In the wake of a mass shooting in his hometown of Lewiston in which 18 people died, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden announced his support for a national assault weapons ban, reversing a previous stance that he said had come from “a false confidence that our community was above this,” among “many other misjudgments.”
Golden, a Democrat who faces a difficult reelection fight in Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, received praise from many of his fellow House Democrats along with state level officials in Maine.
Two of Golden’s potential Republican opponents have taken a different approach, however, doubling down on their opposition to a gun safety protection measure that led to a lower rate of mass shootings and deaths when it was in place from 1994 to 2004.
After Golden’s announcement on Thursday, state Rep. Austin Theriault (R-Fort Kent), one of the contenders for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, released a statement criticizing the Democratic congressman.
“It’s unfortunate and frustrating that, at this time of tragedy, Jared Golden and Joe Biden would try to score political points by attacking the 2nd Amendment,” Theriault said on X. “When I am in Congress I will defend every law-abiding citizen’s 2nd Amendment rights.”
Theriault, a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — which has bragged about helping defeat hundreds of gun policy reform bills — also demonstrated his opposition to gun safety measures earlier this year when he voted against a bill to institute a background check policy in Maine, a measure to ban rapid-fire modification devices, and legislation to institute a 72-hour waiting period for firearm purchases.
Advocates and lawmakers in support of those measures argued they were sensible reforms that would help prevent large-scale gun violence, such as was seen this week in Maine. However, each of the bills failed amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the State House.
Another candidate in the GOP primary for the 2nd District, state Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Phillips), also criticized Golden’s support for an assault weapons ban, accusing the congressman of “using this tragedy to advance a liberal political agenda.”
“I am an NRA member and a steadfast supporter of the Second Amendment, but now is not the time for politics. 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,” Soboleski wrote on X, mirroring a long-standing tactic by conservatives after mass shootings of accusing Democrats who propose ideas to address gun violence of politicizing tragedy.
In his remarks on Thursday, Golden acknowledged his past opposition to firearm reforms and said he would work with anyone in Congress to push for an assault weapons ban that he now believes would help stem the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.
“The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure, which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing,” he said.