A former Portland police chief was jeered and criticized by gun rights supporters Friday as a legislative committee considered his nomination for public safety commissioner.
Several gun rights groups, Republican leaders and activists criticized Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ nomination of Mike Sauschuck over his gun policy views in a state whose constitution says “every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms.”
“There are folks out there who don’t trust me in this role because of some of the specific stances I’ve taken on firearms,” said Sauschuck, whose nomination has drawn hundreds of public comments.
Sauschuck, who faces a Senate confirmation vote, said it’ll be up to him to build trust with those critical of his positions. Mills has defended his nomination and said Sauschuck will help tackle Maine’s opioid crisis.
Sauschuck said he would have little influence over firearms issues as commissioner and doesn’t see himself ever “talking to anybody about a specific concealed weapons permit.” He said each year, he’d consider about a dozen applications from individuals with criminal backgrounds seeking permission to hunt.
Democratic Sen. Susan Deschambault stressed Friday that lawmakers are considering Sauschuck’s qualifications.
His supporters praised Sauschuck’s record as a leader focused on community policing and improving de-esculation and defense training for officers.
“I can tell you that I believe Mike’s view on gun control is he wants to see less violence and wants to get guns out of the hands of criminals,” said interim Portland Police Chief Vern Malloch.
Sauschuck supported a failed 2016 referendum for universal background checks for gun sales and transfers. He has voiced concern over Maine’s open-carry and concealed carry laws, and has served on the board of a gun safety coalition board linked to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine head David Trahan has said Sauschuck’s nomination comes amid “a wave” of gun control legislation in the U.S. and Maine, despite the state’s relatively low rates of gun crimes.
Several critics voiced concern that Sauschuck would obstruct concealed weapons permits, or confiscate weapons if Maine passes a bill to take firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“The fact is for those of us who live in rural Maine, when seconds count, police are many miles and many, many minutes away,” said Turner resident Jamie Robinson, who said he opposed Sauschuck’s nomination. “We are our first reponse.”
“He has not demonstrated that he’s willing or able to separate his personal beliefs from his public service,” Robinson later added.
Sauschuck promised to work on “behalf of all Mainers,” and said his gun policy positions reflect his experience as a law enforcement officer in the state’s biggest city. He said he was never asked by a city official to adopt a particular stance.
But he said he stands by his personal views and believes no constitutional right is unlimited. One man jeered and was asked to leave Friday’s hearing when Sauschuck said it was “problematic” when a man walked around Portland with an AR-15 style rifle following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
That gun owner may have been trying to educate the Portland community, said Sauschuck, adding that rural communities may be used to seeing armed hunters.
“What he did was scare the hell out of a lot of people,” he said.