Utah's three House members shot off in three directions Wednesday as the House voted 239-186 to require a seven-day waiting period for buying handguns - rebuffing the powerful National Rifle Association.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where another tough fight is expected. And President Bush has threatened to veto it unless it is included in a comprehensive crime bill that includes a federal death penalty and limiting federal appeals of state convictions.Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, bit the bullet and became the first Utah member ever to vote for any sort of federal gun control, supporting the "Brady bill" - named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was disabled by the same gunman who shot President Reagan in 1981.
To do so, Owens also had to vote against an NRA-endorsed bill sponsored by Rep. Harley Staggers Jr., D-W.Va., to instead require instant computer checks of gunbuyers' criminal records - which died 234-196. Owens said he favors such checks but says they are not possible for years.
While Owens voted against Staggers but for Brady, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, voted just the opposite: for Staggers and against Brady.
And Rep. Bill Orton voted against both bills - meaning the delegation went three different directions on the gun control measures. "That shows how cohesive our delegation is," one aide said.
Owens explained his vote, telling the House in debate, "Until an instantaneous check is possible, a waiting period is our only realistic option. This is criminal control, not gun control," adding something must be done about increasing violence.
He added, "I come from the West where the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) is held nearly sacred and inviolate. But it's not inconsistent with that amendment to vote for the Brady bill." He added that the 1988 crime bill already requires an instant crime-check system to be developed.
Orton opposed both bills saying he feels the Constitution allows individual states to pass their own waiting-period bills if they so choose.
As he previously told the Deseret News, "That could be done in areas with special problems, like New York and Los Angeles. But I don't think we need a nationwide waiting period to address local problems."
While he earlier told the Deseret News he would likely vote for the Stagger bill, aides said one reason he ended up voting against it was a feeling it was redundant because the 1988 crime bill already requires instant crime-check systems to be developed.
Hansen had told the Deseret News he opposed the Brady bill because it "is only a feel-good bill that would make the Bradys and some congressmen feel good, but I bet it won't make a dent at all in crime."
He added most criminals obtain guns illegally, and the waiting period won't deter them.
The vote came amid heavy lobbying in Washington and Utah - with the three members reporting substantial numbers of phone calls on the issue. Their offices reported most calls from Utah - with its many deer hunters and gun enthusiasts - were against the Brady bill.
Staffers reported some Utahns also were concerned whether information from crime checks during the Brady bill's seven-day waiting period could be kept on file and create a sort of federal gun registration. The bill, however, requires files to be destroyed after 30 days.
Staffers also said some Utahns were confused whether the bill affects sports rifles. It affects only handguns.
In Washington, the powerful NRA lobby visited members all day, and James Brady and his wife sat outside the Capitol talking to members as they passed. Brady watched the vote from the gallery and flashed a thumbs-up sign when it passed.
Debate on the bills was also often emotional - and even humorous.
For example, Rep. Dick Scholz, R-Pa., pointed out that 29 people were killed with baseball bats in Chicago last year. "Should we have a waiting list for baseball bats in Chicago?" he asked.
And reporters asked Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf - who addressed Congress earlier in the day - whether he thought Congress should pass the Brady bill. He responded that he had just disarmed 43 Iraqi divisions and would leave the Brady bill to Congress.