Romney criticized for record on assault weapons

U.S. Senate candidates from Utah — state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, at left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now a resident of Holladay, Utah — shake hands at the beginning of a Republican primary debate, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Provo, Utah. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, Pool)

U.S. Senate candidates from Utah — state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, at left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now a resident of Holladay, Utah — shake hands at the beginning of a Republican primary debate, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Provo, Utah. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney’s record on gun control came up last week during debate for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, a conservative western state with strong support for the Second Amendment.

Romney’s opponent, Republican Utah state lawmaker Mike Kennedy, criticized him for signing an assault weapons ban as governor of Massachusetts, a state that’s long had tough gun laws.

The two men are both vying to replace long-serving Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after more than four decades. They’ll compete in a GOP primary on June 26, and the winner will face Democrat Jenny Wilson.

KENNEDY: “My opponent in the past signed an assault-weapon ban as governor of Massachusetts ... I stand firmly with the Second Amendment.”

ROMNEY: “An interesting thing happened while I served as governor of Massachusetts, and that is that the pro-gun lobby said ‘Look, we’re really concerned about all these restrictions we have on weapons and hunting and being able to carry weapons in Massachusetts.’ And the anti-gun people said, “Hey look, we’re concerned about some of these assault weapons. And so the two of them came together and formed a piece of legislation that banned certain weapons and at the same time expanded the rights of gun-carrying individuals to be able to hunt and carry guns throughout the state ... And I was happy to see two sides find a solution that worked for that state in that circumstance and I supported that.”

THE FACTS: It’s true that Romney signed an assault weapons ban. And it’s also true it was a compromise.

Romney signed the bill in 2004. The legislation, one of the toughest assault weapons laws in the country, ensured that the ban continued in Massachusetts even after the federal assault-weapons ban expired months later.

He did so with the support of gun-rights groups won over by several provisions that made it easier to own legal guns, including the creation of a review board that could restore gun licenses to people convicted of certain misdemeanors early in life, the Boston Globe reported.

Jim Wallace, legislative director of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, told the newspaper in 2004 that his group opposed bans in principle but thought the bill had “a lot of good things” and was a satisfactory middle ground.

The group later challenged the ban in court after a 2016 crackdown on what the Democratic state attorney general called “copycat” assault weapons. They said it was preventing law-abiding residents from buying and possessing some of the most popular rifles in the country.

A federal judge dismissed the case in April, ruling that the weapons don’t have blanket protection under the Second Amendment and can be regulated by states.