(CNSNews.com) - Legislation that would provide states with more than a billion dollars to help them computerize their criminal records and prevent illegal gun purchases is hung up in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate following House passage.
At the same time, officials from Maryland's Democrat-led state government insist a lack of money is what prevented them earlier this year from furnishing the FBI with criminal records of potential gun buyers. The records are needed for the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), part of the Brady Act.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) this week criticized Maryland for being the only state that didn't provide criminal records of potential gun buyers for nearly six months. He also asked the General Accounting Office to investigate why it happened.
Maryland State Archivist Edward Papenfuse said the records weren't provided because "we didn't have the staff to do it."
"We had been doing it quietly for free but we got to the point where everyone's budgets were being cut, and we couldn't do it anymore," Papenfuse said.
Papenfuse added that his agency has received none of the $6.7 million in federal funds that have been allocated to Maryland since 1995 to modernize criminal record keeping and help the state comply with federal gun control laws.
But on Capitol Hill Thursday, neither Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) nor Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) would say when the new bill, promising $1.1 billion for states, would come up for floor action.
"When I tried last Thursday night to clear it, we didn't get it done. But, we'll look at it again," Lott said on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Lott also told reporters he believes one senator may be holding up the bill, but would not identify which senator.
Ron Bonjean, Lott's spokesman, told CNSNews.com Thursday he did not know when the Senate would act on the bill. A spokesperson for Daschle's office told CNSNews.com Senate Republicans are holding up the bill.
The legislation has the support of senators as diverse on the gun issue as Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, a gun control advocate, and Republican Larry Craig of Idaho, a Second Amendment supporter and board member of the National Rifle Association. Both said this week they hope to pass the bill before the Senate adjourns.
"We're working real hard to get it passed in the Senate," Schumer said, "When you can do rational laws that don't hurt the legitimate gun owner but go after people who shouldn't have guns because they have a criminal record or a history of mental illness, it can only help."
The bill also has the support of the National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, two groups usually at odds over firearms issues.
Under terms of the bill, Ashcroft would be authorized to make grants to state attorneys general to help them establish and/or upgrade their technology for determining the eligibility of gun buyers and transmitting that information to the FBI.
It would also require federal agencies like the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide their records to the FBI database to ensure that illegal aliens or the mentally ill don't get firearms.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), a gun control advocate, sponsored the House bill.
"Our bill guarantees and ensures the money goes to the states. What the states do with those funds is not under the federal government's purview," Cecelia Prewett, McCarthy's spokeswoman, told CNSNews.com.
Firearm sales in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. have skyrocketed recently as local and federal investigators continue the two-week-old effort of trying to apprehend the Beltway Sniper who is believed responsible for killing nine people and wounding two others.
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