The day after a mass shooting in Lewiston claimed the lives of 18 people, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District announced Thursday that he has reversed his position and now supports a ban on assault rifles.
Rep. Golden’s announcement, which came at a press conference alongside Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins at Lewiston City Hall Thursday evening, received backlash from two of his Republican 2024 challengers, who both slammed the statement as using the tragedy to advance a political agenda.
Golden said Thursday that he had opposed previous efforts to ban “deadly weapons of war like the assault rifle used to carry out this crime” because of a “false confidence that our community was above this.”
The centrist “Blue Dog” Democrat, who is a U.S. Marine veteran and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, said that “the time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure,” and then called on Congress to ban assault rifles.
He added that he will “work with any colleague to get this done” in the time he has left in Congress.
One of his 2024 challengers, State Rep. Austin Theriault (R-Fort Kent), said the timing of Golden’s comments was “unfortunate and frustrating,” accusing the Democrat — alongside President Joe Biden — of trying to “score political points by attacking the 2nd Amendment” during this “time of tragedy.”
Rep. Theriault said he will “defend every law-abiding citizen’s 2nd Amendment rights,” and called for the “largest-ever investment into mental health care and access that the country has every seen.”
“The need is clear: The manhunt for the shooter is ongoing, but the details available make it clear that the suspect has severe mental health issues and there was likely a failure of the mental health apparatus,” Theriault said. “We need to keep dangerous people off the streets.”
“There will be other lessons, and other policies, that we should consider in the wake of this crime, but infringing on regular citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights is not the answer,” he added. “This failure comes with a cost: this situation is brutal and has shaken our state to its core. That’s why we need to fix the problem, not spend time going after the 2nd Amendment.”
State Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Phillips), who announced his candidacy in Maine’s 2nd District in September, issued a similar statement Thursday evening.
“Shame on Congressman Golden for using this tragedy to advance a liberal political agenda,” Rep. Soboleski said. “The actions of one deranged individual does not define who we are as Mainers.”
“I am an NRA member and a steadfast supporter of the Second Amendment, but now is not the time for politics,” Soboleski said. “Now is a time for us to come together as Mainers and neighbors to support victims families, support our law enforcement, and begin the difficult process of healing.”
Golden’s reversal on the issue of assault weapons could spell trouble for the Democrat’s reelection in the rural 2nd District, a district that was won by Donald Trump by over seven points in the 2020 presidential election.
When asked by reporters at the Thursday evening press conference if she would support an assault weapons ban, Sen. Susan Collins said “I think it is more important that we ban very high capacity magazines.”
Collins said that such a ban “would have more input and more effectiveness.”
“There’s always more that we can do,” the Republican Senator said, referencing her co-authorship of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act which she said provided funding for red and yellow flag laws, as well as mental health clinics.