By Kevin Miller
Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON – Members of Maine's congressional delegation offered largely tepid responses to President Obama's gun-control proposals on Wednesday, with most saying they needed more details before backing contentious aspects of the sweeping plan.
Maine's delegation is, in many ways, emblematic of the political challenges the White House faces nationwide as it pursues the most aggressive package of gun-related measures in decades.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine's more heavily populated and liberal-leaning southern coastal region, endorsed many elements of the president's plan. But U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a gun-friendly Democrat whose sprawling district is more rural and conservative than Pingree's, was noncommittal on virtually all of the proposals dealing with gun control.
Following is each member's reaction to provisions likely to require congressional approval:
SEN. ANGUS KING
King, an independent, said he was "generally supportive of the direction" of the proposals that he also described as reasonable and prudent. But King also made clear in an interview he was not yet willing to fully endorse some aspects of the president's plan.
For instance, King supports requiring background checks at gun shows but said he would want to see "common-sense exceptions" to some private, casual sales. As an example, King said he would distinguish between someone who uses the popular trader magazine Uncle Henry's to sell one gun a year versus someone who sells more frequently.
King has previously called for restrictions on magazine capacity and said Wednesday that "somewhere in the range of 10 (bullets) seems to be right." But King's equivocal stance on an assault weapons ban illustrates the uphill battle the Obama administration likely faces on the issue in Congress.
"I want to see exactly how that is worded," he said.
King said he is most concerned about the mechanics and not the appearance of a firearm, noting that a gun can look like an AK-47 but have the same firing mechanism as semiautomatic hunting rifles popular with some Maine sportsmen.
"It's the killing power not what it looks like," King said.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS
Collins, a moderate Republican, said several of the president's proposals appear -- on the surface, at least – to be consistent with policy changes she has supported in the past. Like others in the delegation, however, Collins declined to endorse Obama's specific proposals on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Collins was among the minority of Republicans who voted to extend the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, a law that she described as "carefully crafted."
Collins said Obama's 10-bullet magazine restriction "sounded reasonable."
"If that's truly what it is, then it sounds like something that I have supported twice in the past and could support again," she said.
On background checks, Collins said she would want to learn about how private sellers would access the federal database and whether it would impose an "unfair burden" on private transactions between law-abiding citizens.
"I am open to considering ways that help ensure felons and people with serious mental illnesses do not have access to guns, but I'm not sure what the best way to do that is," Collins said.
REP. MIKE MICHAUD
Michaud, a conservative, or "Blue Dog Democrat," would not take a stand on any of the president's proposals on Wednesday even when asked about them individually. He said he was "willing to consider any well-thought-out piece of legislation," however.
"I do appreciate the president's leadership in putting forward the proposals and I look forward to reviewing them thoroughly," Michaud said.
Michaud has an "A-" rating from the NRA and received $4,000 from the group last election cycle.
REP. CHELLIE PINGREE
Pingree, the delegation's most liberal member, called Obama's plan "a very reasonable agenda" that would serve as a starting point for negotiations.
"We're not going to get everything here ... but I think it is important that we put things out there" for the public to weigh, she said.
The North Haven Democrat, who received a failing grade from the NRA, has co-sponsored past attempts to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired nine years ago, as well as bills to prohibit the manufacturing of large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Pingree said she is confident that proposals being developed by colleagues heavily involved in the issue will address some of the weaknesses in the previous ban.
The president's 10-bullet magazine restriction was "appropriate," Pingree said. But she added that she would be willing to consider a smaller magazine, such as the 7-bullet restriction passed into law by New York state earlier this week.
Pingree also supports the idea of a universal background check applying to both gun shows and private sales through classified ads, although she acknowledged that the latter would be more difficult to implement.
"If we can just get rid of the gun-show loophole we would be making major progress," she said.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
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