McCAIN, Lieberman promote gun control bill

Wednesday, May 16th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Gun control advocates have a new ally as they try to close what they see as a loophole that can allow criminals to buy firearms.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is sponsoring a bill with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., that would mandate criminal background checks for buyers at gun shows with at least 75 weapons on sale.

McCain has opposed such legislation in the past but said his thinking has changed because of high-profile acts of gun violence such as the mass killing at Columbine High School near Denver.

Previous versions of the bill have failed. Lieberman encouraged opponents ``to open up your minds, look at the details of what we're proposing.''

``There is nothing in this proposal that compromises at all the rights of law-abiding citizens to buy and possess firearms,'' he said at a news conference Tuesday.

Jim Baker, the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist, said the NRA will strongly oppose the measure. He also said McCain's support of it is distressing.

``Yeah, that's a concern. It lends it more credibility,'' Baker said. ``That's one vote less that we have, obviously. We've come to enjoy the senator's support over the years. We're disappointed.''

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would impose three-day waiting periods on gun show purchases to allow time for background checks. It also would support additional prosecutors to pursue gun crime cases and money for gun-tracing technology, ideas similar to parts of a proposal announced Monday by President Bush.

After three years, states could reduce the wait from three days to one if federal authorities were to find their records sufficiently automated to do a thorough check in 24 hours. The bill would offer money to improve the technology.

Many gun control advocates favor a more restrictive measure proposed by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. It would impose permanent three-day waiting periods for shows in which 50 guns were for sale. It also would order tougher licensing and registration.

``I don't believe we should start off in the Senate with a weakened version,'' Reed said.

Baker said both bills would address an overstated problem.

``We're talking about a very, very small problem that they've approached with a sledgehammer in terms of individual rights,'' he said. ``It's the beginning of a registration system.''

McCain said his bill is essentially the same as a measure adopted in Colorado after the Columbine shootings.

``Colorado is not known particularly as a liberal state, and yet this same bill passed on a ballot initiative with over 70 percent of the vote with the support of the Republican governor. So thinking has evolved,'' he said.

Bush said during the campaign that he supports closing gun show loopholes, but he didn't mention that Monday when he announced a two-year, $550 million effort that involves hiring assistant U.S. attorneys and state and local prosecutors to work specifically on gun cases.


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