Senate GOP may support gun locks

Leaders predict passage of amendment requiring child safety devices

May 17, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans signaled a willingness yesterday to approve yet another gun-control measure -- namely, a requirement that child safety devices be sold with handguns -- even though a similar proposal failed by a decisive margin in the Republican-controlled Senate less than a year ago.

It was the latest sign, after a week rife with such indications, that Republicans were intent on showing a heightened sensitivity to the toll of gun violence. But there were also reminders yesterday that the juvenile crime bill to which gun-control measures are being attached could perish by the middle of the week, a casualty in part of partisan feuding and political jockeying.

Speaking on several television news programs yesterday morning, Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah predicted that the safety-device amendment introduced on Friday would get enough Republican support to succeed. The amendment was a slightly altered version of a Democratic proposal that was rejected, 61-39, last July.

"It's going to pass," Hatch said on the ABC News program "This Week."

Hatch, the main sponsor of the juvenile crime bill, joined Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, as a co-sponsor of the safety-device amendment. Hatch voted against last year's version of the amendment, as did 51 other Republicans and nine Democrats. Three Republicans and 36 Democrats voted for it.

The amendment would require all licensed gun dealers to include, with the sale of any handgun, a device like a sealed storage compartment or trigger lock that prevents the easy misuse of the firearm by a child. It would be up to buyers to use the equipment.

The principal concession that Democrats made to win Hatch's endorsement was a provision granting limited protection from liability for owners whose guns ended up causing accidental damage despite the proper use of a safety device.

Two weeks ago, the majority leader, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, casually suggested that he had an open mind to a law requiring the sale of safety devices. Lott's spokesman, John Czwartacki, said yesterday that he was not sure how Lott would vote on Kohl's amendment. But, Czwartacki added, "This is an amendment that seems reasonable and fair and smacks of an appropriate compromise."

The measure could come up for a vote tomorrow.

On the CBS news program "Face the Nation" yesterday, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado did not state his position on the amendment, but he said, "I suspect there will be some Republicans who support it, and it may very well pass."

Last week, the Senate approved amendments to the juvenile crime bill that restrict access to semiautomatic assault weapons by children under 18 and outlaw the importation of high-capacity ammunition clips for such weapons.

The Senate also passed an amendment that would promote background checks on all people who buy firearms at gun shows, not just people who make their purchases from licensed dealers.

Democrats, who voted almost unanimously against the amendment, said it contained an enormous loophole that exempted many sellers. They supported what they said was a stronger, more stringent proposal by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat.

These measures probably would not have succeeded before a series of school shootings that culminated in the bloodshed in Littleton, Colo., last month.

Still, Democrats continued to assert yesterday that Republicans were not doing nearly enough. Republicans, in turn, warned that if new demands from Democrats and continued acrimony in the chamber delayed a final vote on the juvenile crime bill beyond tomorrow, work on the bill could be postponed indefinitely as the Senate moved to other business.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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