Senate passes juvenile crime bill
Controversial gun control measure included with Gore's tie-breaking vote
May 21, 1999
Web posted at: 1:04 p.m. EDT (1704 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 20) -- Following ten days of often bitter debate, the Senate easily passed Thursday night its sweeping juvenile justice bill. It includes a controversial Democratic amendment to close the so-called "gun-show loophole," that passed a divided Senate earlier in the day, with Vice President Al Gore casting the deciding vote.
The final vote on the landmark crime package aimed at curbing juvenile violence came one month to the day after the massacre at Columbine High School that left 15 people dead. The vote also came against the backdrop of another school shooting early Thursday morning, this time in Georgia.
"I am very grateful to finally have this ordeal over," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the bill's chief architect. "We've made real inroads and we've made a number of very important steps with regard to changing the culture of violence in our society -- and that's important."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg
The way for final passage was cleared earlier Thursday by a vote on a gun amendment requiring background checks on all gun sales at gun shows and pawnshops. Senators split 50-50, allowing Vice President Al Gore to use his constitutional power to break the tie in favor of the measure sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). (132K wav file)
The Lautenberg amendment requires mandatory background checks for all gun sales at gun shows and pawnshops. Its passage overrode a GOP amendment, sponsored by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), that had been approved, 79-29, just 15 minutes before.
"I personally would like to dedicate my tie-breaking vote to all of the families that have suffered from gun violence," said a triumphant Gore, the front-runner for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination. (92K wav file)
As vice president, Gore serves as Senate president, though the vice president rarely presides over the chamber unless he is needed to cast a deciding vote. Gore had traveled to Capitol Hill to preside over the vote when it became clear a tie was likely.
In addition to the expanded background checks, the juvenile justice bill requires child-safety devices on handguns and restrictions on automatic weapons. The legislation also dedicates $1 billion annually for five years for tougher enforcement of violent crimes committed by America's youth while expanding juvenile crime prevention programs.
It also allows for studies on the effects of movies, television and video
games on children.
After sitting untouched for nearly two years, Hatch's crime package aimed at curbing juvenile violence was rushed to the floor following the massacre at a high school in Littleton, Colorado that took place one month ago to the day.
Sen. Orrin Hatch
The Senate's action took on a new urgency Thursday in the wake of another school shooting, this time at Conyers, Georgia's Heritage High School where six students were shot by a fellow student. (Full story)
"This incident again should underscore how profoundly important it is that all Americans come together in the face of these events to protect all of our children from violence. There's debate going on in the Senate today relevant to that," President Bill Clinton said before leaving for his pre-scheduled trip to Littleton with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to mark the one-month anniversary of that tragedy. (180K wav file)
To reach the final vote, the Republican majority, which suffered political heat over the gun control issue during debate on the juvenile crime bill, offered concessions on gun control measures.
The bill now moves to the House though GOP leaders want to wait about a month before bringing the issue to the floor.
"We will take a look at the measure passed by the Senate to make sure it
is a reasonable and common sense approach," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said. Hastert has signaled recently that he would support some limited gun controls like the ones that passed the Senate.
The so-called "gun-show loophole" proved to be the most inflammatory issue of the juvenile justice debate and the Senate's ultimate OK of the Lautenberg amendment came only after a convoluted series of legislative moves.
Lautenberg's original amendment was first rejected the previous week. That defeat sparked immediate public and political outrage -- forcing Republicans to quickly backtrack and reverse themselves by passing a GOP amendment, sponsored by Hatch, last Friday to apply background checks on some purchases at gun shows.
Even so, the issue did not disappear as Democrats bitterly that the GOP amendment was not enough, and actually created new "loopholes." Revising some of the language most objectionable to Republicans, Democrats reintroduced Lautenberg's amendment.
The most notable difference between the Democratic and Republicans proposals is that it gives the government three days to conduct a background check -- rather than the 24 hours alloted by the Republican amendment. It also reinstates the mandatory background checks on guns reclaimed from pawnshops.
"We appealed more to the American people than we did to the Republican majority. They were determined that there wasn't going to be anything through here," Lautenberg said following the victorious vote.
This time around Sen Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat whose homestate became the latest location of school violence Thursday, switched his vote and supported the measure. Six Republicans also voted 'yea': Sens. John Chafee (Rhode Island), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), George Voinovich (Ohio), John Warner (Virginia), Peter Fitzgerald (Illinois) and Richard Lugar (Indiana).
Sen. Larry Craig
The amendment passed Thursday also negates Hatch's amendment passed last Friday and requires background checks on some gun-show purchasers exempted in the version sponsored by Hatch.
The Smith amendment passed earlier Thursday would have limited instant checks to just 24 hours, instead of the more thorough three days currently required by federal law of most licensed gun dealers.
The president reacted to the amendment vote by saying: "I applaud the Senate for today's historic vote to
close the gun show loophole and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and
The Democrats' success in pushing some gun control measures came with a cost.
The heated nature of debate on the juvenile justice bill tested the Senate's tradition of amiability, and often that spirit was overtaken by hard feelings.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), complained bitterly Wednesday about the Democrats. "They really hurt themselves," he told CNN. "They're going to pay."
Democrats call the GOP compromises on some gun control measures a victory over the gun lobby.
"What you just saw is the NRA losing its grip on the United States Senate, at long last," declared Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota).
But Republicans disagreed, saying their reversal on requiring background checks at gun shows and voting to require trigger locks with handgun sales weren't big concessions at all.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a National Rifle Association (NRA) board member who led the effort to defeat the original Lautenberg amendment last week, insisted Wednesday that pro-gun interests had not been defeated.
"I haven't lost," he said with a smile, wagging his forefinger in the air. "It's not over yet."
The NRA, which lobbied against the measure, refused to concede defeat, accusing the White House of backing "a charade of lawmaking" without law enforcement.
The "NRA will continue to hold a mirror up to this dishonest process until the American people demand more meaningful and substantive action from government," the group said in a statement. "Everyone knows this won't stop the crisis in our schools."
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this story.