Bang! Bang! Gun Control Dies in the House

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Strong gun control. Limited gun control. Say good-bye to any change in gun control in the near future. By a 280-to-147 vote Friday, the House of Representatives decided to reject the entire raft of gun control measures the chamber had managed to slog through, sometimes in partisan hand-to-hand parliamentary combat, during the week’s blazing shootout over firearms. Democrats voted against the final bill because of a key NRA-backed provision -- approved by the slimmest of majorities -- which would have weakened existing restrictions on gun-show sales. They were joined by a group of conservative Republicans who objected to almost all the measure’s provisions. Though some resuscitation of gun control might still be possible in conference negotiations with the Senate, which last month passed gun-show and other controls, Friday’s House outcome left the issue a legislative corpse for the moment, and the two parties are in search of a culprit.

President Clinton led the charge against the Republicans. "The American people will not stand for this," he boomed. "Let there be no mistake, the vast majority of the Democrat caucus walked away," House Speaker Dennis Hastert countered. But as the majority party, House Republicans are the ones who will be charged with explaining why, in the wake of the Littleton massacre, the party could not muster the votes to regulate gun sales in America. When the immediate political dust settles and the gun control issue is revived in campaign 2000, "nobody will remember the fine points of why this legislation went down to defeat," says TIME assistant managing editor Priscilla Painton. They will remember that it did during a Republican watch. If properly handled by the Democrats, whose take so far on the public pulse has been keen, "the defeat of gun controls could make and save Al Gore’s presidential campaign," says Painton. He is the one who very publicly cast the tie-breaking vote when the Senate backed gun-show restrictions last month.