WASHINGTON -- Using House rules to its advantage, the National Rifle Association and its allies may be able to block a long-awaited House vote today on a bill to create a national seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases.
Under procedural rules adopted yesterday by a House committee, advocates of the so-called Brady bill must first kill a competing measure backed by the NRA in the House floor showdown over gun control. The alternative, to be offered by Representative Harley O. Staggers Jr., D-W.Va., calls for instant criminal background checks of handgun purchasers.
Yesterday, the two sides were in a frenzied rush to count votes and curry the support of a dwindling number of undecided lawmakers.
Both sides said the vote on the Staggers measure is too close to call.
"If I had to bet all my money, which isn't much, I wouldn't know what to do. It's that close," said Representative Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a Brady bill supporter.
In its key decision on sending the two bills to the House floor, the House Rules Committee voted to follow standard rules during floor debate. That means that if the House passes the Staggers measure first, supporters could force a vote on the Brady bill only through a complicated series of parliamentary maneuvers that is given little chance of success.
Supporters of the Brady bill had See BRADY, 4A, Col. 1BRADY, from 1Ahoped the committee would enact a special rule to allow the two bills to be voted on separately, particularly since some House members support both measures.
The waiting-period bill is named in honor of James S. Brady, the former White House press secretary who was severely injured in the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Sarah Brady, wife of Mr. Brady and chairwoman of Handgun Control, called the Staggers measure "the biggest ploy and piece of garbage there is."
Opponents say the Staggers bill, which calls for a computerized system within six months, is unrealistic. Recent government studies indicate it could take up to 10 years and more than $100 million to establish such a network.
The NRA has orchestrated a powerful lobbying and advertising campaign against Brady and for Staggers, with full-page newspaper ads and frequent television commercials. The NRA claims the waiting period would deprive law-abiding citizens of the ability to acquire guns quickly.
"The more people understand the facts of this issue, the gun-control
issue, the more they like my alternative," Mr. Staggers said.
The Brady bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last month on a 23-11 vote. It is scheduled for a vote in the House this afternoon, when the Staggers bill will be offered as an amendment. Under the rules in effect, the Staggers measure could pass and no vote would occur on the Brady bill.
Mr. Schumer conceded that Brady bill proponents do not have enough support to muster a rules fight on the floor to force a vote on their bill.
"Fair treatment says that the regular order is followed. There is absolutely no excuse for any special treatment for Brady or anybody else in this place," said Representative John D. Dingell, D-Mich., a Staggers bill supporter.
"It's very, very tough now," said Charles Meeks, executive director of the National Sheriffs Association, which supports the Brady bill.
Brady bill sponsors indicated yesterday that if they fail on the House floor they may seek to attach the Brady bill to a broader anti-crime measure to be considered before the crime subcommittee in several weeks.