TOPICS > Politics

Firing New Rounds over Gun Control

May 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Gun control legislation began moving through the Congress again today. Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: By 2 o’clock this afternoon, most members of the House of Representatives were gone from Capitol Hill, getting an early start on a long Memorial Day recess. A few, however, those who sit on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, were just getting to work, analyzing new gun control measures approved by the Senate last week. Massachusetts Democrat Martin Meehan applauded the Senate for its quick response to recent school shootings in Colorado and Georgia. However, he complained the House was slow to act.

REP. MARTIN MEEHAN: It’s unfortunate to say the least that we haven’t marked up this legislation before this. It’s a very good price of legislation. It should have been marked up before the full committee. And frankly, I don’t think that the Congress should be leaving on a Memorial Day recess for a week-and-a-half without having passed this bill.

KWAME HOLMAN: The subcommittee’s Republican Chairman, Bill McCollum of Florida, said he agrees with some of the provisions approved by the Senate.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Let me say right up front that I support closing loopholes and tightening existing gun laws, not because they will prevent further devastating shootings by suicidal maniacs, but because such changes are the responsible thing to do. I want to stop felons from buying guns, even though we all know that most dangerous criminals get their guns on the streets or by stealing them. I also want to limit juvenile access to guns. Kids should only use guns under the supervision of a parent or guardian.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, McCollum also agreed with fellow republican George Gekas of Pennsylvania, who argued new gun laws alone won’t prevent tragedies.

REP. GEORGE GEKAS: We’re talking about setting an example, punishment, deterrents. There has been so no substitute since the dawn of civilization for disciplining individuals who would do violence to others, no better example of how to deal with such individuals except by swift, visible, palpable punishment.

KWAME HOLMAN: The committee’s first witness was Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who urged the House to adopt the Senate’s measures and to add other new gun controls as well.

ERIC HOLDER: A mandatory 72-hour waiting period for all happen-gun purchases will help stop heat-of-the moment killings and a proposed increase in the minimum age for handgun possession from 18 to 21 will get hand guns out of the hands of the most crime-prone age group.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Chairman McCollum quizzed Treasury Undersecretary James Johnson about the track record of gun laws already on the books, including the five-year-old Brady Law.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Mr. Johnson, in your written testimony, you’ve indicated that the Brady Law has prevented over 250,000 felons and others from buying a gun. How many of these people have been arrested, of the 250,000 people, how many of them have been prosecuted?

JAMES JOHNSON: There are two aspects to our view of the Brady Law. One is, as you indicate in your questioning, an important preventative aspect. The fact that we’re able to prevent 250,000 convicted felons and other prohibited persons from purchasing a firearm is a significant, significant fact that should not be overlooked.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: But am I right we’re only talking about 1 percent or 2 percent or some really small percent of the 250,000 people that have been intercepted trying to buy a gun who were felons who have been arrested and prosecuted to date? It’s very low, right, 1 percent or 2 percent, something like that?

JAMES JOHNSON: It would be fairly low, yes.

SPOKESMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

KWAME HOLMAN: A second panel of witnesses included the National Rifle Association’s Wayne La Pierre, who said his organization has been unfairly criticized during this recent debate over gun control.

WAYNE LA PIERRE: As this made-for-TV law making gets played out, it needs a villain, so good Americans have been exposed daily to a well-coordinated, systematic bashing of the National Rifle Association, and its members, as somehow a reckless societal pathogen, an extremist empire opposed to safety, caution, and reason. That’s a cruel and dangerous lie.

KWAME HOLMAN: Darrell Scott, whose daughter was killed in the Columbine High School shootings agreed the NRA is not to blame.

DARRELL SCOTT: When something as terrible as Columbine’s tragedy occurs, politicians immediately look for a scapegoat, such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that continue to erode away our personal and private liberties. We don’t need more restrictive laws. The young people of our nation hold the key, and there is a spiritual wakening that’s taking place that will not be squelched.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Bryl-Phillips Taylor, whose son was shot to death by a classmate ten years ago, said stronger gun laws would have made a difference.

BRYL-PHILLIPS TAYLOR: The easy availability of guns got my baby killed. A gun had a very large ammunition clip, and it was taken from an unlocked storage shed.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House will move more slowly on gun legislation than the Senate did. More hearings are scheduled for next month.