WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday turned up the pressure on Congress to pass legislation to require safety locks on handguns and background checks on purchasers of firearms at gun shows.
"I can only hope that this latest incident will intensify our resolve to make America a safer place and a place of healing across the lines that divide us," President Clinton said in a White House ceremony one day after the shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.
The gun control measures are being considered by a Senate-House conference committee after being adopted by the Senate early this summer but rejected by the House.
White House officials and gun control advocates hope that members of Congress, who are on recess until next month, will listen to the public outcry over a recent rash of shootings and take action when they return to Washington.
"I honestly believe the Congress is not going to be able to keep ducking this," one top White House official said, stressing that shootings like the one Tuesday in Los Angeles have had "a real psychic impact on the country."
White House spokesman Barry Toiv conceded that the GOP majority in Congress is trying to block the gun control legislation but stressed that the White House is determined to "keep pushing very hard" with the hope "that given the strong support of the American people for sensible gun legislation, . . . they will come around."
But some Democratic congressional aides said that Republicans on the conference committee, most of whom advocate gun rights, have shown little flexibility so far, despite a horrific string of shootings.
"At some point they might get a little bit uncomfortable but I don't see many signs of it," said Will Keyser, spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the senators on the committee.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is exploring a run for a New York Senate seat, also called on Congress to act with dispatch.
"When children are the victims of gun violence, it shocks the conscience of our nation and I hope our outrage will strengthen our resolve to address the scourges of gun violence and hate crimes," she said.
The Senate gun control bill would permit up to three business days for gun show background checks and allow fees to be charged for conducting the checks. The National Rifle Assn. and its allies in Congress are vehemently fighting the measure.
The Senate bill also would require that all handguns be sold with a trigger lock or other safety device, ban imports of large-capacity ammunition magazines, impose a lifetime ban on gun ownership for anyone convicted of a violent crime as a juvenile and ban possession of semiautomatic assault weapons by juveniles.
Responding to early indications that the Los Angeles gunman was motivated by prejudice, the White House also called on Congress to pass into law an expansion of hate crime legislation, which also passed in the Senate last month but is not expected to be sent to the president this year.
"We are a long way from knowing all the facts about this case . . . but what we have heard about the suspect and his motives is deeply disturbing," Clinton said.
The legislation would expand federal laws to cover hate crimes against individuals because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability.
The measure was passed in the Senate on a voice vote as part of an appropriations bill but GOP leaders have vowed to strip the provision out in conference committee.