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Transcript provided by FDCH

For additional transcripts or videotapes, call 1-800-CNN-NEWS (1-8000266-6397) or order online.

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

Transcript: Senate Democrats, Gore celebrate 'gun-show loophole' vote

May 20, 1999

May 20, 1999
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT)

SEN MAJORITY LEADER DASCHLE: I want to thank all of my colleagues for the job that they've done, including our -- the manager of our bill, Patrick Leahy, for the remarkable job that he's done as well.

But our special friend and our leader, the person who has been responsible for the fact that we're here at all, right now, is with us and we're delighted and honored that the vice president could join us, the vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

(APPLAUSE)

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Thank you very much, Tom. Thank you.

Both Senator Daschle and I are going to have to leave momentarily, and we're going to turn the master of ceremony's job over to Senator Lautenberg, and he was the leader of the floor fight, and persistence really is Frank's middle name, as all of you know. And I congratulate him and all of these other leaders who have done such a great job, in many cases over the years.

And of course, Senator Daschle is just a truly remarkable Democratic leader in the Senate. I don't -- I don't know when we've seen anything quite like the skill that he has brought to that job.

But let me talk about this specific vote. We are all just elated over this victory. This is a turning point for our country. Finally, a majority in the United States Senate, with the help of a half a dozen Republicans whose courage in crossing the aisle should be recognized also. Finally, this majority is turning the corner and helping to protect the children and families of this country.

Now I personally would like to dedicate my tie-breaking vote to all of the families that have suffered from gun violence. My wife Tipper and I went out to Columbine High School a few weeks ago. And of course, we all know that there are so many things that need to be changed in the wake of that tragedy. But we are reminded by the fresh tragedy today, with the wounding of quite a few students in a high school in Georgia -- and I talked with Governor Barnes a little bit earlier about that incident. We're reminded again that until we get more controls in a sensible way on the easy availability of guns in our society to children, to criminals, to those who are mentally disturbed, then these tragedies will continue.

We had a session down at the White House ten days ago. GORE: One of the doctors there said, you know, we used to have a problem with aspirin poisoning of children in our country and we appealed for better parenting and better parental controls of children, but not until there were childproof caps on the aspirins did the problem get significantly solved.

Well, this is similar. We need better parenting. We need more discipline in schools. We need more self-restraint in the media. We need all kinds of changes. But it's clear to just about everybody that one of the most important changes that has to take place is the kind of change that began on the floor of the United States Senate today, with new restrictions on the availability of guns to children and others who should not have them.

The gun show loophole was so broad you could drive a bus through it.

Some of the other loopholes have long been glaring excesses that needed to be addressed. And everybody here knows and everybody listening to my voice knows that there have been people who have voted with the NRA for years who knew in their hearts that it was the wrong vote, but they bent to the raw political power of the NRA. The real significance of this victory today is that by the narrowest of margins -- and that's often how change begins -- enough found the courage to change their minds, to join with those like these heroes up here who have been fighting this good fight for years, to make up a majority of conscience and right.

It is a very happy day for the United States Senate and for the United States of America, and I congratulate these leaders

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, when did you know, when were you asked to come up here to (OFF-MIKE)?

GORE: I heard yesterday that the vote count was close enough that it was possible that we could win this with a tie-breaking vote yesterday afternoon. Originally there was some possibility that it would be yesterday afternoon. GORE: Originally there was some possibility that it would yesterday afternoon.

U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Mr. Vice President, we had to turn three Republicans away to keep this a tie.

(LAUGHTER)

GORE: I heard yesterday, and I talked to -- I talked to Frank and I talked to Senator Daschle yesterday, and...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

GORE: I cast the tie-breaking vote to save the ethanol program, and I cast the tie-breaking vote to put in place the new economic policy, which, incidentally, has created 18 million new jobs...

(LAUGHTER)

... brought the inflation to zero -- to nearly zero. Instead of quadrupling the debt, we quadrupled the stock market. And I can continue. But there are others who want to...

LEAHY: And every time he votes, you should note, every time the vice president votes, we win. Good -- good record, Mr. Vice President.

I want to do what I've done down on the floor in trying to just be traffic cop and I'm going to turn it over first to Senator Lautenberg.

But last week, last week when the Republicans tried to pull this bill, when they tried to just bring the bill down, I said, let the senators run the Senate, not the gun lobbies. This is finally a case where senators, Republicans and Democrats, but senators, ran the Senate. The lobby was told no.

And we closed loopholes. Instead of the baby steps toward background checks that we saw in the first amendment, we went all the way with big steps in the second one. And as a senator of 25 years, I'm proud to see the Senate run the Senate.

So, Senator Lautenberg ...

