WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell proposed Thursday a compromise on the House-passed bill that requires a seven-day waiting period on the purchase of handguns.
The House, in a dramatic reveral, approved the legislation Wednesday 239-186, despite a heavy lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association and a threat of a veto by President Bush unless the bill is part of an anti-crime package.
Mitchell has consistently opposed the so-called Brady bill as ineffective and has said in the past that he backs provisions to make the legislation better, additions that he is now planning to offer.
'I think it should be improved,' Mitchell said. 'If we're going to enact it, we should make it more effective. I think a waiting period can be useful. My hope is that the measure can be improved to make it more effective.'
One step that Mitchell proposed are incentives for the states to complete and centralize their background records and share the information with each other and with the federal government.
Another would provide the resources for the states to enable them to fully carry out the background checks.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings on several anti-crime measures, but has given no indication when it would proceed with the Brady bill or whether it will take up a separate measure.
Following House passage, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh warned that the bill's success so far 'should no way be interpreted as a major step toward winning the war against violent crime.'
Thornburgh said that 'the president is committed to a comprehensive approach to combat violent crime, not to partial solutions.'
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Thursday the administration would 'wait and see what happens in the Senate.' Bush wants any curbs on handgun sales tied to passage of his anti-crime package.
Bush renewed his veto threat before the bill's final passage in the House, which followed thedefeat of a substitute amendment that would have required a so-called instant check using a computerized network of police records.
Rejection of the Staggers amendment was a defeat for the National Rifle Association, which supported the alternative measure, and a victory for gun control advocates, who saw the Brady bill defeated by 46 votes in 1988.
The Brady bill is named after former White House press secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, who praised the House action.
'This is a great victory for the people, and I urge the Senate to quickly do their part,' said Reagan in a statement. 'It's good legislation and will save lives now.'
The Brady bill would require a handgun buyer to wait up to seven days while the gun dealer checks with local police to find out if the individual has a criminal or drug record or is mentally ill. The police would not be required to make the background check, but would have the option of doing so.
Supporters of the failed substitute measure, sponsored by Rep. Harley Staggers, D-W.Va., argued that law-abiding citizens should not have to wait seven days to buy a handgun. But Brady bill supporters say most states do not have computerized files to make the 'instant check' plan work.
Twenty states have handgun purchase laws ranging from 15-day waiting periods to a simple telephone check on the day of purchase.
The Brady bill includes a 'sunset' provision that would end its requirements as soon as the nationwide computerized check system becomes operational.
Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a leader of the Brady forces, said 'waiting periods work. In states across the country, tens of thousands of felons have been prevented from buying handguns because police were given time to check for criminal histories.'
But Rep. Barbara Vuconovich, R-Nev., argued that most criminals obtain guns illegally. 'The suggestion that drug dealers, murderers and other criminals will be denied firearms under any gun control system is patently silly.'
Rep. Romano Mazzoli, D-Ky., a Brady supporter, acknowledged the bill 'won't solve all the problems. It will not get all the guns off the street, and it will not eliminate crime in our community ... but it will make a contribution to more peaceful communities. ... Don't vote against Brady because it's not perfect.'
Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-Mass., said instant checks are desirable, but 'the reality is that the capability to bring this kind of system on line is years away.'
Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., said the Staggers bill imposes 'the least burden on gun ownership to law-abiding citizens in this country.'
Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the Brady plan 'takes our police away from fighting crime and makes them do more paperwork. It's time we get back to crime control instead of gun control.'
Rep. Jack Fields, R-Texas, warned that local governments could be sued if their police departments fail to do an adequate check and allow a gun sale to a criminal.