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Coats has poor aim

Hoosiers probably aren’t surprised that Sen. Dan Coats now opposes the same type of assault weapons ban he supported two decades ago. But his attempt to block the Senate from voting for or against the ban is anything but conservative.

Hoosiers who want common-sense gun laws aren’t getting help from Indiana’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Joe Donnelly, either. He also opposes an assault weapons ban, though he supports letting the Senate vote.

Regardless of one’s views on the assault weapons ban, it deserves a Senate vote. On his congressional Web page, Coats announced he joined other Republican senators in writing a letter about the weapons vote. “Coats, Senators Tell Reid To Protect Second Amendment,” is the headline on the Web item. But the last sentence of the letter includes a far different motivation and makes clear they don’t want any senator to be able to even vote on the issue.

In 1993, Coats was among several moderate Republicans who supported the 10-year assault weapons ban as a common-sense, pro-public-safety policy. Though the policy is as sound as it was 20 years ago, the nation’s politics has moved to the right. Coats was heavily criticized in the 2010 primary for that vote and now appears to be appealing to pro-gun conservatives.

Two decades ago, Coats joined other, well-respected Republican senators who put good public policy above politics. They included Richard Lugar, Robert Packwood, Nancy Kassebaum and Jack Danforth. Today, he is in the company of ultra-conservatives such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio who not only oppose the ban but want to short-circuit any attempt to democratically permit the Senate to vote on it.

Donnelly also opposes an assault weapons ban. His spokeswoman said that although Donnelly opposes the ban, “he hopes that senators of both parties can agree to allow an up-or-down vote on each measure.”

Both Coats and Donnelly may have misjudged how far to the right Hoosiers stand on guns. Indiana voters have often demonstrated more moderate positions when choosing elected leaders. Moderate Democrats Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon collectively won four consecutive governor’s races, and Donnelly’s own victory last year over a staunch Republican conservative is a more recent example. Coats himself defeated four opponents in the 2010 GOP primary that all ran to his right, winning the votes of a plurality of Republicans who were informed time and again of his 1993 assault weapons vote.

Fortunately, it appears that enough of Coats’ GOP Senate colleagues will give Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid support to at least vote on gun legislation.

And allowing a Senate vote isn’t a liberal position; it’s a pro-American, pro-democracy position.