Clinton Citing Study on Guns, Youths at Meeting With Lawmakers

Complaining that Congress "has kept the American people waiting long enough," President Clinton urged lawmakers Tuesday to break an eight-month deadlock and require background checks on gun show sales. But Senate Republicans reacted cooly to Clinton's plea. 

"We are poles apart," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of a House-Senate negotiating committee charged with writing a compromise juvenile justice bill containing gun control provisions. 

Clinton called on Congress to pass a gun bill by the April 20 anniversary of the Columbine High School slayings a year ago. 

"How many people have to get killed before we do something?" he asked. 

A week after the fatal shooting of Michigan first-grader Kayla Rolland, Clinton met privately with the 6-year-old girl's mother, Veronica McQueen. 

In a television interview earlier, McQueen said, "I just don't want to see another parent have to bury another baby over this, over something that is preventable, something that is very, very preventable." 

"Eight months is long enough," the President said during a Washington press conference Tuesday, referring to the time that has elapsed since the House and Senate reached a stalemate over two different gun control bills. 

The president called for a special session with Congressional leaders after a 6-year-old girl was shot to death last week by a fellow first-grade classmate in her Michigan classroom. Clinton called the one-hour meeting a "very good discussion" and urged the House and Senate to resume its conference meetings and pass a compromise. 

While Republicans said they agreed with the president on such measures as child safety locks on handguns and denying guns to juvenile offenders, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde said a major sticking point of the White House bill concerns laws that would virtually eliminate gun shows, known as the "gun show loophole." The president made several pleas for Congress to close the "gun show loophole" during the press conference. 

Hatch told FOXNews Channel background checks at gun shows would not have prevented Columbine, or any of the juvenile gun violence that brought tragedy to places like Peducah, Sky and Seattle. 

Hatch said resuming the Congressional conference would have a "polarizing effect," and that the gun control made up only one percent of the proposed legislation, called the Juvenile Crime Bill. 

The president is also calling for a ban on the import of large-capacity ammunition clips and a system of photo IDs for gun owners. 

Troubling Statistics 

Clinton had hoped the publicization of a study showing that every day in America, 13 children are killed by firearms would be his secret weapon to break the gun legislation stalemate. 

The president was expected to cite Justice Department statistics during his meeting with lawmakers showing that the number of youths killed with a firearm increased sharply between 1987 and 1993, while other types of homicide remained constant. 

The statistics, culled from the Juvenile Offenders and Victims 1999 national Report, showed that the proportion of juveniles killed with a firearm peaked at 61 percent in 1993. Since then, the proportion has declined to 56 percent in 1997. 

The study also found that since 1980, one in four murders of juveniles involved a juvenile offender. Nearly 38,000 juveniles were murdered between 1980 and 1997. 

An Eight Month Stalemate 

 

Lawmakers have been unable to reach a compromise and have not met since August to discuss what Clinton calls "common sense" gun laws. 

The Senate version calls for a three-day waiting period at gun shows, equal to the waiting period imposed on people who purchase firearms at stores. The House would require checks at gun shows be completed in 24 hours. 

A White House spokesperson said the administration supported the Senate version and would be unwilling to compromise on that point. He said most checks are completed within hours and that the extra time was needed in cases where closer scrutiny was required. 

Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, their committees' ranking Democrats, sent a letter to the judiciary committee chairmen, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, urging action. 

"We are baffled that the Senate-passed gun safety measures, measures that represent an important first step in stopping this gun violence epidemic, continue to lay dormant in a juvenile justice conference that has not met since early August," they wrote. 

 

— The Associated Press contributed to this report