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National Perspective | POLITICS

Senate Casts Symbolic Gun Votes

Resolution calling for quick passage of control measures narrowly passes. GOP motion faulting Clinton is also approved.

May 18, 2000|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Acting just days after the Million Mom March, the Senate, in a symbolic vote Wednesday, narrowly called for immediate passage of long-stalled gun control measures.

The nonbinding resolution, which also praised the march, had more to do with politics than policy. It was sponsored by Democrats who see the gun issue as one that may damage the GOP in the November elections.

And there was no sign that the resolution's passage on a 50-to-49 vote would affect the political dynamics in the House that have caused the bill containing the gun control provisions to remain in limbo for almost a year.

Senate Republicans responded to the Democratic maneuver with some political jockeying of their own.

Resolutions Pass as Amendments to Bill

The GOP pushed through a nonbinding resolution accusing the Clinton administration of failing to aggressively enforce existing gun laws, reaffirming the 2nd Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms and calling for a "comprehensive approach" to fighting youth violence. It passed, 69 to 30.

If the dueling motions were not confusing enough, both were passed as amendments--to a military appropriations bill.

The gun control issue sparked an unusually testy exchange between Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in a chamber that regards itself as more civil than the House.

"This is getting to be more and more like a second House of Representatives," Daschle said, accusing the GOP leader of seeking to prevent debate and a vote on the gun control resolutions. Daschle said that Lott is "trying to protect his members so they don't have to vote on tough issues."

Lott responded: "I feel personally maligned, and I don't appreciate it."

Lott said that his initial efforts to block consideration of the resolutions stemmed from his desire to keep the Senate on track to deal with spending bills and other critical issues.

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), a gun control opponent, contended that the Democratic measure amounted to "raw politics."

But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said: "There could be no more important business than protecting our children."

And Democrats vowed to bring up gun control just about every day, including reading on the Senate floor the names of gunshot victims.

After the April 1999 shootings that took 15 lives at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., the Senate passed an anti-crime measure that included provisions to expand background checks at gun shows, require trigger locks on handguns, prohibit the importation of high-capacity ammunition clips and bar violent juveniles for life from owning guns.

But the House version of the anti-crime bill did not include these gun control measures, and negotiations between the two houses to reconcile this difference have made no progress.

This standoff helped spur Sunday's Million Mom March, which drew hundreds of thousands of mothers and families to Washington and dozens of other cities to promote tougher gun control measures. The march's potential political effect was not lost on some lawmakers who oppose the proposed gun control measures.

"We want to say to the Million Mom March, 'We care. We hear you,' " Craig said. "But the issue is violence in America, not just guns. . . . What a false promise to tell these moms who came from all over the country that we'll just pass a law and the world will be a better place."

Praise for March Included in Motion

Seven Republicans joined 43 Democrats, including Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, in praising the march and urging quick passage of the gun control proposals.

Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana joined 48 Republicans in opposition. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) did not vote.

Feinstein and Boxer were among those voting against the resolution faulting the Clinton administration for its lack of enforcement of existing gun control laws.

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