SIDNEY, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told reporters on Monday that Congress should “come together” on gun reform after weekend mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, rejecting President Donald Trump’s suggestion that background checks and immigration reform be linked.
Collins has traditionally been the biggest-name Republican open to backing gun control to some degree in Maine, which is notable in a gun-loving state that has historically been one of the safest states in the nation, though its suicide rate was 16th highest among states in 2017.
The Maine senator said on Monday at the end of a visit to a Sidney dairy farm that Congress should take a “comprehensive approach” to changing gun laws after the shootings in El Paso on Saturday and Dayton on Sunday that killed 31 people.
The list of proposals that she said lawmakers should consider included a raft of measures that she has supported unsuccessfully over the years, including an expansion of background checks, that are unlikely to find wide Republican support in Congress.
“We need to come together and work on all of these proposals so that we can greatly lessen the chances or feel that we’ve done everything that we can to prevent the kinds of horrific tragedies that we’ve seen over the past weekend and indeed over the past year,” Collins said.
Republicans in Maine typically take largely absolute stances on gun rights, and many Democrats have been reticent to embrace gun control here, especially after Mainers — centered in the rural, conservative-leaning 2nd Congressional District — rejected a 2016 referendum to expand background checks.
Shortly after taking office in January, Gov. Janet Mills cited that vote in comments to reporters that effectively kiboshed background check proposals from fellow Democrats in charge of the Legislature, though she largely agreed on guns with a liberal field of primary opponents in 2018.
Federal law requires background checks before the purchase of guns from a licensed dealer, but sales between individuals are not included. Twenty-one states go beyond that to regulate those sales somehow, while 12 mandate background checks before private sales and transfers, according to the Giffords Law Center, a pro-gun control group.
In 2013, Collins backed a bipartisan measure that would have expanded background checks to advertised gun sales, but would not have applied to most transactions between family and friends, and would have loosened other gun laws. She also led an effort in 2016 to prevent gun sales to people on the “no-fly list,” though neither bid succeeded among Republican opposition.
This year, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand background checks in a way that provides fewer exemptions than the 2013 measure, including one for transfers between family members. Maine’s Democratic representative split on it, with Chellie Pingree of the 1st District backing it and Jared Golden of the 2nd District opposing it.
A version of that bill is backed by 42 Democrats in the Republican-led Senate, where neither Collins nor independent Maine Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, have signed on. On Monday, a spokeswoman for Collins said she thought it went too far.
On Monday, Trump, a Republican, suggested in a tweet that background check expansion could be “married” with immigration reform. He has made similar suggestions on background checks after past mass shootings without advancing legislations. Collins took a dim view of the idea.
“I think we need to do both, but I don’t see a connection,” she said.
Collins has been pushed since the weekend by Democrats looking to unseat her in a nationally targeted 2020 race. On Sunday, two of them — House Speaker Sara Gideon and lobbyist Betsy Sweet — tweeted that Collins should lobby Republican leaders to return to act on gun laws.