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Debating Gun Control

The Senate planned to take up Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) proposal to close the “loophole” for weapons purchased at gun shows.

“The goal very simply is to satisfy the American people,” Lautenberg said of his proposal. “It’s their belief that anybody who buys a gun ought not to be anonymous in that purchase.”

Under the Lautenberg amendment, gun dealers would have to conduct background checks of potential buyers, before selling any weapons.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) indicated he also supported changing the law.

“I think there needs to be uniformity in what they do at gun shows and what they do in a retail business,” Hastert told the AP.

The Senate continues consideration of a juvenile crime bill today after overwhelmingly voting to require that safety locks or secure containers be sold with every handgun. Last night’s 78 to 20 vote to support gun locks included all 44 Democrats joined by 34 Republicans. A similar proposal could only muster 39 votes last year.

Senators said that the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado had had an impact on the debate and vote.

“I think the horror that came about because of what happened in Littleton has had its effect,” said Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), cosponsor of the proposal with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).

Gun control advocates said the Senate vote may mark a fundamental shift in the debate.

“Littleton was the last straw. Democracy works,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. “The public mood has changed.”

President Clinton heralded the vote as a step in the right direction.

“I commend the Senate for the overwhelming bipartisan support for child safety locks,” President Clinton said Tuesday morning.

On the House side, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), a foe of previous gun control legislation, suggested in an interview that the minimum age for handgun purchases be raised from 18 to 21 for handguns and that background checks be required for all sales at gun shows.

“I’m just saying 21 is basically a standard of adulthood, and there’s probably a uniformity that fits there,” Hastert said.

President Clinton today thanked Hastert, “for agreeing that we should close the gun show loophole and raise the age of handgun ownership from 18 to 21.”

The vote came at the end of a contentious day on the floor of the Senate. Democrats refused to allow consideration of other legislation, namely a bill to limit liability for Y2K issues, until the Senate voted on the juvenile crime bill. Although Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), called the Democratic move “a questionable action,” Democrats said they needed to finish the current legislation.

“Let us insure that we finish this bill before we move on to the next bill,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said on the floor last night.

The Senate consideration of the legislation has been slowed by some 75 proposed amendments.