TOPICS > Politics

Violence and the Young

June 16, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Kwame Holman reports the House debate.

KWAME HOLMAN: House Republican leaders had been under pressure for a month to respond to the Senate’s approval of new gun control measures. This week, Republicans decided to bring two bills to the floor. One deals specifically with the issue of guns, and will be debated tomorrow. The other, a wide-ranging bill focused on ways to address youth violence, was brought to the floor today.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT, Speaker of the House: This strategy allows the House to work its will on two separate issues joined by one common tragedy. The House will work its will on the issue of gun restrictions. We cannot and should not hide from this issue that occupies the attention of the American people. And the House will works its will on the wider issue surrounding our culture and our society and its impact on our children.

KWAME HOLMAN: But some Democrats charged the Youth Violence Bill was designed to provide political cover for Republicans who are determined to defeat new gun control measures.

REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) Florida: Instead of gun control, we’re doing remote control. Instead of worrying about kids and gun shows, we’re worried about TV shows.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN, (D) Massachusetts: The Republican leadership had to figure out a way to deal with the tricky issue of guns and violence in schools. They capitulated and delayed and played games because they didn’t have the courage to just report this bill to the floor and allow it to have an open discussion on guns.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House already had been working on a Juvenile Justice Bill for months, and the legislation had overwhelming support.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) Arkansas: And what this bill does is to provide 1.5 billion dollars in grant money so that the states can apply for that money. They can apply what works in their jurisdiction. It gives them creativity. It gives them flexibility. It gives them resources so they can deal with the juveniles, not by sending them to prison, locking them up, but by having accountability in the juvenile court system.

KWAME HOLMAN: But in the wake of the Colorado school shootings, members of the House proposed 174 amendments to the bill, covering a broad range of issues. They called for prosecuting more juveniles as adults, allowing the public display of the 10 commandments, prohibiting federal judges from interfering with voluntary school prayer, prohibiting the sale of sexually explicit and violent material to minors under the age of 17, a labeling system for interactive videos, and outlawing gun violence on television and in computer games. Other amendments called for a surgeon general’s study of the problems of interactive media, a select congressional committee on youth violence, creation of a national center on school violence, and an around-the-clock toll free hot line to report threats of school violence. The Republican-controlled Rules Committee whittled down the number of amendments to 44, and that action prompted sharp debate.

REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: We asked for school resource officers to be in the schools to stop the violence. It wasn’t made an order. We asked for a number of things that deal with this question, guidance counselors. We don’t have guidance counselors anymore in America. That was not made an order.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Rules Committee Chairman David Drier said there simply were too many amendments.

REP. DAVID DREIER, Chairman, Rules Committee: We have considered basically every conceivable option that was out there, and we have broken this bill up. Why? So that we can have a full and fair debate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Texas conservative Tom DeLay, the Republican Whip, shaped the debate with an impassioned and somewhat sarcastic statement on what might have caused the school shootings in Colorado.

REP. TOM DE LAY, Majority Whip: It couldn’t have been because half our children are being raised in broken homes. It couldn’t have been because our children get to spend an average of 30 seconds in meaningful conversation with their parents each day. It couldn’t have been because our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who revolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud. It couldn’t have been because we teach our children that there are no laws of morality that transcend us, that everything is relative, and that actions don’t have consequences. What the heck, the President gets away with it. No, it must have been the guns.

KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, considered one of the most liberal members of the House, responded immediately.

REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) Massachusetts: I have to say, as I listen to him, I haven’t heard such an angry denunciation of the American people since SDS used to picket me 30 years ago. I guess there’s a degree of anti-Americanism here that I had not anticipated. It’s the American people’s fault. They’re involved in family planning; they’re teaching evolution; they’re doing all these things.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House then began to sift through the 44 amendments in rapid succession, spending minutes debating each. Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich got broad support for his amendment to establish statewide computer systems to compile the records of violent juveniles; so did Arizona Republican J.D. Hayworth for the amendment he co-sponsored, to allow localities to spend federal money on anti-gang efforts.

SPOKESMAN: The ayes have it. And the amendment is agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: And an amendment co-sponsored by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak to establish a school violence hot line also sailed through the House.

REP. BART STUPAK, (D) Michigan: Students often fail to report potential violence because of fear that the weapons or the violence that they are to report may be used against them if they are found out to be the one who reported to authorities. These hot lines will eliminate the pressure and allow kids to come forward without fear of retaliation.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, the bipartisan spirit evaporated once Florida Republican Bill McCollum, chairman of the Crime Subcommittee, proposed a sweeping amendment to increase criminal penalties for juvenile offenders.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM, (R) Florida: The biggest thing in here that hasn’t been thought about a lot is the provision that requires a prosecutor, an assistant U.S. Attorney in every U.S. Attorney’s office in the nation, in every district of this country, to have — to be set aside to prosecute gun crimes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some Democrats argued fiercely against the increased penalties in the amendment, but the McCollum proposal passed by a wide margin. The House then turned to the most controversial and highly publicized amendment of the day. Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde called for criminal prosecution of those who sell sexually explicit or violent material to minors under 17.

REP. HENRY HYDE, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: This legislation is not an attack on the first amendment, despite what has been charged by many of my colleagues. Rather, it is simply saying that some material is beyond the pale and should not be sold to minors. We’re not trying to ban anything or censor anyone. We’re just saying, “you can’t sell some of this horrible stuff to kids.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Billy Tauzin of Louisiana was one of several Republicans who said they sympathized with Hyde but opposed his amendment.

REP. BILLY TAUZIN, (R) Louisiana: We cannot constitutionally dictate the content of speech in America, as much as you would like to, as emotionally as I feel, as deeply as I hurt when I see the scenes of television that we’ve seen of children killing children.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Hyde amendment was defeated overwhelmingly, some two dozen amendments remain to be considered.