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Gun Control Heats Up

National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston told a congressional panel Thursday there is no sense passing more gun laws because President Clinton "lacks the spine" to enforce the laws already on the books, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss.

"Why does the president, I ask myself and I ask you, ask for more federal gun laws if he's not going to enforce the ones he has?" Heston said in testimony before a House Government Reform subcommittee. "The White House and the Justice Department lack either the time or the spine to enforce existing gun laws against violent criminals."

In her weekly press briefing, Attorney General Janet Reno fired back.

"We've got to get past the point of rhetoric and concepts and come to the reality that guns kill," she said. "The guns that we are seeing across America today that are doing some of this killing are as lethal as anything I know. Guns in the hands of people who don't know how to safely and lawfully use them. It just doesn't make any sense."

"These are human beings we're talking about," she added. "It's not concepts, it's not words. These are people being killed. Because of guns. Because this nation for too long has not taken a common sense reasonable approach to guns."

Charlton Heston at a congressional hearing questioned the Administration's commitment to gun control.

"No lives will be saved talking about how many hours a waiting period should be or how many rounds a magazine should hold," Heston said at the hearing.

Heston, reports Fuss, also said tough gun control laws in Hawaii didn't stop the shooting there.

The workplace violence incident there Tuesday and the shootings in Seattle Wednesday brought a cry of protest from vice president Al Gore at a Capitol Hill press conference.

"How many tragedies does it take before the members of the Republican leadership bottling up this legislation get the message?"

The Latest Shootings: Seattle and Honolulu
Last spring, the Senate passed a juvenile justice bill that included gun control. But the House took guns out of its bill, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick. Now, months later, lawmakers still have no final bill, and leaders say gun control is essentially dead.

"The pro-gun people, the Second Amendment people as they call themselves, don't want to yield an inch," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill. "And the anti-gun people want everything they want and don't want to yield an inch, too."

The sticking point is gun shows - how they're defined and how long the waiting period should be for background checks at shows.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said, "We can't be for a bill that's filled with loopholes and is so watered down that all these guns are now going to be sold through gun shows."

There have been four mass shootings since the final bill went into conference: One at a Los Angeles daycare center, one at a Texas church, and two in the last two days in Hawaii and Seattle. As lawmakers continue meeting behind closed doors, Democrats say they're still waiting for a compromise, while Republicans claim Democrats are too busy playin politics to listen.

"They charge that Democrats don't want gun control because it's a good issue and they want to use it for campaign 2000," says Gephardt."That's just a cover-up, I'm afraid, for their failure to get the bill done."

In the year of school shootings in Littleton, Colo. and Conyers, Ga., there's a very strong possibility that this Congress will not pass any new gun legislation.

"The perfect is the enemy of the good, as the old saying goes," says Hyde. "If they're going to hold out for a perfect bill, we won't have one."

And with just a week or so left in the legislative session, that will probably be the case.