Bartlett proposes gun-control bill Computer network would identify felons

September 26, 1993|By Christopher Wilson | Christopher Wilson,Capital News Service

WASHINGTON -- Carroll's congressman is pressing his colleagues to pass a bill that would set up a nationwide computer network to help prevent convicted criminals from buying firearms.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican from the 6th District, said his bill is a cheaper and simpler alternative to the Brady Bill, which would require a five working-day waiting period before gun purchases.

"This will accomplish the same things as the Brady Bill at zero cost to the taxpayer," Mr. Bartlett said.

The Brady Bill would cost about $100 million the first year, a House Judiciary Committee staffer said.

Mr. Bartlett said his bill, introduced Thursday, would enable gun sellers to instantly identify felons by running their driver's licenses through an electronic scanner. The scanners would read a coded felon status on the magnetic strip of the license and block the gun sale.

He said the program would be funded entirely by convicted criminals, who would be charged a small fee -- probably no more than 50 cents -- when they renewed their driver's licenses.

A member of the National Rifle Association, Mr. Bartlett said mandatory waiting periods are easily bypassed by criminals who buy guns on the street or steal them.

He said waiting periods only serve to penalize "law-abiding citizens" who purchase firearms for protection.

Mr. Bartlett's proposal drew fire from lobbyists on both sides of the gun issue.

One gun-control advocate said Mr. Bartlett's bill wouldn't help prevent crime in the near future.

Cheryl Brolin, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., a group lobbying for passage of the Brady Bill, said it would take at least five years for all states to computerize their criminal record systems so an instant identification system would work.

Trooper Gary Kehs, of the state police headquarters in Pikesville, said Maryland does not have a computerized system in place.

However, Maryland does have a seven-day waiting period in place, Ms. Brolin said.

She said the Brady Bill eventually would turn into an instant identification system once every state has computerized criminal records.

She said her organization supports waiting periods to give angry gun buyers a "cooling-off" period.

Joe Phillips, a lobbyist for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said he has some concerns with the Bartlett measure.

"We're not supporting putting a mark on everybody in society," Mr. Phillips said. "Roscoe is saying, 'Let's put all the bad apples in one barrel.' "

Mr. Phillips said his group is pushing for a more limited background check than Mr. Bartlett's.

Both the House and Senate passed versions of the Brady Bill in 1991, but it was included in a larger crime bill that was not passed by the Congress.

The Brady Bill will be included in the next few weeks in a House crime bill, according to a House Judiciary Committee staffer. A Senate Judiciary Committee staffer said the bill may be part of a Senate crime bill, or may be voted on separately.

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