Stalled gun control bill stirs in wake of Atlanta killings

In reversal, House backs background checks of buyers at firearms shows

July 31, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Against the backdrop of the latest horrific killings to transfix the nation, Congress broke a months-long logjam yesterday and took a step toward passing gun control legislation before children return to school this fall.

In a 305-84 vote, the House directed its representatives on a House-Senate committee drafting juvenile justice legislation to include a provision requiring background checks for all purchasers of firearms sales at gun shows.

The legislation must "effectively preclude criminals and other prohibited purchasers from obtaining firearms from nonlicensed persons and federally licensed firearms dealers at gun shows," according to the nonbinding instructions.

The action, taken a day after an Atlanta gunman killed 12 people before committing suicide, addressed the thorniest provision of gun control legislation that failed in the House earlier this summer after the high school shootings in Littleton, Colo.

The Senate passed several gun control provisions this spring as part of its juvenile justice legislation, but liberals and conservatives joined to kill the provisions in the House package. Yesterday's action was seen as a signal that, despite the earlier setback, the majority of House members still want some action.

But major obstacles remain to passing the legislation, including broad differences over how much time the police should be given to conduct the gun show background checks.

The Senate measure would permit up to three business days for the checks and allow fees to be charged for processing them. Such checks are now required only of licensed gun dealers.

The NRA backed an alternative that would have required background checks for all gun show purchases, but only in the first 24 hours.

Critics, including law enforcement officials, argued that that would not allow enough time to identify felons, particularly since most gun shows are held on weekends when court records are unavailable.

The House asked the House-Senate committee to reach consensus on the measure next week so that both chambers can vote on it and send it to President Clinton before Congress' August recess.

If passed, the measure would represent the first new gun control legislation in five years.

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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