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Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:24 - Updated Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:24

Republican lawmakers in tight races now embrace gun control measures

WASHINGTON - A majority of Republican lawmakers in the tightest congressional races are changing their message on guns, expressing new support for restrictions after last month’s high school shooting in Florida, according to a Reuters review of the candidates’ public statements.

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Eleven Republican incumbents face elections in 2018 widely seen as toss-ups or leaning against the current office holder. So far, six of them have publicly embraced new gun control measures in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Reuters found.

In advocating for some restrictions, they are breaking ranks with a party that has often balked at taking significant steps that could restrict Americans’ constitutional right to own guns and has typically limited its responses to mass shootings to expressions of sympathy.

However limited the shift, it shows that lawmakers who will depend on the votes of moderates and independents to win tough swing-district races are deviating from decades of party orthodoxy on gun ownership. 

They are doing it amid a public outcry over repeated mass shootings that has been driven in part by student activists who have confronted lawmakers over legislative inaction on the issue.

In less competitive races, most Republican candidates are still holding to the party position on guns. Most Republican lawmakers were largely silent last week when President Donald Trump surprised his party with his call for new limits on gun ownership.

Don Bacon, a first-term congressman for Omaha, Nebraska, is one of those lawmakers facing what is shaping up to be a hard-fought race in November’s congressional elections. After a former student shot dead 17 people at the Florida high school, he expressed support for tighter restrictions on Americans’ ability to buy and own guns.

In social media posts and interviews, he departed from the message of the National Rifle Association, which is a major donor to the Republican Party and has given Bacon one of its highest ratings.

Bacon said he was working on legislation to raise penalties for illegal gun buyers. He also wanted to improve background checks and allow law enforcement officers to temporarily seize firearms from people believed to be dangerous, after those people are allowed to contest the claims against them.

After a gunman shot dead 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in October, Bacon was more cautious: He joined 78 lawmakers from both parties in signing a letter urging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to reevaluate so-called bump stocks that make semi-automatic rifles fire more quickly. The NRA also supported the move.

“It’s not about winning re-election. It’s about doing what’s right,” the congressman told Reuters of his post-Parkland support for new measures. At the same time, he emphasized that he views himself as a defender of the gun rights enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,REUTERS.

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