HOLDEN, Maine — The president of the National Rifle Association traveled to Maine on Thursday to endorse Republican Charlie Summers in his bid to fill Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat.
At an endorsement event at Maine Military Supply, NRA president David Keene doubted Summers’ main rival, independent former Gov. Angus King, on his support for gun rights in light of backing he has received from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal gun control advocate.
“It’s incredibly important that there be a bipartisan majority of gun supporters in the Senate,” Keene said.
The NRA endorsement came the same week King traveled to New York for a fundraiser hosted by Bloomberg at his Manhattan home. And it came a day after Bloomberg announced plans to form a super-PAC supporting about a dozen candidates nationwide, including King. According to Bloomberg’s announcement, the super-PAC will back candidates who support policies to crack down on illegal guns and reform education policy.
Bloomberg also has contributed $500,000 to a third-party campaign by the nonprofit group Americans Elect to boost King’s campaign.
“Michael Bloomberg’s an investor,” Keene said. Investors “put up $500,000 because they expect a return.”
Summers said he opposes any new restrictions on gun ownership and that he opposes renewing an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, which the NRA strongly opposes.
Putting in place new gun restrictions won’t deter crime, he said Wednesday during a Bangor Daily News editorial board meeting. “Some of the laws that are discussed I don’t think will accomplish anything,” Summers said. “I think, at best, it would be feel-good legislation.”
King doesn’t support renewing the assault weapons ban, either, but he supports the Brady Bill, which requires that people buying guns through licensed dealers pass background checks. He also supports extending the background check requirement to gun shows, where private dealers can sell guns without conducting background checks.
“The idea was keeping guns away from people who shouldn’t have them,” King said Wednesday during a separate BDN editorial board meeting.
King said he doesn’t support extending the background check requirement to casual gun sales between individuals.
On the assault weapons ban, King said it didn’t prove effective in the 10 years it was law.
“The labeling of a gun as an assault weapon didn’t seem to have an impact,” King said, citing Chris Shays, who co-sponsored the assault weapons ban in the 1990s as a Republican member of the U.S. House but said in July he opposes its renewal. “That definition is complicated and not very meaningful.”
Bloomberg and King differ on the assault weapons ban. The New York mayor called on President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in July to push for a ban on assault rifles and more strictly enforce existing gun laws. Bloomberg’s comments followed this summer’s shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., when a heavily armed gunman killed 12 people and injured 58.
Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill supports renewing the assault weapons ban and supports pending legislation to extend background check requirements to gun shows.
“I support the 2nd Amendment and Maine’s hunting culture,” she said during a third BDN editorial board meeting. “I reject the notion that because of the 2nd Amendment, we cannot regulate firearms.”
“I think the NRA has outsize political influence,” she added.
The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, D.C., largely due to its ability to rally its base of 4 million members to support gun-friendly politicians and oppose candidates who support gun control.
In Maine, the group has supported U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, in his bid for re-election to a sixth term.
“We are your classic one-issue group, in terms of politics. We’re here to support the 2nd Amendment,” Keene said. “If you support the 2nd Amendment, and you’re in office, and you vote on 2nd Amendment issues the way we think you should, we will not desert you, regardless of your party or your opponent.”
BDN Outdoors Editor John Holyoke contributed to this report.