WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three current and former police chiefs from Maine were in the nation's capital on Tuesday making their case for stronger gun laws as the White House and advocacy groups attempted to ratchet up pressure on Congress to vote on several proposals.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, Auburn Chief Phillip Crowell Jr. and former Lewiston Chief Larry Gilbert joined law enforcement officers from across the country who made rounds on Capitol Hill.
They also attended an impassioned and, at times, angry speech by Vice President Joe Biden, who called Republican threats to filibuster a gun control package "embarrassing" and suggested opponents of the gun bills were "in a time warp."
"I thought he did an incredible job," Sauschuck said after Biden's speech. "It really struck home."
After nearly four months of rancorous public debate, the Senate may hold its first votes on a suite of gun control bills as early as Thursday. While some Republicans hope to block debate, others including Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday that they will not join an attempt to filibuster the gun proposals.
Both sides in the debate are applying pressure to potential swing votes through advertising, social media campaigns and face-to-face lobbying. And both the National Rifle Association and Mayors
Against Illegal Guns -- the organization that has emerged as the most prominent counterpoint to the NRA in the debate -- have made clear they will use senators' votes in score cards sent to supporters.
The trio from Maine was in Washington as part of events organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is largely financed by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"We are trying to put out information from the law enforcement and mayors' perspective, where public safety is first and foremost," said Gilbert, who is also a former U.S. marshal for Maine and mayor of Lewiston, as he waited for Biden to speak at the Executive Office Building next to the White House.
"This is the time to take a comprehensive approach to this gun violence issue."
Proposals to stiffen penalties for gun trafficking and expand school safety programs appear to have strong bipartisan support. But questions remained Tuesday about whether a bill to require background checks on private sales had enough votes to move forward in the Senate. Only licensed federal gun dealers are currently required to conduct background checks under federal law.
And the most aggressive gun control proposals a including bans on military-style assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines a appear unlikely to pass.
Maine's two Senate members -- Collins and independent Angus King -- are among those under the microscope. Neither plans to support the current proposed ban on assault weapons, much to the dismay of advocates for tighter gun laws. And while both say they support expanded background checks, they want to see exemptions for family members.
Collins appears to be getting the most attention, most recently in online ads this week by both advocates for stronger gun laws and opponents of any new gun regulation.
Auburn's Crowell credited Collins for co-sponsoring both the gun trafficking and the school security bills. On the issue of background checks, Crowell pointed out that more than 2 million people have been denied guns since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was launched in 1998.
"So we know that it works," he said. "We know the mechanism is in place and that it is effective."
The three men met with Collins and with members of King's staff on Tuesday. Sauschuck, who has been vocal in his support for universal background checks, said that "at the end of the day we have to believe that common-sense solutions are going to win."
"It is a contentious issue and they are deeply involved in the debate," Sauschuck said of Maine's U.S. senators. "We certainly heard some promising things from them."
Biden was scorching in his criticism of Republicans threatening to block votes on the gun bills.
Earlier in the day, Biden said, he had breakfast with more than a dozen family members of victims of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Biden said he wished members of Congress "had been able to eavesdrop on the discussion in my home today."
"They don't even understand how we can even be, at this point, debating this," Biden said of his conversation with the victims' family members. "They don't see how 100 bright women and men (in the Senate) don't get it."
Copyright 2013 - Portland Press Herald, Maine
McClatchy-Tribune News Service