In the wake of back-to-back massacres of supermarket shoppers in Buffalo and elementary school children in Texas, Sen. Susan Collins met with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues seeking a path to a gun safety package that might garner the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

Collins, a Republican, said the Thursday morning meeting in a Capitol basement office lasted an hour and included Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, as well as Republicans Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and – via telephone – Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

“I realize that I tend to be optimistic when I work in these groups, but this horrific shooting of these little kids following the shooting of shoppers in Buffalo has really touched people, including my Senate colleagues, and I hope that will allow us to come together and make a difference,” Collins said in a telephone interview shortly after landing in Bangor Thursday night for the beginning of the Senate’s weeklong recess. “We must act.”

“I’m not saying we can solve every problem and prevent every mentally ill person from resorting to violence, but boy if we could help make it less likely by separating a mentally ill person from weapons – if it is shown they are a threat to themselves or others – that would certainly be an advance,” Collins added.

Collins said areas of potential discussion include expanding background checks and so-called “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from an individual who is a threat to themselves or others.

Collins also had spoken with Murphy on Wednesday morning, and had discussed the possibility of introducing both “red flag” and “yellow flag” legislation, the latter a reference to Maine’s law, which received bipartisan support and requires law enforcement to get a medical practitioner to approve a request to temporarily take away someone’s firearms. Nineteen other states have “red flag” laws that don’t require a doctor to sign off, including Republican-controlled Florida and Indiana.


Collins said Thursday night that having a medical professional’s approval was essential to due process and also to getting a bill 60 senators will support. “That’s a huge issue,” she said. “You can imagine there could be a case where there’s just an argument in a family that’s not violent and non-threatening and not involving mental health, but somebody could just call the police and allege that there’s a danger and mental illness – so that’s why having that medical assessment is an important part of it.”

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, joined Florida Republican Marco Rubio to introduce a bipartisan “red flag” bill in February 2021. That bill – co-sponsored by Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Rubio’s Florida Republican colleague Rick Scott – would require a court order – but not a medical sign-off – to seize firearms from a dangerous individual. That effort, the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act, has gone nowhere in the Senate.

King said he was hopeful some sort of gun safety compromise could be found that could get to 60 votes. “The problem is getting above 55,” King said by phone from Washington Thursday night. “I don’t think it’s impossible, but unfortunately the passage of time I don’t think will help. Today was the day to strike and 10 days from now (when the Senate’s recess ends) the lobbyists opposed to these changes will have a chance to contact their representatives and put the pressure on.

“This shouldn’t be hard. There’s polling out today that puts public support for red flag laws, eliminating gun show (background check) loopholes at 80 or 90 percent. But this is one of those high-profile issues where it is very difficult to get to 60. The good news is we’re trying.”


Also Thursday, Collins voted with her Republican colleagues to block debate on a domestic terrorism bill designed to fill gaps in intelligence sharing between federal agencies tracking white supremacist, neo-Nazi and other violent extremist groups.


The bill failed on party lines, with Republicans arguing the bill – which especially focuses on the spread of racist ideology like the “great replacement theory” – puts too much emphasis on right-wing, as opposed to left-wing, terrorism and did not have the backing of career Department of Justice officials working on domestic terrorism. The bill previously passed the House on a largely party-line vote.

“I do think we have a problem with hate crimes and domestic terrorism in this country, but there was no indication that this bill was going to solve the problem,” said Collins, a former chair of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. “And to have career DOJ officials argue that it was ‘unnecessary and potentially harmful’ influences me considerably.”

Asked why she voted against debating the issues – possibly with an eye to fixing the bill – she said the floor vote was an effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, to embarrass Republicans. “If Senator Schumer were sincere about this he would refer the House bill to the judiciary committee for hearings and consideration.”

“The best legislation we produce is legislation that goes through the normal process,” she said.

King, who voted for the bill to be debated, disagreed, noting that it could have jump-started negotiation and compromise on a revised package.

“If we had voted to get on with debate we could have entertained amendments from both sides,” he said. “It’s one thing if one side says we’re not going to vote for this motion to proceed unless we get modifications to this bill. But to my knowledge there was no effort by Republicans to do that.”

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