In the aftermath of the deadly Colorado theater shooting that left 12 dead and dozens more wounded, the focus is on the victims and the shooting suspect, who is in police custody. But in coming days, as the spotlight shifts to what might have prevented the mass shooting, attention is sure to focus on the semiautomatic weapon and the high-capacity ammunition magazine that were part of the arsenal that police say James Holmes used in the massacre during the opening minutes of a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is sure to face scrutiny, given the varied positions he has taken about the legality of assault weapons, as well as gun control in general.
As governor of Massachusetts, he signed the first permanent state ban on assault weapons.
“Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts,” Romney said at the bill-signing ceremony in 2004, according to a news release issued by the governor’s office at the time. “These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”
The law mirrored a federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and has not been renewed. When Romney ran for president in 2008, he offered conflicting statements, saying that as president he would have signed a law renewing the federal ban. But he also said he did not believe any new gun restriction laws were necessary.
“I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature, including that against semiautomatic weapons,” Romney said during a Florida debate in 2008. “I instead believe that we have laws in place that, if they’re implemented and enforced, will provide the protection and the safety of the American people.”
That is the same stance he holds today.
“Gov. Romney believes that the best way to prevent gun violence is to vigorously enforce our laws,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Saturday.
The AR-15 police say was used in the theater shooting is a semiautomatic rifle that is modeled on the military M-16. Versions of it were banned in the Massachusetts and federal laws, though there were loopholes that allowed modified AR-15s to be legally sold under both laws. The manufacturer and details of the AR-15 recovered in Aurora, Colo., have yet to be revealed. The high-capacity magazine that police said Holmes purchased before the shooting remains illegal in Massachusetts under the law Romney signed and was prohibited under the federal ban that expired.
Specifics of the weapons aside, the tragedy renews focus on Romney’s broader shift on gun control.
When Romney ran against Sen. Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1994, he backed gun-control measures strongly opposed by the gun-rights lobby, including the Brady Bill. He told reporters then that he didn’t “line up” with the National Rifle Assn., and he pledged not to chip away at gun control laws in Massachusetts.
“That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA,” he said in an interview with the Boston Herald then.
He has changed his tone as he sought the highest office in the land, joining the group as a “lifetime member” in 2006.
“It’s great to be with so many friends from the National Rifle Association. This fine organization is sometimes called a single-issue group. That’s high praise when the single issue is freedom,” Romney said at an NRA convention last April. “All of you can be proud of your long and unwavering defense of our constitutional rights and liberties.”
For his part, President Obama has done little to press for gun control measures, bowing to the political opposition that has struck at any elected official who has pressed to limit access to guns.