WASHINGTON -- A hasty attempt by the House Republican leadership to repeal the 1994 ban on the manufacture of assault-style weapons sparked anger yesterday from the White House, urban Democrats, law enforcement groups and victims' families.
"Two years ago, we came here and thought we had won a battle for sanity, for safety, for the welfare of our children," said Jake Locicero, whose daughter, Amy, was one of six people killed by a gunman on a Long Island train two years ago.
His remarks came at an "unofficial hearing" convened by Rep. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, to dramatize how the Republican leadership has circumvented normal procedures in the House by scheduling a vote for today with only two days' notice, ignoring the relevant committees and without hearings.
"Welcome to the hearing that Newt Gingrich and the National Rifle Association don't want the American people to have," Mr. Schumer said. "The reason is clear Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole are ashamed."
But in a message to its members, the NRA praised the "parliamentary skill" of its supporters in Congress for "bypassing committee action."
The NRA contended that the ban had not reduced violence and was an infringement on the Second Amendment rights of Americans to bear arms.
"It is a poorly crafted, symbolic gesture that has failed to make a meaningful contribution to reducing violent crime in our society," said Rep. Jim Chapman, the Texas Democrat who authored the bill to repeal the gun ban.
Mr. Gingrich, the House speaker, and Mr. Dole, the Senate majority leader, had previously pledged to the NRA that they would work to overturn the ban on 19 assault-style weapons that was passed in 1994 by two votes and signed by Mr. Clinton.
But when asked about it yesterday, Mr. Gingrich took pains to point out that some of the House members asking for a repeal, including Mr. Chapman, are Democrats.
Mr. Dole, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has already been backing away from this issue.
"I think we ought to wait until they get over to the Senate," he said yesterday, "if they get over to the Senate."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that even if the House voted to repeal the ban, the Senate would not vote on the measure this year.
Many Republicans say this was a political loser for them and some said so in public.
"To bring this issue up now is ludicrous," said Rep. Peter Torkildsen, the Massachusetts Republican. "Congress needs to focus on balancing the budget and passing real welfare reform."
At the White House, where the president pledged to veto a repeal effort, officials sounded pleased that the Republican leadership was allowing a vote on an issue in which polls show 70 percent of Americans agree with the president's stance.
Asked why the vote was taking place, Mr. Clinton's spokesman, Mike McCurry, replied, "They are in the pockets of the Washington gun lobby, that's why."
"The only people who will benefit," Mr. Clinton said later, "are people who engage in illegal activity."
This was the theme of Mr. Schumer's unofficial hearings, where relatives of people slain by semiautomatic weapons or guns with high-capacity magazines aimed their anger at Mr. Gingrich.
Fighting back tears, Byrl Phillips-Taylor of Charles City, Va., told the group how her 17-year-old son, Scott, was murdered in the woods by an 18-year-old armed with an AK-47.
"My child tried to run but he had no chance against that gun," she said. "The first shot severed his spine."
Later, Ms. Phillips-Taylor staged a silent vigil inside the House Rules Committee, holding aloft a picture of Scott as the committee set the vote on the repeal legislation for today.
Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and whose son was left paralyzed from the Long Island train shooting two years ago, also had harsh words for the Republican leadership.
"They promised in the 'Contract with America' to listen to the American people. Well, the American people want to keep this ban. They need to stand up to the NRA leadership and say, 'No!' "
The most riveting speaker may have been Steve Sposato. In 1993, Mr. Sposato's wife was killed by a gunman who walked into a high-rise law office in San Francisco and opened fire, killing eight and wounding six.
Yesterday, he held aloft a TEC-9 assault weapon and said, "My wife took five bullets in the back from one of these things."
"Republicans want this!" he added, brandishing the weapon. Then, holding up a picture of his wife and then-10-month-old fTC daughter, Meghan, he said: "The American people want this!"
Pub Date: 3/22/96