Gun Fight Moves to the House

The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, 73-25, came exactly one month after the deadly shooting at Columbine High School and on the day of another school shooting in Georgia.

The contentiousness that marked much of the Senate debate has already begun in the House, where Democrats are pushing to debate the juvenile crime bill on the floor next week. Their efforts have run into significant resistance from the GOP leadership.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, while saying he was not opposed to passing a juvenile justice bill, has indicated he plans to schedule debate on the bill for the middle of next month.

“Clearly, we need to tighten current laws to make it more difficult for kids to get guns,” Hastert said on Friday. “We will take a look at the measure passed by the Senate to make sure that it is a reasonable and commonsense approach.”

Democrats are hoping to use the momentum of the Senate vote to move the House along.

Analysts say the Republicans may have little political choice other than to move the bill to the floor quickly.

“There’s a history in the American gun control debate that sort of acute episodes of violence produce major legislative shifts. The gun control acts of 1968, and there were two of them, were in essence really the kind of memorials to the Martin Luther King and then Robert F. Kennedy assassinations,” Franklin Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute and author of American Youth Violence, said on the NewsHour. “And Littleton seems to have captured public attention and created, I think, a different set of appreciated political risks for the politics of gun control at the national level.”

In the Senate, Democrats declared victory over Republicans and the NRA.

“What we have seen today is for the first time in a major kind of gun control issue, rejection of the National Rifle Association and a vote for common sense,” Sen. Edward Kennedy (DMA) said.

The Republican leader, who supported the final version of the bill, seemed frustrated by the track the consideration of the juvenile crime measure had taken.

“OK, we’ve had the debate,” said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). To the Democrats’ declaration of victory over Republicans and the gun lobby, Lott said: “You’ve had your fun, you’ve made your point. … Now it’s time for us to move on.”

Much of the debate had been prompted and affected by the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, and yesterday in Georgia.

“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 a proposal to require safety locks on new guns that the Senate approved this week.

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.”

The most heatedly debate provision of the bill was to close the “loophole” for weapons purchased at gun shows and pawn shops.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), requires mandatory background checks for all transactions at gun shows and for anyone seeking to claim his or her own weapon at a pawn shop.

“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.”

The Lautenberg amendment, with stricter enforcement and a longer time to check backgrounds, was considered more controversial.

It took the vote of Vice President Gore to break the 50-50 Senate deadlock over the Democratic amendment to the juvenile crime bill. It was only the fourth time he had cast the deciding vote during his six years as vice president.

Earlier in the week, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to require safety locks or secure containers be sold with every handgun. The 78 to 20 vote to support gun locks included all 44 Democrats joined by 34 Republicans. A similar proposal only mustered 39 votes last year.

Other elements of the bill adopted by the Senate include: banning the import of high-capacity ammunition clips; denying for life the right of juveniles convicted of a felony to purchase a gun; and making it easier for juveniles charged with certain crimes to be tried as adults. The measure also calls for $5 billion over five years to help crack down on juvenile crime and a study of the violent entertainment to gauge its impact on the young.