control proposals.

"It's not just us that have this personal emotional connection" to the issue, Judi Richardson said Friday to explain why they delivered the petitions to King's office. "A lot of people feel this way." 

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC


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Additional Photos

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Wayne and Judi Richardson of South Portland give Crystal Canney, communications director for Sen. Angus King, petitions with more than 6,000 signatures in support of federal gun controls at King’s Portland office on Friday. The Richardsons’ daughter Darien died in 2010 after being shot by an intruder in her apartment.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer


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