LITTLE ROCK — A Republican legislator who mocked "Boston liberals" in a tweet sent Friday in the midst of a deadly manhunt for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings apologized for his remarks amid a shower of criticism from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Nate Bell, a gun rights advocate from Mena, tweeted early Friday: "I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a high capacity magazine?"
Bell, who apparently was mocking recent failed efforts in Congress to impose stricter gun safety measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, initially avoided reporters after the House recessed an early session Friday. Later in a Facebook post, a link to which he posted on Twitter, he said he regretted his poor choice of timing.
"As a staunch and unwavering supporter of the individual right to self-defense, I expressed my point of view without thinking of the effect on those still in time of crisis. Please know that my thoughts and prayers were with the people of Boston overnight and will continue as they recover from this tragedy."
In an interview on Little Rock television station KARK, Bell said he "in no way at all intended to be insensitive to anyone" and said he was "very sad that it hurt people’s feelings, that it hurt already raw emotions, that it further added to their pain."
Overnight, one of two suspects in the Boston marathon bombings was killed in a shootout with police, and Boston and surrounding communities were on virtual lockdown Friday as authorities hunted for the second suspect. Authorities believe the suspects were responsible for the death of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer found shot on campus.
In a Facebook post early Friday afternoon, Bell said his earlier comments were ill-timed, "given the ongoing tragedy that is still unfolding."
House Speaker Davy Carter and the House leaders of both major parties all issued statements critical of Bell’s early tweet.
"I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member," said Carter, R-Cabot. "I can assure the people of Boston and the people of Massachusetts that Arkansans have them in their thoughts and prayers during this tragic time."
House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said Bell’s tweet was "tasteless and uncaring."
"I can’t speak for them, but I would imagine every other member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, the Arkansas Senate and Arkansans everywhere find Rep. Bell’s comments to be as reprehensible as I do. Boston is a city of patriots, and all Arkansans should stand with them today," Leding said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said Bell’s remarks did not reflect the position of the GOP caucus.
"There is a time to debate the Second Amendment rights guaranteed to our citizens. Now is not the time … Politics and posturing about Boston have no place inside the Arkansas House of Representatives," Westerman said in a statement released through the Republican Party of Arkansas.
Asked if Bell could be sanctioned over the incident, Carter said he was not going to consider that "in the heat of the moment."
"We’ll talk about that kind of stuff later," he said.