Senate Votes to Require Checks at Gun Shows

By Otero, Juan | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Senate Votes to Require Checks at Gun Shows


Otero, Juan, Nation's Cities Weekly


With Vice President Al Gore casting the deciding vote, the Senate last week approved a proposal to require background checks at gun shows, and then went on to approve, by a 73-25 vote, a wide ranging $5 billion juvenile justice bill. The comprehensive legislation would make it easier to prosecute juveniles and harder for kids to get guns.

After a week of partisan wrangling, the bill's sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), though he believes it is the right time for the bill to come to a vote, acknowledged that he misjudged the effect of the shootings in Littleton, Colo., on the legislation. "I thought the Littleton shootings would get it passed a lot faster." Hatch told reporters.

Debate, Amendments

Within the heated debate, Senate Democrats declared new victories when Republican leaders allowed votes on measures that would impose additional restrictions on gun sales. At the time The Weekly went to press, Senators had voted 78-20 to require safety locks or secure containers to be sold with every handgun. Senators Hatch and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) crafted the proposal.

The provision would also provide liability protection for gum owners who use safety locks and whose guns are stolen and used in crimes. Some gun control advocates had reservations about the liability protections, fearing they would open the door to gun manufacturers seeking protection from lawsuits. But Kohl insisted that the protections would apply only to individuals.

Taking another tack in the fight against youth crime, the Senate approved the anti-gang amendment sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) by an 85-13 vote. The measure would increase sentences for gang members who commit federal crimes and would make it easier to prosecute those who recruit new gang members.

The amendment also includes a provision designed to make it harder to spread bomb-making information on the Internet, which was a source of' information for the teenage killers in Colorado. The provision would make it a federal crime to teach or distribute bomb-making information on the Internet if it is intended or expected to be used to commit a violent crime.

Another amendment that passed last week would institute financial penalties for states should violent criminals released from the state's prisons go on to commit similar crimes in other states.

A provision of another passed amendment would allow schools to use federal education funds for security and safety purposes, such as the purchase of metal detectors. The Senate rejected an amendment that would create an additional $340 million annually so that schools could hire more guidance counselors, but it approved the creation of a National Commission on Character Development to look into the effect of cultural influences on good citizenship.

Republicans fear that Democrats are following a strategy of offering one amendment after another ad infinitum, to force Republicans to vote on gun control measures and create a record that can used against them in next year's elections. Republicans had threatened to yank the bill if Democrats tried to make political points by offering scores of amendments. But leaders are close to an agreement that would limit each side to 10 more amendments.

Democrats said they would push proposals to raise the age for owning a handgun, assault weapon or high-capacity magazine from 18 to 21 years old and to impose even tougher restrictions on gun shows than those approved last week. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) planned to offer an amendment to hold parents legally responsible if a gun they own is not locked up and is used by a child in a violent act.

Clamping Down on Gun Show Sales

On the issue of firearm sales at gun shows, the Senate two weeks ago passed an amendment offered by Senators Hatch and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) which purported to provide for background checks on all gun-show firearms, but does so by establishing new and ambiguously-defined "special registrants" and "special licensees" who would not be required to retain any records of the background check or transaction. …

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