QUESTION: Senator Leahy...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: No, it was a lot of hard work, and here's one of the people who did the work, has been in the trenches all the way, and I'd rather turn over to Senator Lautenberg.

U.S. SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG (D-NJ): I think if you look at the vote count, Senator Cleland had indicated to me yesterday that he had changed his mind on earlier votes and was going to vote with us. So we had the same six Republicans that we had before: Senator Chafee, DeWine, Voinovich, Senator Warner, Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Lugar.

So the vote count was exactly where -- where we thought it would be.

LAUTENBERG: And just to say it's -- I don't regard this as a personal victory, but I must say that working with the people who you see assembled here, our leader -- I don't know whether he's left -- we mounted what I think was a sensible approach.

And 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. The first attempt that they had was, had a few mistakes in it. They corrected the mistakes. Then the second attemher. And the third attempt finally was, it was to derail the Lautenberg amendment, to try and siphon off the people to the Smith-Jeffords thing, which made some contribution in terms of closing a loophole.

The fact of the matter is that we have now ensured that only those who go through a background check will be able to buy a gun at a gun show. Private transactions, definition of gun show being whatever they are, will not be included in this. But we've made a large step forward, and I think that in response to what the American people have been saying, 89 percent -- I couldn't believe that the Republicans would not say, hey listen, maybe our thinking is wrong on this. Eighty-nine percent of the people said close the loopholes. It was such a direct command. And there were six Republicans, obviously very intelligent Republicans...

(LAUGHTER)

... who decided that this was the right way to go. I'm grateful to my colleagues. This is a kind of a big moment for me. And we, I guess what we prove is that lame ducks can fly.

(LAUGHTER)

UNKNOWN: We don't want you to stay lame, Frank. Change your mind.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LAUTENBERG: Sure. I can't tell it, tell in that, because they won't tell me what to do tomorrow. But I agree with you, absolutely.

QUESTION: Senator Leahy, Democrats have said at the outset of the juvenile justice case that this was not going to be all about guns, that there were much larger issues. This has in fact become a debate and a story about the gun control bill. How do you answer that? LEAHY: There's been a story about the gun control debate, and I think the press has run it very accurately on the debate. Part of the story was that the bill was going to be withdrawn because the gun lobby objected to it.

LEAHY: And then the public reaction was so strong that the bill was put back on -- the major part of that.

There was an attempt to first to have a loophole closing that Senator Schumer and I pointed out created even more loopholes, that the public reaction was such when that was passed on a basically a party-line vote, again, it came back.

But throughout all this -- and these have been the highlights, and it is a very significant story when a lobby that normally has total sway over the U.S. Senate did not have that.

But there are a lot of other items in this bill. The manager's package, the Hatch-Leahy manager's package yesterday dramatically changed the original course of the bill by removing a lot of the federalism things, the taking over from the state courts at the federal level. There are major changes in after-school kind of activities in the sort of things to identify troubled youth. All of that is in there.

Maybe -- you know, in some ways we went the peaks with -- every time that gun control came up, and we plodded along on the others.

Some of these were hard fought battles. Some were lost that should have been won. Senator Boxer of California raised extraordinarily good amendments. We have still have a major debate idea to go.

But I think the one item that could have -- that normally would have brought the bill down, was gun control. And normally -- under normal circumstances, the Republican leadership, in response to the gun lobby, would have withdrawn this bill, especially if they anticipated a vote like today. The fact is, that when they tried to that, the public reaction was so strong from Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum, the public reaction was so strong, they dared not do that. QUESTION: Senator Leahy, now that these holes have been closed (OFF-MIKE)?

LEAHY: No question about it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: I always have a plan. I always have a plan...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: Well, that's the difficult part.

(LAUGHTER)

I've had several plans. We've gone along. One of the biggest plans even to get to where we get rid of most of the ones was the manager's package. That took five days to get there. We've done it.

I think we'll get past that. The problem.

QUESTION: This year?

LEAHY: Well, I'd like to get past it today. But I had suggested we accept both of them, both the Ashcroft amendment and the Harkin amendment, and work it out in conference, because as a practical matter, they neither one of them, in the form they're in, is going to survive conference. We just -- I'll be honest about that and not hold up the bill based on that.

I think we will (OFF-MIKE). What I've tried to do is get rid of everything else but that, and I guess one other, Cox amendment, and we should be able to complete it. I think we will complete it today.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: Yes. I think we could pass and do some -- appropriate settlement in the Harkin and a couple of others. To vote down this bill would not only be a tragedy, it would be such an arrogant disregard of what the American people want, that those who would vote it down would definitely suffer from it.

The reputation of the U.S. Senate would suffer, and the credibility of our Congress would be dealt an even greater blow than some of the body blows it's received in the last couple of years. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) shut down the gun shows open up another loophole, so that people can just go out in the parking lots (OFF- MIKE)?

