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  • Supreme Court Report

  •   Legislative Remedy Is Unlikely

    By Helen Dewar
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, June 28, 1997; Page A13

    The Supreme Court's decision striking down a key part of the Brady gun-control law prompted conflicting proposals for action on Capitol Hill yesterday, although many lawmakers agreed the ruling was unlikely to lead to a surge in gun sales to criminals.

    Republican critics of the Brady law called for faster action to create a national instant check system for gun purchases, which is due to be completed by late next year. Democratic supporters of the law urged action to assure that background checks are made in the meantime, possibly including a ban on sales to individuals who have not undergone a such a check.

    The high court knocked out the Brady law's requirement that local law enforcement officials check the backgrounds of handgun buyers. Lawmakers on both sides of the issue said they expect most law enforcement officials to continue voluntarily making background checks.

    "The only viable approach to separate criminals from law-abiding gun owners is to expedite the national instant check system that is already required to be in place next year under the Brady Act," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). He accused the Justice Department of delaying implementation of the instant check system and said, "This must change."

    It would be "pointless" to pass legislation aimed at reviving mandatory background checks in the 23 states that do not have their own check systems because the bill would expire and be supplanted by the national system "by the time any such law could be implemented," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.

    Democrats in both chambers signaled they will try to do so anyway.

    Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), members of the respective Judiciary committees, said they will introduce bills to require gun dealers to find some law enforcement agency to make background checks before a sale can be made. "If there's no check, there's no sale," Schumer said.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a leading gun control advocate, said it is not enough to wait for the national instant check system because too many criminals may buy guns in the meantime. "We lose too much if we have a gap like that," she said. Feinstein suggested enforcement of background checks by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, with a permit fee to finance the checks.

    Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he anticipates strong support for faster creation of the national check system because it suits the interests of proponents and opponents of gun control. There also could be a push by gun enthusiasts for repeal of the Brady law's waiting period, although it is unlikely to succeed, he added.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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