Gun Law Push Continues

Trying to capitalize on the momentum gun control legislation gained in the Senate, Democrats met with President Clinton Friday to discuss how to push the bill through the House before the holiday weekend.

"The president said very clearly that he wants a memorial for those victims of Littleton and every other shooting that we've seen in the schools and houses across this country and he wants that memorial to those kids before we go on Memorial Day recess," Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy said as he and 17 other Democrats emerged from the West Wing.

"We cannot let the (National Rifle Association) write our gun laws," added New York Rep. Nita Lowey. "We have to take action this week."

The bill was passed by the Senate on Thursday and requires trigger locks on all new handguns and imposes tougher restrictions on sales at gun shows.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., offered to schedule House votes on the juvenile violence bill in the second week of June, after Judiciary Committee hearings.

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the administration wanted the House legislation to go even further than the Senate bill. He also called for a vote to be held soon. "I can't see anyone who will benefit from delay, except people like the NRA and those who have opposed these measures at every step of the way," Lockhart said.

Democrats rejected the Republican proposal for a vote in June, pushing instead for floor debate next week, according to House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. And Rep. John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, already had proposed several gun sale restrictions by the time the Senate voted.

Friday Republicans fired back, accusing Gephardt of rejecting a deal he had agreed to in a meeting Thursday with Republican leaders. "We were all quite surprised that Mr. Gephardt did not stick to our agreement," Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said in a statement. "To address this issue in a haphazard fashion does not do justice to the victims of violence."

Gephardt's office said no member of the party leadership had endorsed the GOP timetable.

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Such overwhelming passage (73-25) of the juvenile crime bill, authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would have been very unlikely before the Littleton, Colo., school shootings. The vote was given added impetus by the additional bloodshed Thursday at a high school in Conyers, Ga.

Rank-and-file Republicans who reversed their opposition to the Democrats' gun control proposals and even backed down when GOP leaders threatened to pull the bill earlier this week were pleased to leave behind such a public relations meltdown. "OK, we've had the debate," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who voted for the bill on final passage. To the Democrats and their declaration of victory over Republicans and the gun lobby, Lott said: "You've had your fun, you've made your point. ... Now it's time for us to move on."

But Democrats never stopped crowing after Vice President Al Gore cast the tie-breaking vote at midday in favor of a key Democratic gun control amendment that had failed in nearly identical form a week earlier.

The amendment, authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called for background checks on all gun show transactions and wiped out a less-sweeping Republican version approved only moments before. The amendment also would require that anyone who pawned a gun would have to undergo a background check before reclaiming it.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who had voted against similar gun controls last week, lined up in favor this time. He said he had made up his mind to do so Wednesday night, after Democrats had agreed to changes. But he added that the day's bloodshed in his home state "really confirmed for me that I was on the right track."

The legislation also requires that "secure gun storage or safety devices" be sold with new handguns. But the measure also extends liability protections for a gun owner who uses a safety lock and whose gun is stolen and used in a crime.

In addition, the measure continues bans importing high-capacity ammunition clips, and denies any juvenile convicted of a felony the right to purchase a gun for life.

The measure calls for $5 billion over five years to help crack down on juvenile crime. It provides money for prosecutors, and makes it easier to try some juveniles as adults. In addition, it requires a study of the entertainment industry to gauge the impact of its violent products on the young.