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Mass. US Senate hopefuls split on assault weapons

March 13, 2013

BOSTON (AP) — The candidates in Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate special election are offering voters a stark choice on the question of gun control.

Both Democratic candidates, Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey, have called for the reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban approved in 1994. The prohibition on high-grade, military-style weapons expired in 2004.

Two Republican candidates — Gabriel Gomez and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan — oppose reinstating the ban, arguing that it isn’t effective in reducing violence and would infringe on the rights of gun owners. A third Republican, Daniel Winslow, hasn’t said if he supports or opposes the ban.

All three are breaking with former Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who opposed the assault weapons ban but changed his position in January after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

During their first debate Tuesday night, the three Republicans said they wanted solutions to gun violence that would be effective instead of just making people feel good.

“People like to think that bans are effective. They’re completely ineffective,” Sullivan said, adding that the country should focus instead on “reasonable measures we can put in place to control gun violence” while still recognizing the right to have firearms.

One measure suggested by Sullivan, a former acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is to keep a closer eye on who can buy guns.

“We’ve done a great job in terms of preventing prohibited persons who are felons from getting guns,” he said. “We’ve done a horrible job in terms of preventing people who are adjudicated mentally ill from getting access to firearms.”

Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, said he’s “a firm believer in the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights.” He said he agreed the gun show “loophole” should be closed and that more has to be done to prevent guns from getting into the hands of the mentally ill.

But he also said the federal weapons ban was ineffective, if well intended.

“I don’t believe that we need to do an assault weapons (ban),” he said. “I think what we need to do is to make sure that the people who pass a background check are able to buy a weapon.”

Winslow, a former judge, declined to take a position on the assault weapons ban, but said putting “more laws on law-abiding people” will end up giving criminals freer use of guns. He also backed gun restrictions for the mentally ill.

Markey and Lynch both back tougher firearms laws.

Markey has made gun control a central theme of his campaign and the focus of his first television ad.

That ad, called “Keep Standing Up,” opens with a famous clip of Charlton Heston, the late actor and president of the National Rifle Association, holding a rifle over his head and exclaiming “from my cold dead hands.” It then cuts to a newspaper headline from the elementary school massacre in Newtown and says Markey has been willing to stand up to the NRA and fight for gun control measures.

Lynch said he also supports the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and backs what he called President Barack Obama’s “reasonable gun control recommendations.”

Gun control is a personal issue, Lynch said — his cousin died in 1996 after being shot nine times. Lynch also said the only “F grade” he’s been proud to receive is the one he was awarded by the National Rifle Association.

The Democratic and Republican primaries are April 30.

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