By Ethan Forman
---- — In the wake of the Colorado shootings, Congressman John Tierney and challenger Richard Tisei both say they favor “reasonable” regulations on the kind of assault weapon used in the attack.
But there is still a big difference in their positions.
Tierney, a Salem Democrat and congressman since 1997, said he supports reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.
Tisei, a Wakefield Republican and former state senator, stopped short of supporting the ban, saying he’ll “be reasonable” and will “look at” any legislation that is proposed. But he also said the tragedy has convinced him that some assault weapons should be banned.
The two are vying for the 6th District congressional seat in this fall’s election. And gun control is emerging as an issue around the country after a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 last week at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado.
Though both Tierney and Tisei agreed no one should politicize the tragedy, both took the opportunity to chide one another.
“My opponent is the poster child for the NRA,” Tierney said of Tisei, noting that Tisei voted against a conference committee report banning assault weapons in Massachusetts in 2004.
“There are a lot of people who want to score political points” on the tragedy, Tisei said, “John Tierney being one of them.”
Tisei reiterated his support for the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and for the rights of hunters, target shooters and those seeking to protect themselves to carry guns.
“In this case, there is no law that could have prevented this tragedy from taking place,” Tisei said. “Obviously, it was a very evil and deranged person who planned an attack, and I’m not sure if any law could have prevented him from moving forward with the plan. If it wasn’t guns he had, he could have blown up the theater.”
The shooting has highlighted the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that outlawed certain types of semi-automatic weapons. The ban expired in 2004, and Congress has not renewed it.
Massachusetts extended the assault weapons ban in the state in 2004.
Police and news reports say the Colorado shooter bought four guns at local gun stores and purchased ammunition and body armor online — all of it legal. The AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine jammed during the attack, however, and some said that may have saved lives.
“Somebody has to make a case why someone who is not in law enforcement or in the military should have that kind of high-capacity magazine,” Tierney said.
Tierney said he supports not only the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, but other “reasonable” measures to make gun ownership safer, such as background checks and regulations on the sale of guns at gun shows and on large volumes of ammunition. He also favors prohibitions on gun trafficking and laws that would require manufacturers to design weapons to prevent injury from a gun discharging accidentally.
So why didn’t Congress reinstate the assault weapons ban, even when Democrats were in the majority? Tierney said the National Rifle Association has a powerful lobby in Congress, and it views any regulation of gun ownership as a slippery slope that would erode Second Amendment rights.
Tisei took a more conservative approach to gun control, saying the nation has plenty of gun laws in place.
Asked if he would support reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban, Tisei said: “I will be reasonable, and I will look at the issue and I will look at whatever piece of legislation comes before me.”
Still, Tisei questioned why someone should be allowed to buy ammunition over the Internet. And he said it also may make sense to ban certain types of assault weapons.
“Clearly, the latest tragedy has convinced me certain assault weapons should be banned. I support the right to bear arms,” Tisei said, adding that he does not understand why someone should be allowed to have a weapon such as the one the Colorado shooter possessed.
Tisei said his opposition to the state ban in 2004 was because the bill was too broad and included tight restrictions on gun ownership that prevent someone with a minor criminal record from owning a gun. He recalls state lawmakers having to pass emergency legislation to allow for a Patriots Day re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, given that some of those Revolutionary War weapons with bayonets had characteristics of the banned guns.
While the Colorado shooter’s mental status is not known, Tisei said the tragedy may serve as a call to improve the nation’s mental health system, to somehow identify people who may be intent upon harming others.
“Maybe we should put more resources into mental health,” he said.
Tierney agreed, saying it is not a bad idea to have services and outreach for mental health screening.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.