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Democrats push for immediate House action on juvenile crime, gun controls

Dems, Clinton urge action by Memorial Day; GOP wants a month

May 21, 1999
Web posted at: 5:08 p.m. EDT (2108 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 21) -- With final passage of a sweeping juvenile crime bill in the Senate Thursday night, attention now shifts to a new battleground: The House.

House members are working on their version of a juvenile justice bill. Though the measure does not yet contain any of the gun controls that proved so contentious in the Senate, it is unlikely to stay that way and Republicans hope to push off consideration of the legislation until mid-June.

But Democrats, mobilized by recent school shootings in Colorado and Georgia, feel that they have the political momentum and are pushing for House action on new gun control measures by Memorial Day.

President Bill Clinton met with House Democrats Friday at the White House to discuss strategy for pushing the juvenile justice bill and, more importantly, gun control through the House of Representatives.

Rep. Nita Lowey
Rep. Nita Lowey  

"How many people have to die before this Congress can act?" Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) said following the meeting with Clinton. "We believe the American people want action and they want it now."

The president had just returned from a trip to Littleton, Colorado, where he spoke with victims one month to the day of the massacre at Columbine High School.

"The president said very clearly that he wants a memorial for those victims of Littleton, and every other shooting we've seen in the school houses across this country and he wants that memorial to those kids before we go on Memorial Day recess," Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) said. (151K wav file)

Delauro
Rep. Rosa DeLauro  

The sweeping Senate crime bill, aimed at curbing juvenile justice, makes it easier to charge juveniles as adults. It requires child-safety locks on handguns and restrictions on automatic weapons, makes background checks at gun shows and pawnshops mandatory, stiffens penalties for gang members and revokes the right to gun ownership for anyone convicted of a gun crime as a juvenile.

Republican sources say even House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), a gun control opponent, now accepts the inevitability of more gun laws, particularly the mandatory background checks at gun shows -- a measure that inflamed the Senate debate after Republicans initially rejected it.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy
Rep. Patrick Kennedy  

Still, the GOP leadership says such issues should be carefully considered and want to stick to their own timetable. And some snags could crop up even before the legislation reaches the floor.

Any bill considered by the full House will come from its Judiciary Committee -- a panel of lawmakers whose bitter partisanship became legendary during the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton late last year.

So far, the House's bill has gained the support of some of the most diametric opposites on that committee: The likes of outspoken conservative Rep. Bob Barr (D-Georgia) and outspoken liberal Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-California) as well as Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat.

But the spirit of agreement may come to a halt once gun controls are introduced into the mix. Some Republicans are already voicing skepticism about the effectiveness of further controls, and may fight them.

Rep. James Rogan
Rep. James Rogan  

"I think in America today, on the local, state and national level, we have about 20,000 gun-control laws. Making 21,000 or 22,000 isn't the -- isn't the root problem. The root problem has to be addressed on a much greater level: Why is it in society that we tolerate such antisocial behavior among some of these young people, particularly, and then we scratch our heads in surprise when they go out and they commit some horrible act," said Rep. James Rogan (R-California), a member of the Judiciary Committee. (156K wav file)

Other Republicans say the Clinton Administration has failed to enforce the gun control laws already on the books, and accuse House Democrats of playing politics with a politically sensitive issue.

In a statement, DeLay said, "To address this issue in a haphazard fashion does not do justice to the victims of violence."

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


TRANSCRIPT

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