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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Clinton: New weapon controls can 'make a difference'

April 27, 1999
Web posted at: 6:37 p.m. EDT (2237 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 27) -- For President Bill Clinton, last week's school shooting in Littleton, Colorado gave new urgency to the old issue of gun control. In an omnibus anti-crime bill he unveiled Tuesday the president proposed requiring instant background checks for the purchase of explosives, holding parents criminally liable when their guns are used by juveniles in a crime and raising the minimum age for purchasing a handgun from 18 to 21.

Transcript: President Bill Clinton announces crime bill

"This is about our community. This is about our responsibility to our children. This is about protecting our children and the vulnerable children themselves from people who are about to go over the line here," Clinton said at the White House event to announce the bill.

"And this is crazy that we've living in a society that takes no reasonable steps to protect the larger community," the president said. The event was lead off by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

President Clinton unveiled his anti-crime bill Tuesday  

White House officials say the gun control package was put together before the Littleton, Colorado school shooting last week, but they're hoping the tragedy will give the legislation a better chance of winning congressional approval.

"Do we know for absolutely certain, if we'd had every reasonable law than the ones I'm going to propose here, that none of these schools violent things would have happened? No," Clinton said.

"But we do know one thing for certain. We know there would have been fewer of them and there would have been fewer kids killed in the last several years in America. We know that for certain," the president said.

Controls proposed

The package contains a mix of old legislation, that has previously been introduced but not passed by Republican-led Congress, and new ideas.

The three new proposals include background checks for those who buy explosives, raising the legal age for hand gun purchases to 21 and limiting hand gun purchases to one per person per month.

Among the resurrected initiatives are bans on the sale of all semi-automatic assault rifles to juveniles who have committed crimes and the importation of all large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Other ideas being pushed again include making child-safety gun locks mandatory and reinstating a three-day waiting period for the purchase of guns. A five-day waiting period was a high-profile feature of the Brady Bill but Congress allowed it to lapse last year when subsequent legislation mandating instant background checks passed.

Clinton also wants instant background checks on people who buy weapons from gun shows.

Clinton: Convincing hunting culture the key

While momentum following the Columbine High School tragedy might help some of the proposals, gun control measures face stiff opposition in Congress. Critics of gun controls say a society that produces violent movies, television programming and video games is to blame for crimes like school violence -- not guns.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called the proposed legislation "the typical knee jerk reaction: 'Oh goodness we have crime and therefore what we need is gun control.' That is what you get in Washington. But that alone is not the answer."

The president says the key to passing the controls is to convince people in the hunting and sport-shooting culture that no one is trying to take away their guns or pastimes.

"We still have a cultural and a political argument that says to defend Americans' rights to reasonable hunting and sports shooting, you have to defend the indefensible as well," Clinton said. "It doesn't make any sense at all unless you're caught up in this sort of web of distorted logic and denial."

Clinton urged people to concentrate on convincing this politically-powerful constituency that the controls are for the greater good. "Somebody needs to call these members that grew up where I grew up, that lived in the same culture I did, that belonged to both parties, and say, hey, we've got make this like airport metal detectors and X-ray machines."

But it's a tough hurdle, as gun control is a risky political issue. Clinton said that a lot of Democrats lost their congressional seats in 1994 because they voted for the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban. Those losses resulted in the Republicans gaining control of Congress.

And political contributions to federal candidates from gun control opponents during the last congressional session approached $2 million. More than 80 percent went to those Republicans who do currently control Congress.

Explosives background check

Clinton Administration officials worked late into Monday night on the suggested explosives background check requirement.

Until now, instant background checks have been required only for the purchase of guns. The new initiative, aides say, will be part of several gun control measures the president will offer.

In the proposal, "explosives" would refer to dynamite, blasting caps and the like, not materials that can be blended into a volatile mixture. In Littleton the student killers used homemade hand grenades and pipe bombs in their rampage through Columbine High School. In Oklahoma City, two tons of explosive made from commonplace fertilizer were used to blow up the federal building in 1995.

Gun-show loophole

Another proposal of Clinton's legislation would close what he called a "dangerous loophole" in the law that allows guns to be purchased at gun shows without instant background checks.

There have been reports that at least one of the guns used by the two seniors in a shooting rampage at Littleton's Columbine High School that killed 15 other people, including the suspects, was purchased at a gun show.

When convincing people of the need for this provision, Clinton advised not to pretend that the new law wouldn't be a "hassle" for gun show buyers.

"We have to say: 'We haven't asked you to abolish your gun shows, but we've asked you to undergo the inconvenience necessary to save more lives.' We don't have to be insensitive. We just have to be determined.

"But I'm telling you if you -- if we don't do something about this gun show loophole, we're going to continue to have serious, serious, problems. And it's very important," Clinton said.

Parental liability

Clinton also embraced elements of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's legislation which provides criminal penalties for adults if juveniles use their weapons for illegal purposes.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy lost her husband during a shooting rampage in Long Island  

McCarthy became a congresswoman because little happened on toughening crime measures after her husband was killed nearly six years ago during a shooting rampage on the Long Island Rail Road.

At the event she said, "We're hearing from the other side already, 'There is nothing we can do.'"

"I'm sorry. You have heard of so many proposals. There is something we can do. There has to be something that we can do," McCarthy responded.

CNN's Chris Black, Wolf Blitzer, Bob Franken and contributed to this report.


Coming to clarity about guns (TIME, 4-26-99)

Are guns or society to blame? Lawmakers search for answers (4-23-99)

Clinton Administration to push gun control measures (4-22-99)

School shooting raises questions about teen access to guns (4-22-99)

School shooting sparks gun control debate (4-21-99)


More parents worried about school safety (4-22-99)


White House

House of Representatives


Official Office for Victims of Crime Web site



State-by-State look at gun control

Recent school shootings


CNN's Chris Black reports on the President's gun initiatives (4-29-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K

Larry King Live Highlight: Attorney General Janet Reno talks about the Colorado tragedy and gun control (4-29-99) video Real: 28K | 80K, Windows Media: 28K | 80K


Denver school shooting


Tuesday, April 27, 1999

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