February 21, 2013

Sens. Collins, King downplay NRA ad against gun control

Both say they hadn't seen the full-page ad, published in newspapers in Maine and four other states.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are downplaying the significance of an advertisement by the National Rifle Association that urges Maine voters to convince their senators to reject President Obama's gun-control agenda.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Angus King speaks at a news conference at Bath Iron Works on Thursday. At right is Sen. Susan Collins.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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"I haven't seen it," King said Thursday, referring to a full-page ad in Thursday's Bangor Daily News. "This story isn't going away. I'm working on the issue. I've sat down with gun owners and sportsmen in Maine. I've sat down with gun control advocates in Maine. I'm trying to come up with what I think are the most effective proposals that will actually diminish gun violence while at the same time protect Second Amendment rights."

Collins said she had not seen the ad, which mentions the senators by name. Like King, she said she has met with people on all sides of the gun debate, which was renewed by the mass shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut in December.

"I do believe that the common thread in all these horrific mass shootings is mental illness, and I was surprised that the president did not even talk about that in his State of the Union address" on Feb. 12, Collins said.

Republicans, prodded by the NRA, say they are focused on improving the mental-health system and enforcing laws already on the books, instead of creating new laws. Obama has called for universal background checks and a ban on some guns and high-capacity magazines, measures that the NRA opposes.

The NRA ad, which ran in daily newspapers in five states, is headlined: "Will Obama's gun control proposals actually work?" The next line reads: "His own experts say 'No.'"

The ad features a memo from the National Institute of Justice to the president that appears to say that his proposals would not work without universal registration or confiscation of some guns. It ends with a call for citizens to call their senators and "tell them to oppose Obama's gun control proposals and to fix our broken mental health system."

University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said the featured memo is meaningless, given that the president gets thousands of memos each week on a variety of viewpoints, and no one memo informs the president's policies.

"But that doesn't mean that the average person knows this," Brewer said. "They could think 'Obama's own people are telling him not to do this.'"

Jacqueline Otto, an NRA spokeswoman, said the powerful lobbying group placed ads in newspapers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Four of those states have Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2014. In Maine, Collins, a moderate Republican, is up for re-election.

Asked whether Collins was targeted because of her less-than-enthusiastic support for the NRA, Otto said the ad is simply meant to "educate and inform voters in Maine."

Brewer, however, said the NRA could be sending Collins a message.

"There is no way she is vulnerable in the general election," he said of Collins, a three-term incumbent. "But this might be an opportunity for the NRA to shore up the support of someone they are not 100 percent sure of."

Collins recently received a C+ rating from the NRA, which is "horrible for a Republican," Brewer said.

She split from her party in 2004 when she voted to extend the federal ban on assault weapons.

Collins received nearly $20,000 in campaign donations from the NRA's political action committee from 1996 to 2002, but has not received any contributions since then.

She also received more than $17,000 in contributions from Richard Dyke, former owner of Bushmaster Firearms Inc. in Windham, but none since 2007.

(Continued on page 2)

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