Biden predicts passage of gun control by Senate, but tough fight is expected

May 10, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service D: WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, predicted yesterday that the Brady gun-control bill would pass in the Senate as part of an anti-crime package that President Bush has been demanding.

The National Rifle Association, however, promised an all-out effort to block the bill's seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, and Sarah Brady -- the wife of the wounded White House press secretary for whom the bill is named -- acknowledged that the road ahead in the Senate would be "tough."

The House passed the bill Wednesday by an unexpectedly wide margin of 53 votes, and supporters of the legislation saw the outcome as an indication that Congress perceives a shift in public attitudes about gun control.

"I think the Brady bill has a lot of momentum," Mr. Biden said. "My expectation is that it will be brought up as part of a crime bill, and I expect it to move very rapidly.

"I think the votes are there to pass it," the Delaware Democrat added.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill unless it comes with a crime package that expands the federal death penalty. Many of the liberal Democrats who have been pushing the Brady bill oppose the death penalty.

The bill is named for James S. Brady, who was shot in the head and disabled during John Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Brady and his wife have undertaken a national crusade on behalf of the legislation, and their personal, plainspoken lobbying appears to have broken the NRA's hold on Capitol Hill.

As it did in the House, the NRA will ask the Senate to back an instantaneous computerized check of criminal records in place of the Brady bill's a waiting period.

"There is no reason for a waiting period," said Bill McIntyre, an NRA spokesman. "All the criminology studies have shown that waiting periods do not reduce crime."

One key element in the Senate debate will be the role that Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, chooses to play. Mr. Mitchell opposes the Brady bill, but his position is less rigid than the NRA's.

Mr. Mitchell said yesterday that he could accept a waiting period for handgun purchases if it were tied to the creation of a national criminal records data bank and if states were given funds to carry out the project. The NRA, according to Mr. McIntyre, opposes a waiting period under any circumstances.

Brady bill supporters argue that a national data bank would take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to set up. Opponents of the Brady bill say its lack of a requirement for background checks on gun buyers is a serious flaw.

Another potentially decisive factor is how Senate Republicans will line up. Mr. Reagan's recent endorsement of the Brady bill helped win the votes of House Republicans. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., the chief House GOP sponsor of the Brady bill, said the impressive margin by which it passed was due to 60 Republican votes.

"The Reagan endorsement was very critical in terms of providing respectability for conservatives," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

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