A watchdog group says Utah Rep. Wayne Owens may be an even rarer breed on gun control than previously thought.
Owens, D-Utah, was the first Utah congressman to ever vote for any sort of gun control when he supported a bill last week to require a seven-day waiting period before the purchase of a handgun - a dangerous political position in a state full of deer hunters and gun enthusiasts.But on top of that, Owens was also one of only two House members among the 25 who have received the most donations from the National Rifle Association to vote contrary to its position last week, according to Public Citizen - a watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader.
Meanwhile, Public Citizen said action by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, was more typical. He was also among the top 25 NRA recipients (No. 10 to be exact), and he voted the way the NRA preferred on two gun- control bills.
"One of the most potent weapons in the NRA arsenal is its semi-automatic checkbook," said Public Citizen spokesman Craig McDonald. "House members supporting the NRA received on average 71/2 times more money than those who voted against the Staggers amendment."
The Staggers bill called for an instant, computerized background check of handgun purchasers which would take years to implement - and was endorsed by the NRA. The House rejected it but passed the seven-day waiting period of the "Brady bill" - named after James Brady, who was wounded by the same gunman who attacked Ronald Reagan.
Public Citizen attorney David Eppler said, "The NRA suffered a rare defeat in Congress, but the power of their purse strings is still quite evident. Despite overwhelming public sentiment (nationally) against the NRA position, the pro-gun lobby nearly prevailed."
Public Citizen figured that the 193 members who voted for the Staggers bill received more than $1.77 million in donations from the NRA over the past six years - an average of $9,154 each.
But the 234 who voted against it received only $285,254 from the NRA - only $1,220 each over the six years.
Owens received the 24th most of any House member from the NRA in that period - $21,848 - but voted against its position on both bills.
Owens said he felt the seven-day waiting period for handguns was reasonable and was "criminal control," not gun control.
He opposed the NRA-endorsed Staggers bill, saying it would take years to implement, and instant crime checks were already required to be developed by a 1988 law. Still, he often praised his "friends in the NRA" for supporting at least some background check of handgun purchasers.
Hansen received the 10th most from the NRA among the House's 435 members - $30,100. He opposed the Brady bill, saying it would not reduce crime because most criminals obtain guns through illegal means anyway.
Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, received no donations from the NRA, according to Public Citizen. He supported half the NRA's position. He voted against the Brady bill, as the NRA preferred. But he also voted against the NRA-endorsed Staggers bill.
He says each state can implement waiting periods if they so choose, and no such national law is needed.