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Begich not sold on president's rumored gun control proposals

White House exploring issue in wake of last year's school shootings

Posted: January 11, 2013 - 12:05am

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, expressed skepticism of gun control measures reported to be under consideration by the Obama administration in a Thursday phone call with members of the media.

The Washington Post reported last Saturday that a working group on gun violence led by Vice President Joe Biden “is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors.”

Asked which gun control measures he would support, Begich said, “I’m not supporting anything at this point, and I want to see what those recommendations are.”

Begich continued, “We have to be very careful that we don’t jump to the clamor of emotion. … I don’t believe that we just need to pile on new laws and suddenly that solves all the problems.”

Mental health is also a key consideration in averting incidents like the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that claimed 27 lives on Dec. 14, 2012, Begich said.

“We have to look at the broader picture,” Begich concluded. “So I’d be very cautious about any new laws.”

Responding to another question about whether he would support a renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which outlawed the manufacture of several types of semiautomatic firearms for civilian use from 1994 to 2004, Begich said he is “not interested.”

In his remarks in Anchorage Thursday, Begich also addressed several other issues, including the grounding of the Royal Dutch Shell-owned drill ship Kulluk near Kodiak Island last month, which he called an opportunity for “education” about drilling and shipping in the Arctic region.

“There’ll be a lot of questions, and we have to answer them, and answer them with facts,” Begich said.

Begich said the Kulluk incident is being distorted by opponents of Arctic drilling to advance an argument against oil exploration in the region.

“I think people nationally will like to make this an issue, because some people don’t want anything to happen in the Arctic, and they will use this and exaggerate it,” Begich asserted. “They will stretch it and mold it to try to make their case.”

Begich singled out one drilling skeptic for particular criticism: Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has declared his intent to seek the seat of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, whom President Barack Obama has tapped to become United States secretary of state.

Begich called his would-be Senate colleague “predictable” in his response to the grounding of the Kulluk.

“He’s like a broken record — or a scratched CD, depending on what generation you’re from,” said Begich, claiming Markey has “not been necessarily the biggest fan of some of our issues.”

Markey, who is the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, released a statement after the Kulluk’s grounding that read in part, “Oil companies cannot currently drill safely in the foreboding conditions of the Arctic, and drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment.”

Begich was warmer in his assessment of a couple of other new Senate Democrats, naming freshmen Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., as members he believes are receptive to Alaska’s issues.

“We know he’s going to be the right person working with us,” Begich said of Donnelly.

Like Begich, Heitkamp and Donnelly represent states that typically vote for Republicans at the federal level. All three have staked out positions to the right of most other Senate Democrats on certain issues.

Heitkamp appeared on Sunday morning talk shows last weekend to criticize the gun control measures the White House is reportedly mulling, calling them “way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about.”

Begich also said he has reached out to all of his new colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats.

“Whoever’s elected, I work with,” said Begich. “We’re going to find common ground where we can and then work with them.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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