Clinton Calls for Gun Control Measures Democrats Previously Blocked

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - President Bill Clinton Tuesday called on Congress to pass more restrictive gun control by the April 20 anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, but one Capitol Hill source gives the legislation little hope, pointing to House Democrat leaders unwilling to compromise with the GOP.

In a White House press conference today, Clinton lashed out against congressional GOP leaders for not passing the restrictive gun legislation he asked for last year in the wake of the Columbine shootings. But after a meeting with Congressional leaders, one Republican member pointed out that nearly 200 Democrats blocked efforts last year to do precisely what Clinton wants done now.

In the aftermath of another school shooting last week in Michigan that claimed the life of a six year-old student, allegedly at the hands of a classmate, Clinton used the occasion to chide Congress for not taking on tighter gun control.

Clinton said he wants to permanently ban all violent juveniles from buying guns by extending the Brady Law to cover violent youth convicted in juvenile courts. According to the White House, "violent youths convicted in adult courts are barred from owning firearms as adults, the same is not true for youths found guilty of serious violent crimes in juvenile court."

The president also said he wants to ban the importation of all "large capacity ammunition magazines" and require child safety locks for handguns. Clinton insisted on mandating background checks and record keeping for all sales at what White House officials contend are more than 4,000 gun shows around the country.

Repeating his often-touted claim, the president again cited the purported success of the background check system in place for customers buying guns from federally licensed firearms dealers.

The background check system, Clinton said, has been responsible for preventing 500,000 illegal firearm transactions. But Clinton stopped short of mentioning that only a few of those ineligible for purchasing a firearm were actually prosecuted for attempting to do so, which is in itself a federal felony.

Clinton met today with both Senate and House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) in a preliminary discussion of the legislative provisions. The meeting also included the ranking Democrats of both committees, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Michigan Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Hatch offered his assessment of the meeting with the president and criticized Clinton for wanting to "do away with gun shows."

"We think that's crazy because gun shows are a place where decent, law-abiding citizens can transfer their weapons," Hatch said. "We do think that there ought to be an instant (background) check at gun shows and there will be when there are federally licensed dealers."

Hyde later released a statement reviewing the prospects for passing meaningful legislation.

"I believe the country wants Congress and the President to fashion compromise juvenile justice legislation in response to Columbine and other recent tragic shootings," Hyde said. "The President made various proposals regarding guns, some of which, I believe, have promise and deserve careful consideration."

But one Capitol Hill source points to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) as "standing in the school house door" when it comes to passing the legislation Clinton contends will keep guns out of the hands of children.

I don't give it much hope given the reaction from the Democratic leadership," the source said speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They have no interest in compromise. Unless there is a willingness on the part of the Democrats to compromise, probably nothing will happen."

In his statement released today, Hyde echoed that sentiment, reiterating the Democrats' prior efforts to stall legislation last year.

Without naming specific Members, Hyde said 197 Democrats voted against a GOP bill "that included child safety locks, the juvenile "Brady" provision, a ban on juvenile possession of assault weapons, and a ban on the importation of large capacity ammunition clips," - all provisions which Clinton is again seeking.

"My question coming into today's meeting is what is the President doing to bring these Democrats on board? I don't have an answer, so I can't tell you today what the prospects are for legislation this year," Hyde said.

Hyde's statement revealed what may be attempts by some Members to cite recent public shootings as the need for more gun control, stall the process in passing meaningful legislation and then blaming Republicans for inaction.

"We must reject the voices of some in Congress who have demonstrated an eager willingness to use this as a political issue and hold hostage any meaningful juvenile justice legislation, and embrace a compromise proposal that will help our local and state governments rebuild their broken juvenile justice systems," Hyde said.

Clinton's gun control efforts today sparked harsh criticism from House Judiciary member Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) contending that the president is "holding hostage" juvenile justice legislation.

In a letter to the president, Barr wrote, "Your meeting this morning to 'encourage' Congress to pass youth violence legislation is one of the most hypocritical political displays I have ever witnessed."

Recalling "legislation to fight youth violence months ago," Barr blasted Clinton for allegedly ordering congressional Democrat leaders to block youth violence legislation.

"Sadly, that legislation has been held hostage in Congress by allies following your orders to saddle the package with gun control or block its passage."