House Chided Over Gun Vote

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House officials are railing against a House vote to curb the administration's ability to bring more communities into the federal agreement with Smith & Wesson, the giant gun maker.

The House voted 218-207 to bar the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs from working to expand or administer the Communities for Safer Guns Coalition. In return for Smith & Wesson's promise to use gun-safety devices and restrictive sales practices, the 411 localities that have so far joined the coalition have agreed to make the company's firearms the preferred gun for their law enforcement agencies.

Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., who sponsored the provision, said in an interview afterward that the vote was ``pretty significant'' because it would mean that ``local law enforcement agencies won't feel pressure from a federal agency ... in the procurement of firearms.''

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, a prime mover of the gun pact, said the vote ``strikes at the heart of HUD's ability to work with local communities to reduce the awful toll of gun violence.''

And in an election-year shot at Republicans, he said the vote showed the House is ``firmly in the hip holster of gun lobby extremists.''

The provision was added to a $101 billion spending bill for next year that already faces a veto threat for cuts it would make in President Clinton's plans for the environment, public housing and national service programs.

The House approved the overall bill by 256-169. But White House budget office spokeswoman Linda Ricci cast doubt on its fate.

``The gun language is just one more problem on what is already a very bad bill,'' she said.

Minutes after the vote, the House muddled its message by voting 219-206 to reject a second Hostettler provision that would have forbidden HUD outright from enforcing the March 17 federal agreement with Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer. The two votes underlined the pressure lawmakers are under on the hot button issue of guns, especially with elections less than five months off.

Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., chief author of the spending bill, said during the debate that the measure provided no funds specifically for the gun agreement. That made the amendments ``unnecessary,'' he said.

But Hostettler said later that the government often spends money for activities that are not specified in spending bills, such as for U.S. troops in Kosovo. With the success of his first amendment, he said, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would not be able to issue press releases or have its lawyers help the coalition of participating communities.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who led the opposition to Hostettler's amendments, said the success of his first amendment was ``absolutely'' a setback.

But she said she hoped the Senate, which has not yet written its version of the bill, would reject the proposal.

Hostettler said he would introduce similar amendments to future spending bills in an effort to bar the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from participating in the pact.

As part of the gun agreement, Smith & Wesson agreed to start installing trigger locks and other gun-safety devices, such as using ``smart gun'' technology within three years that would allow only the weapon's owner to use it. In addition, the company agreed to take such steps as selling guns only after background checks of the purchaser.

In exchange, participating communities have agreed to make Smith & Wesson guns the preferred choice for the firearms they purchase for their law enforcement agencies. That means that when choosing among similar, equally priced guns, the edge would go to Smith & Wesson weapons.

The localities also agreed to drop the company from lawsuits challenging the gun industry's safety and marketing practices.

Smith & Wesson has been greeted with hostility from its own industry for the agreement. The National Rifle Association has attacked it, and other arms companies have sued it in federal court for an alleged restraint of trade conspiracy.