LAUTENBERG: Well, if that was the contradiction to having law, then we wouldn't have any laws, because every time you create another law, potentially you create some kind of a parking lot transaction, to use the expression, whether it's liquor or other things.

LAUTENBERG: I think that was an empty argument, another straw man that they tried.

This will take care of the thing that concerns us most, and that isn't simply regulating gun traffic, it's making sure that those who buy guns are people without a record of deranged behavior or that haven't been felons. When you -- it was almost a joke. They wanted to permit the pawn shops to sell guns back, to give guns back to the people who redeemed their loans, even if the fellow was away two years. Well, who knows where he was for those two years?

So, I think that what we've created is good, common sense legislation.

Senator Kennedy would like to say something.

U.S. SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA): I think all of us want to thank Senator Frank Lautenberg for his longstanding and tremendous effort for the families of this country, Senator Daschle and our colleagues that are here today and others who have really participated in this victory for families. This has been a hard-earned, well- deserved, sensible and responsible step to try and provide greater safety and security for children in this country and for families in this nation.

The issue of responsible gun control is not -- you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand it. And what we have seen today now is for the first time in a major kind of gun control issue, rejection of the National Rifle Association and a vote for common sense and for families in this country. There's more that has to be done. And I look forward to working with our colleagues to continue this battle.

This was well deserved and hard fought and long overdue. But it is a step, an important step, towards sanity, and we'll look forward to joining with our colleagues as we continue this battle, perhaps on this legislation and on other pieces of legislation so that we can really make meaningful progress in this area.

QUESTION: Senator Kennedy, leaving aside issue of guns, how will this bill prevent the sort of tragedy we saw in Georgia today and Littleton (OFF-MIKE)?

KENNEDY: Well, I think everyone has understood that there's no silver bullet to answer all the problems that are taking place among the young children of America.

KENNEDY: I think all of us understand that it starts -- relationships start with families, they start with churches, they are affected and impacted by schools, and they're impacted by outside factors: the movies, the video games and what's happening in the schools themselves.

But there's no question that effective gun control measures can have a dramatic impact in reducing youth violence. And there's no place clearer than in my own city of Boston, where you had 65 homicides six years ago, and 62 homicides five years ago, and zero youth homicides this year, with tough law enforcement, continue to make it.

So, the easy access and availability of guns is a key element in terms of the reduction of violence.

KENNEDY: And in that area, we should not say because the issue is complicated we're going to take no steps. The issue's complicated, but we've taken a very important step.

QUESTION: Senator Lautenberg, you the know the Republicans are supposed to (OFF-MIKE) the morning after (OFF-MIKE).

LAUTENBERG: Right. Right.

QUESTION: But (OFF-MIKE). You say they didn't (OFF-MIKE).

LAUTENBERG: About the loopholes?

QUESTION: Yes.

LAUTENBERG: Well...

QUESTION: About having their front man on gun control (OFF-MIKE) NRA. I mean the knew that bill would win.

LAUTENBERG: Yes, and they had a presence. They worked the well. One day they turned three votes around to take away victory for the American people at that time.

But the fact of the matter is that in the newspaper yesterday that I know you read regularly, there was a poll printed that said 89 percent of the people across the country...

QUESTION: So it was the polls rather than...

LAUTENBERG: Well, polls and phone calls. And also I think one has to be personally in tune with what was happening. I mean, the violence that surrounds -- I don't care what state you go to, it wasn't always in the school that the violence took place.

In our state, the most bizarre murder recently was the two fellows who killed -- called the pizza man to deliver. Guns obtained illegally. The problem is gun access. And if you look at the statistics that really count and see that we have 35,000 deaths a year from handguns compared to the 15 or 20 or otherwise in other countries, it tells you that something had to be done. Maybe the people felt...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LAUTENBERG: I'm sorry? QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) going in? What I'm trying to find out (OFF-MIKE) why the Republicans are being hounded the next day?

U.S. SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Mary, because they were caught. They put together an amendment, they persuaded most of the people... UNKNOWN: Well, come on. Go ahead.

SCHUMER: They put together an amendment that didn't do anything. But they did the standard trick that the NRA has always done. They don't say, we're against you, they say, we have a better way to do it. So they came up with an amendment that said it was voluntary. That was fake, plain and simple. Because if you go to gun show and ten gun dealers -- or ten gun dealers are complying with the law and one is not on a voluntary basis, then any criminal and any kid who wants to buy a gun will go to the voluntary one. SCHUMER: And what happened was that night, Senator Leahy and I got up on the floor and we read the amendment. And when they found the next morning, when people like John McCain and Gordon Smith and some of the others, found the next morning that they weren't closing the gun show loophole, that they were coming up with a fig leaf and nothing more, there was a rebellion.

