Joining a chorus of politicians calling for tougher gun regulations following Friday’s elementary school shooting, US Senator Scott Brown reversed his position on Wednesday and spoke out in support of a federal assault weapons ban.
Brown, a Republican, had long said he opposed any new federal restrictions on guns and believed the issue was best left to each state.
But after Friday’s shooting, which took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn., Brown changed course.
“What happened in Newtown where those children were subject to that level of violence is beyond my comprehension,” Brown said in remarks first reported by the Springfield Republican newspaper. “As a state legislator in Massachusetts, I supported an assault weapons ban thinking other states would follow suit. But unfortunately, they have not, and innocent people are being killed. As a result, I support a federal assault weapons ban, perhaps like the legislation we have in Massachusetts.”
Brown’s shift comes as he is believed to be positioning himself for a return to the Senate. Brown who is leaving next month after being defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is said to be readying a run for Senator John F. Kerry’s seat, if Kerry is, as expected, named secretary of state.
Brown’s statement came several hours after Warren called for banning assault weapons and said she will sign onto the measure that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California plans to introduce next month.
A ban on assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, has announced her intentions to reintroduce it next year.
Brown had been a reliable vote for gun rights as a Massachusetts legislator who was endorsed by gun rights groups, like the Gun Owners’ Action League. As a state representative in 2002, he voted to let residents who had certain felony convictions get licenses after seven years. And as a state senator in 2004, he voted against a measure to ban assault weapons manufactured prior to 1994.
In January 2011, after the Arizona shooting that killed six and injured US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Brown said he was “not in favor of doing any additional federal regulations with regard to any type of weapons or federal gun changes. I feel it should be left up to the states.”
But he also supported an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts. And last year, he alienated some gun owners by opposing the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act that would let gun owners with permits from their own states carry concealed weapons across state lines.
His nuanced position attracted criticism from advocates on both sides of the gun control issue and may have cost him votes. Donald Kusser, a vocal life member of the National Rifle Association who lives in Quincy, said he refused to vote for Brown last month.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?’’ Kusser said. “The outgoing senator was a strong supporter in the State House of gun ownership, backed with an NRA rating, goes to Washington, and all of a sudden he’s got to play the game. He’s doing it because he’s got plans to run for another office, there’s no question.’’
Brown’s spokeswoman would not make the senator available for an interview. In his remarks to the Springfield Republican, Brown said: “I also think we need to look at mental health in this country and see if we can keep these weapons out of the hands of people with severe issues.”
It has been a bruising time for the outgoing senator, whose reelection effort fell short last month. Brown is recovering from hernia surgery that he had Monday. An aide described Brown as uncomfortable but still working out of Washington.
On Friday, when he appeared at a holiday party, he told fellow Massachusetts Republicans that he expected to be spending the weekend by the bedside of his father, who has Parkinson’s disease.
President Obama, who had been largely silent on gun control during his first term, called Friday’s massacre ‘‘a wake-up call for all of us,” and called for urgent action by Congress on gun regulations.
Warren had backed an assault weapons ban and further gun control during her campaign for Senate. Tuesday in an e-mail to supporters entitled, “We Must Try,” she called for urgent action to try to keep children safe.
Warren, who was raised in Oklahoma, also told supporters that she had learned to shoot when she was in grade school. “But no one needs military-grade assault weapons to hunt, and no one needs Rambo-style high capacity magazines to protect their family from intruders,” she wrote.