By Bernd Debusmann Jr
One of the few remaining Democratic congressman opposed to sweeping gun control measures has abruptly reversed course after a mass shooting in his Maine constituency.
Until a gunman killed 18 people on Wednesday in his hometown of Lewiston, Jared Golden, 41, said he opposed a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
The Marine Corps veteran now says his previous stance was a “failure”.
He represents a largely rural district that twice voted for Donald Trump.
The third-term congressman was elected in 2018, flipping the district to the Democrats.
Since arriving on Capitol Hill, he has broken with his own party to vote against several gun control measures.
He was one of only five Democratic representatives to oppose a planned ban on assault-style weapons that was passed by the House of Representatives in 2022. It did not become law.
“I don’t support any version of that,” Mr Golden said at the time.
On Thursday, however, Mr Golden said the shooting in Lewiston had forced him to reconsider.
“The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure,” he said at a news conference.
“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 in my hometown.”
He asked for “forgiveness” for his previous opposition to gun control.
Mr Golden said he plans to “work with any colleague to get this done in the time that I have left in Congress”.
Maine’s moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins is calling for more modest gun control – restrictions on high-capacity magazines.
US President Joe Biden urged Republican lawmakers, who control the House, to “fulfil their duty protect the American people”.
But even when Democrats ran both chambers of Congress in the first two years of the Biden presidency they could not pass such a measure.
As a Senate committee chairman, Mr Biden led the charge to restrict semi-automatic rifles in 1994, but that ban expired after a decade and whether it was actually effective has been debated ever since.
In 2019, Maine passed a “yellow flag” law that allows police officers to petition to have firearms removed from a person they believe to be a threat to themselves or others.
Under the measure, a medical evaluation is required and the person has to be taken into protective custody.
It is narrower in scope than “red flag” laws, which allow family members, teachers and others to do the same.
It is unclear if any petition was ever made regarding the suspect in Wednesday’s shooting, who authorities and family members say was suffering from acute mental health issues.
The Portland Press Herald, a local newspaper, reported that the yellow flag law has only been used 58 times in three years.
Americans’ right to bear firearms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.