The National Rifle Association, still one of the Capitol's more potent lobbies, is hailing a series of Senate votes, including the refusal by lawmakers to require dealers to include safety locks when selling handguns.
"It was a great day for gun safety in America, thanks to the U.S. Senate," Tanya Metaksa, the NRA's chief lobbyist, said Tuesday in a written statement. She hailed Senate GOP leaders "for their commitment to safety, responsibility and freedom."Gun-control groups criticized the Senate votes, with Handgun Control Inc. calling it "appalling" that the Senate voted 61-39 to reject a provision by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., requiring the trigger locks.
Instead, the Senate voted 72-28 for a weaker version of the provision that would require gun dealers to stock trigger locks, but not require their sale along with a handgun. That language was sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
"This amendment is a face-saving measure, which will have no impact because most gun stores already carry gun locks as part of their standard inventory," said Sarah Brady, who chairs Handgun Control and whose husband, James Brady, was wounded during an assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan.
Voting to kill Boxer's measure were 52 Republicans and nine Democrats. Thirty-six Democrats and three Republicans voted for it.
On the Craig provision, 54 Republicans and 18 Democrats voted yes, while 27 Democrats and one Republican were opposed.
Boxer, who is seeking re-election this year, said her proposal was designed to prevent accidents involving children. She said statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1.2 million children have access to guns in their homes. She also said that 34 percent of handgun owners store their weapons loaded and unlocked, according to the National Institutes of Justice.
"Too many children are dying in America," she said.
But Craig said that while gun safety is important, so is protecting the rights of states to make their own decisions on requiring trigger locks. Such devices generally cost $5 to $15.
He also said that while 34 states now allow people to carry concealed weapons, gun accident rates are declining. He cited the success of gun-safety programs, many of which are conducted by the National Rifle Association.
"Why should it be a federal mandate (to require sales of safety locks)?" Craig asked.
Many American handgun manufacturers agreed last year to voluntarily include safety locks in new weapons they sell by 1999. About 1.1 million U.S.-made guns annually would be covered by this agreement, leaving 350,000 a year that would be sold without the locks.
Senators also voted to require the FBI to immediately destroy files of the background checks it performs on would-be gun purchasers. Those checks are performed under terms of the so-called Brady law, which requires a five-day waiting period while police agencies check to see whether the buyer has a criminal record.
The amendment by Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., would also prohibit the FBI from charging a fee this November when it begins using computers to quickly check handgun purchasers' criminal records.
The provision was approved by voice vote after a virtually identical version was approved by 69-31.
The Senate also voted by voice for language by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would prohibit most foreign tourists from purchasing guns in the United States, with exceptions for visitors with valid U.S. hunting licenses.
All the gun provisions were offered as amendments to a $33.2 billion spending bill for next year for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State.