Gun control again heats up juvenile crime bill debate
May 20, 1999
Web posted at: 7:01 a.m. EDT (1101 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 19) -- While senators continue to wade their way through a series of amendments toward a vote on the $5 billion juvenile crime bill, gun control has again taken center stage with Democrats reintroducing their revised amendment to close the so-called "gun-show loophole."
Senators voted to require safety locks or secure containers to be sold with every handgun
Senate Democrats resurrected the gun show issue that proved so politically explosive last week, arguing that an approved Republican measure, which requires background checks before some sales at gun shows, is not tough enough and creates new loopholes.
A week ago the Senate rejected a Democratic measure for background checks on all gun show sales, but public outcry after that vote prompted Republicans to quickly reconsider the issue and pass their own version.
"We need this (Democratic) amendment to close the gun-show loophole once and for all," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who sponsored the original Democratic motion. "If we leave the language in this bill as it presently is with the (Republican) amendment, our gun laws are actually going to be weaker."
Lautenberg hopes changes in the language to his amendment will win over those who thought his bill was too broad and created too much bureaucracy but several Republicans voice strong opposition to the renewed measure.
The juvenile justice bill, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), aims at curbing juvenile violence, and includes many proposals not related to gun control. The bill has been two years in the making, but gained new momentum after last month's school shootings in Littleton, Colorado.
On Wednesday, the eighth day of debate on the package, senators plodded their way through the numerous remaining amendments. Though some of the most controversial ones are still left, both sides are optimistic that a final vote will be held Thursday. Debate was to resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
In response to Republican requests, Democrats say they have whittled down their amendments to under a dozen, only three or four of which are gun-control related.
Still, the GOP has accused Democrats of holding up the bill by playing politics with gun control. "They're pushing this way too far," said an angry Hatch said on the floor Wednesday. "You can only push the gun thing so far."
With emotions still running high in the wake of that school tragedy, Republicans have found themselves on the defensive on the gun control issue, and have recently signaled some willingness to support such measures.
Senators approved an amendment Tuesday that would require the sale of safety devices with handguns. The gun lock amendment, sponsored by Hatch and Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), was approved Wednesday 78-20. The GOP-controlled Senate rejected a similar proposal 61-39 last July.
"After a week of back and forth and forth and back over firearms, it's good to see a consensus developing on this common-sense amendment to keep handguns away from children," Kohl said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a non-gun related amendment offered by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), which would have provided funding for more support counselors in schools, was set aside Wednesday by a 61-38 vote.
In an exchange before the vote, Hatch, who initiated the move to table the amendment, and Wellstone became involved a heated exchange unusual for the Senate floor but indicative of how patience is being stretched thin.
"Senator (Hatch), if you're worried about at-risk kids and helping kids before they get into trouble and wind up incarcerated and committing violent crimes, then you would want to support the kind of support services we can provide in schools," an impassioned Wellstone said.
"Look, you're not the only senator on this floor that care about kids," Hatch shot back. "I have a record of 23 years of leading the fight for most of the children's programs that have passed here. So I don't need to be lectured by the senator from Minnesota whose answer to everything is 'throw more money at it.'"
The Senate has been voting steadily on submitted amendments since Tuesday afternoon. Other changes already adopted by the Senate would give liability protection if gun is stolen and misused, stiffen penalties for gang members, stiffen penalties for offenders wearing body armor.
Working from the sidelines to support the gun control measures, President Bill Clinton encouraged the Senate to continue work on the bill. "We must do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of our
children. I want to commend the Senate for yesterday's overwhelming partisan support for child safety locks ... I urge the Senate to keep working on the justice bill, the juvenile justice bill, and to bring these common sense measures to a vote."
At this critical time in the Senate process, House Speaker Dennis Hastert entered the fray Tuesday by suggesting in an interview that the minimum age for handgun ownership be raised from 18 to 21. Hastert, a foe of previous gun control legislation, added that background checks should be required for all sales at gun shows. (Full story)
Lott said last week that he favors background checks at gun shows, but is opposed to raising the purchasing age. An aide from Lott's office told CNN that Hastert's comments were puzzling, since the gun control issue is not slated to come up in the House of Representatives anytime soon.
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.