Lawmakers set to iron out gun-control differences

Congressional conference to discuss restrictions


WASHINGTON -- As Americans puzzled over the latest deadly shooting spree, House leaders appointed representatives yesterday to a conference between House and Senate lawmakers on gun control, a long-delayed, pivotal step toward the enactment of any new restrictions on firearms by this Congress.

But the fate of those restrictions remained in doubt.

House Republican leaders said the compromise legislation likely to emerge from the committee, which is charged with reconciling the differences between the juvenile crime bills passed by the House and Senate, would not include the strict regulation of gun shows that gun-control advocates in both parties have made their line in the sand.

Those advocates could reject any package of more modest measures that would come out of the committee as too paltry.

Opponents of gun control could line up against any new restrictions, creating enough negative votes from the two camps to doom the legislation.

The outcome of one of the most bitter debates in Congress this year may not be determined until September, weeks after schools around the country have reopened. It was the shooting deaths of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April that started the current gun-control debate.

Many Republicans and Democrats said yesterday that the shootings in Atlanta on Thursday, which left nine dead, would probably not substantially change the positions of conference participants.

"I don't think we should permit the shooting in Atlanta yesterday to detract from a thorough, sobering, deliberate dialogue in the conference," Republican Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina, who is among the conference members appointed by the House, said Friday.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, a New York Democrat, said, "If the Republican leadership did not act after the tragedies in schools, I worry they won't act now."

Other Democrats said they found hope since the House, by a 305-84 vote, including a majority of Republicans, approved instructions for the House conferees that called for some type of regulation of gun shows that would "effectively preclude criminals and other prohibited purchasers" from obtaining firearms.

The instructions said conferees should reject "any measure that would weaken the effectiveness of background checks currently conducted" at gun shows, which is what Democrats had argued was what the Republican-favored measure did.

The Democratic-sponsored gun-show measure that was approved in the Senate -- but failed in the House -- required all vendors at gun shows to conduct mandatory background checks on customers and gave those vendors up to three business days to get the results from law enforcement officials. Currently, only licensed dealers at gun shows must conduct those checks in three business days, while hobbyists and collectors are exempt.

Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic minority leader, said gun-control advocates would be hesitant to endorse any legislation that lacks what they consider a strong gun-show provision.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the senior House Republican among the conferees, discouraged any hopes of a conclusion before Congress begins a monthlong recess Saturday.

"I expect this to be a difficult -- but certainly not impossible -- conference," Hyde said.

Pub Date: 8/01/99

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