BOSTON -- U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine said that he's reluctant to endorse a federal ban on the kind of assault weapon used in last month's Connecticut school shooting.
The newly elected senator, an independent, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he supports universal background checks and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines as proposed this week by President Barack Obama. But he said he hasn't decided whether to embrace the president's call to ban new assault weapons.
"Frankly, the more important aspects of the president's proposal is the expansion of background checks, which I believe is appropriate, and the limitation on the size of magazines," King said, adding that smaller magazines would "most likely ... alleviate the risks associated with whatever the weapon is."
A gunman armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle killed 20 first-graders and six educators last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Obama this week proposed a ban on new assault weapons and said he wants to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less.
Asked whether he supported banning new assault weapons, like the one used in the Connecticut attack, King said, "I don't know."
"My friends who hunt in Maine – virtually everyone uses a semi-automatic hunting rifle," King said, noting that he hasn't seen the president's proposal in writing. "I'd need to see how it's worded and how `assault weapon' is defined. I think it's impossible to say yes or no until I know exactly what's on the table."
A lopsided 84 percent of Americans back broader background checks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws, the same poll showed, with majorities favoring a nationwide ban on military-style weapons.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said recently it's unlikely an assault weapons ban would actually pass the House of Representatives. Absent action by Congress, all that remains are 23 executive orders Obama announced that apply only to the federal government, not local or state law enforcement.