And then they tried it again, as Frank and Barbara know. They came up with a second amendment and they had a new category called special licensees. And the special licensees didn't have to do background checks. And again, we called their bluff, again, that night. This all happened at 10 at night on the floor.

We called their bluff. We read the bill and called their bluff. And then they tried finally today with the Smith amendment. And the Smith amendment did -- it was the first time it actually did what it was purported to do, but the bottom line was by then the momentum was so great, and so many of their people were there, that they said, enough already. And remember, even with the Smith amendment, they would prevent the FBI from making checks on those who -- on 25 percent of the people who go forward who don't meet the Instacheck system.

They still had that liability exemption. They still had certain interstate exemptions. So it was still pocked with loopholes. And that's what happened. And that's why, you know, this is such a -- we're at a crossroads, and we crossed it.

And this is going to be -- I think this is the most significant change in gun control since the Democrats lost the Congress in 1994. It will never be the same again. The vise lock that the NRA has had on the Senate and the House is broken. That doesn't mean we'll get everything we want, but I will bet you the House will now pass something as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SCHUMER: We had to deal, and we discussed this, and we all had our amendments. And we all came to the conclusion before the debate started that what we wanted to do is meet two criteria: One, something that would do some good, and two, something that would pass.

SCHUMER: And three, something related to the tragedy at Littleton. And the Lautenberg amendment met all three tests and was at the top of everybody's list. And so we chose the gun show loophole to close because it had relevance to Littleton, because it would some good and we knew it had a chance to pass.

U.S. SENATOR BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): (OFF-MIKE) I want to speak to that issue.

SCHUMER: OK.

BOXER: I want to speak to that issue of our strategy, and I think it's very important to understand that this didn't just happen. We met in Senator Kennedy's office, about six of us, about two, I don't know, two, three weeks ago, and we put our egos aside, which isn't the easiest thing to do around here, you may have noticed, and we discussed which of these made the most sense and who could best carry each of these issues.

What I think is so spectacular about this is that we never gave up. Remember, Senator Lautenberg lost that first vote. But we knew in our hearts that they had made a huge mistake. And as Chuck said, they were caught flat-footed telling the American people they've taken care of the loophole when they never took care of the loophole. The Lautenberg, and then the Lautenberg-Kerrey (ph) amendment took care of all the loopholes. So this was something -- we kept regrouping.

And I want to praise, as others have, our Democratic leader, Tom Daschle. Because he kept us together, he kept us meeting. You will note that we lost only one Democrat in this particular vote. Last night on after school, I got all the Democrats and two Republicans. So we're going to move. The only other point I'd make about Georgia is this. I think if anyone woke up this morning wavering on the Lautenberg amendment, they got a true wake-up call, a message. And life works in very strange ways. And to me, I'm somewhat of a spiritual person. This morning we wake up, we have this other incident where thank goodness, as I understand it, there was no loss of life. And so I do believe -- because we don't know what's in the hearts and minds of everybody -- that this was yet another reminder.

This is a deep-seated problem. Gun violence in our society. And I'll close with this statistic and I say it so much some of you must be tired of hearing it. But I've never seen it printed. In the last 11 years, almost 400,000 Americans have been cut down by gun violence. Eleven years, the Vietnam War, we lost 58,000-plus. So we have a war going on at home, and we better wake up, just like we woke up to end the Vietnam War, we have to end the war at home.

BOXER: And I want to say to my friend Frank Lautenberg, my friend Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, who isn't here, Ted Kennedy, that group that met and kept meeting until we knew what we were doing and we got it right, that it is an honor to work with you, and I am very happy today.

SCHUMER: Thanks (OFF-MIKE).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SCHUMER: Well, we're going to have to regroup right now and see what we will amend. We don't have to do -- we were going to do the amendment for the 24 hours, but we don't have to do that because Lautenberg took care of that.

So the -- you know, there are a couple of other amendments outstanding and we'll have to regroup. I think the lot of us want to get this bill passed now and make sure that we can get it passed. And, yes, we hope to do that.

I just -- the only other thing I wanted to say about all this, put it in a broad context, you know, I think that this is a turning point in a lot of ways in American politics. On gun control it's clearly a turning point because the stranglehold of the NRA is broken.

But it's also a turning point in our politics. I think the radical right is losing its grip on the Republican party. And you knew something was happening when John McCain and Liddy Dole and then Denny Hastert changed their positions. I think the Republican party is sort of realizing that to just dance with the people at the extreme right is politically unproductive on gun control and on a whole lot of other issues.And I think what this bodes for is a Congress where maybe we can get some real things done.

LAUTENBERG: Thanks all.

END


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