The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to prohibit the Treasury Department from institution regulations that opponents had characterized as a first step toward gun control.
The vote came as the House began work on a series of fiscal 1979 appropriations bills that congressional observers said might be affected by Tuesday's vote in California to roll back property taxes.
Meanwhile, the stage was set for a compromise that could avoid another prolonged House-Senate debate on federal funding of abortions.
Regulations proposed by Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) would have required that new guns carry serial numbers and that gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers provide quarterly reports on guns bought, sold and otherwise disposed of.
Supporters of the proposal, including the International Association of Police Chiefs, said it would expand and update the bureau's ability to trace guns used in a crime.
But opponents said that Congress had rejected legislation for a national handgun tracing center and that BATF was engaging in "a bureaucratic attempt to usurp the power of Congress" to write laws on gun control, as Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.) put it.
The 314-80 vote, which came during consideration of an $8.6 billion Treasury-Postal Service appropriations bill, not only prohibited the BATF from putting the regulations in effect but cut $4.2 million in funds for the bureau.
Rep. Abner Mikva (D-Ill.) called the fund cut "punitive" and said it was a "signal" to the bureau that it "better not try to enforce the regulations or we'll cut you legs off." He predicted the BATF would "go back to its supine position."
Rep. Steve Symms (R-Idaho) warned the vote would be "looked upon as a vote on gun control."
Mikva criticized the National Rifle Association, which he said "put on the most massive lobbying blitz" since debate on a 1969 gun control law. "Everybody but the street crime lobby ought to be for this," he said.
The Appropriations Committee earlier had voted to cut BATF's funds. Yesterday's vote came on an attempt by Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.) to reverse that action. McClory said Congress "should get away from our hang-up about handguns and see these programs for what they are - crime controls."
House leaders, seeking to avoid a Senate deadlock on the controversial abortion issue that delayed passage of the Labor-HEW appropriations bill for months last year, persuaded members to agree to consider language adopted last year as well as new, more restrictive language when they vote on the issue, probably today.
Congress last year adopted language that barred federal funding of abortions (primarily through medicaid) except in cases of rape and incest if the assault was properly reported or when two physicians determine "severe and long-listing physical health damage would result" from continuing the pregnancy.
The House Appropriations Commission went further this year, adopting language that would bar abortions except when the life of the mother was threatened.
All sides agreed yesterday to a Rules Committee proposal that would allow three votes - keeping the new language, returning to the old language, or striking all prohibitions on abortions.
There was speculation that California's overwhelming adoption of the Proposition 13 anti-tax proposal could help both President Carter and Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-Ill.) in their efforts to cut the $58 billion Labor-HEW bill. Carter has said it is more than the country can afford, while Michel wants to cut $1 billion from programs that an inspector general's report has said are subject to abuse. The administration wants to cut several health and education programs.
In another economy move, the House voted to hold funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the fiscal 1978 level of $139 million, denying it $28.4 million increase the Appropriations Committee had provided. The amendment by Rep. Symms passed 201 to 179.