WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee, moving to head off an attempt to weaken federal gun controls, voted unanimously Tuesday for its own measure, which would allow interstate sales of rifles and shotguns but leave intact the current prohibition on interstate handgun sales.
The bill, which could be scheduled for a House vote as early as next week, would constitute the first major change in gun control legislation enacted in 1968 after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Proponents of the Judiciary Committee's bill contend that it would achieve "a reasonable balance among the public safety needs of American citizens, the concerns of law enforcement and the legitimate interests of the nation's sportsmen and hunters."
The Law Enforcement Steering Committee, an organization representing 11 groups--including police unions, the National Sheriffs' Assn., the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police and the National Troopers Coalition--hailed the committee for producing "fair, effective gun legislation" that addresses law enforcement concerns.
But the National Rifle Assn., which, along with the Reagan Administration, backs a Senate-passed measure that goes much further in undoing current controls, denounced the action as a tactic to block a petition that would force a vote on the Senate version without amendments.
NRA spokesman Andrew Kendzie said that 205 congressmen have signed the petition, 13 short of the required 218. However, proponents of the Judiciary Committee's measure are hoping that they can finish debate and get a vote by the full House on their bill before the petition backers can garner the support they need.
Nevertheless, Kendzie said that a vote by the committee would be "a victory because it means the issue of federal firearms law will finally be debated. It's not going to stay in committee cloakrooms forever."
No Waiting Period
Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) said he was disappointed that the bill did not include a waiting period for handgun purchases that would allow police to check on the background of buyers.
Instead, the measure would require that, when a handgun sale is made by a dealer, the customer must provide information that would be referred to police for a records check. However, the customer could carry his purchased gun with him immediately after sale and before the records check was completed.
Key provisions of the committee's bill would:
--Permit interstate sale of rifles and shotguns if the buyer and seller deal face to face and if the sale complies with laws of the states involved.
--Ensure the rights of gun owners to travel in and between states with a secured, unloaded, not readily accessible rifle or shotgun to participate in legal sporting activities or for changing their residences.
--Ban future sales of silencers and silencer kits.
--Eliminate record-keeping in the sale of ammunition in quantities of less than 1,000 rounds, except for armor-piercing ammunition.
--Ban the importation of key components of so-called "Saturday night special" handguns, cheap weapons that often are used in holdups.