WASHINGTON – A Senate agreement requiring child safety locks (search) on U.S. handguns gave Democrats encouragement Thursday that renewing an assault weapons ban (search) might also become part of a package to protect gun makers and sellers from gun crime lawsuits.
The GOP-controlled Senate voted 70-27 to require all handguns sold in the United States to have child safety locks, adding the measure to the legislation providing the gun industry immunity from suits when a legally sold gun is subsequently used in a crime.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin argued that requiring child safety locks on newly purchased handguns would help reduce the number of children accidentally killed by handguns in the home. Every 48 hours, a child is killed through an accidental shooting, Boxer said.
"If we were to pass this legislation and it became the law of the land, the number of children involved in the number of accidental shootings would go way down," she said.
Kohl said the bill "is not a panacea. It will not prevent every single avoidable firearm-related accident. But the fact is that all parents want to protect their children. This legislation will ensure that people purchase child-safety locks when they buy guns. Those who buy locks are more likely to use them. That much we know is certain."
The Senate in 1999 passed similar legislation but the House refused to approve the measure.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the sponsor of the gunmaker immunity legislation (search), argued against the measure, saying gun manufacturers already are working on the problem. Craig said the amendment would be an intrusion of the federal government into people's private homes.
"For the first time, the long arm of government will reach into the private place and suggest to the average American how they will store an object in that private place," he said. "I'm not arguing about the care and the emotion and the concern and the reality. Not that at all. I understand that. But I don't believe that government ought to be telling the average citizen how they store objects within their home."
Craig and other Republicans, including the Bush administration, also called on senators not to add amendments to the gunmaker immunity bill that could bog it down.
Gun advocates say firearm manufacturers make legal products and should not have to spend millions of dollars fighting off suits. A test vote earlier this week garnered 75 votes for the measure, with Democrats agreeing to vote for the measure after the GOP agreed that firearms makers and distributors would not be immune to suits involving defective products or illegal sales.
The GOP-controlled House already has passed the bill. However, Senate changes will require that House and Senate negotiators agree to a compromise version, which could take months given the strong feelings on both sides.
For example, leaders in the GOP-controlled House already have said they do not plan to approve an extension of the expiring assault weapons ban. But Senate Democrats say they are close to getting enough votes to add that measure to the gunmaker bill.
"Any amendment that would delay enactment of the bill beyond this year is unacceptable," the White House said Tuesday.
The Senate's overwhelming approval of the gun lock amendment shows that senators are not listening to that advice and could be convinced that the assault weapons ban and other Democratic legislation should be added to the package, Boxer said. "Senators are not buying the argument that the bill should be clean."
Democrats are very close to having enough support to reauthorize the assault weapons ban for 10 more years, she said. The ban expires in September.
"We believe we can get to 51," said Boxer, referring to the number of votes needed to add the measure to the gunmaker immunity bill.