03/98 Congressional Votes Report

Grassroots Blitz Brings House Within One Vote of Killing “Seven Clones of Schumer” Bill

by Gun Owners of America
8001 Forbes Place, Suite 102, Springfield, VA 22151
(Wednesday, March 11, 1998)

Sarah Brady and Chuck Schumer are out of luck as Puerto Rico’s narrow victory in the House could sink its chances in the Senate

The House of Representatives voted narrowly last week (3/4/98) to initiate the process for Puerto Rico statehood. The razor-thin 209-208 vote came as a surprise to many statehood supporters who thought they would cruise to an easy victory. But that was before the grassroots blitz began.

“Two weeks before the vote, Puerto Rico statehood would have won easily in the House,” said Jim Boulet, head of the Coalition Against Puerto Rico Statehood. “But groups like Gun Owners of America made the crucial difference in getting Congressmen to reconsider their support for the bill.”

Indeed, many Congressmen were stunned at the last-minute outpouring of opposition against the bill. Some of the bill’s supporters even did a complete 180 degrees turn. Several Congressmen — who had cosponsored the bill or who had naively voted in committee in favor of bringing seven more anti-gun Schumers to Congress — reversed themselves and voted against H.R. 856 on the floor of the House. The grassroots outpouring made the difference with these almost two dozen Congressmen.

What are the bill’s chances now that the House has passed the bill? According to press reports, the narrow House victory could very well put the brakes on the drive for Puerto Rico statehood.

The Washington Times reported last Friday that “the slender 209-208 margin by which the House adopted the Puerto Rico bill further diminishes its chances” in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott mused that the House wandered needlessly into a “hornet’s nest” — a statement indicating he not only has little desire to get stung on this issue, but that he could very well just bury it indefinitely.

Having said that, gun owners will have to remain vigilant and make sure that this “hornet’s nest” does stay buried. Otherwise, gun owners will find the sting of “seven more Schumers” could be too much to bear.

Incumbent Protection Bill dies in the Senate

The Senate in February (2/26/98) failed to shut off a filibuster against the Incumbent Protection Bill, as Senate backers fell nine votes short of garnering the 60 that were needed to end debate on the provision. The McCain-Feingold amendment would have seriously hindered the ability of groups to help pro-gun candidates and to educate pro-gun voters, while at the same time, expanding the relative political power of the liberal media and other anti-gun forces.

GOA will treat a Senator’s vote in favor of the filibuster as a pro-gun vote. But all 44 Democrats voted against the filibuster and were joined by seven Republicans: Chafee (RI), Collins (ME), Jeffords (VT), McCain (AZ), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA), and Thompson (TN).

More than 300 Reps. vote with Chuck Schumer on gun bill

The House recently voted to apply mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes. (The February 24 vote was 350 – 59 in favor of H.R. 424.) As stated in an earlier alert, there are serious problems with this bill. First and foremost, there are too many “Bernie Goetz’s” who already get prosecuted for using a gun in self-defense. Now H.R. 424 gives federal prosecutors a powerful weapon that can send gun owners to jail from 15 to 35 years.

While Democrats were split on this vote, only four Republicans stood-up for gun rights and voted against the bill: Reps. Ron Paul (TX), Joe Scarborough (FL), Linda Smith (WA) and J.C. Watts (OK). Three other Republicans did not vote: Reps. Benjamin Gilman (NY), Steve Schiff (NM) and Don Young (AK). Every other Republican voted for the bill.

Pro-gun Democrat, Rep. Virgil Goode (VA), told GOA right after the vote that the leadership appeared to be “leaning” on the Republican members. Goode noted that some Republican members even switched their votes to the “Yes” side during the actual vote after being “talked to” by other Members on the House floor. [Incidentally, Rep. Goode voted against H.R. 424 for the right reasons.]

Unfortunately, there was a lot of confusion on this vote. Many of the staffers that handled your calls on this issue were unfamiliar with the federal code which is being amended by H.R. 424. (We know because we have talked with these same staffers, too!) H.R. 424 will increase the prison sentence for using a gun during the commission of — what the federal code defines to be — a “crime of violence.” While the layman might think that a “crime of violence” just refers to those bad guys who rape, murder and break into others homes, most people fail to realize this definition can cover a much broader array of persons.

The federal code defines a “crime of violence” as a federal felony which “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” Two observations can be made at this point. First, prosecutors who harbor a narrow view of self-defense can use this language to prosecute gun owners within federal jurisdiction for using guns in self-defense. (Remember, what is self-defense to you can be considered a “crime of violence” by an anti-gun prosecutor. And under H.R. 424, this could mean anywhere from 15-35 years in jail.) Second, the definition of “crime of violence” can even include a joking or not so serious threat to damage someone else’s property.

Hence, assume that while you are on vacation in a federal park, a drunk driver rams into the back of your car, seriously injuring your four-year-old daughter. You get out of the car and threaten to shoot the drunk driver’s [expletive deleted] tires out with an unloaded firearm which you are lawfully carrying in the glove compartment of your car. You never make any effort to retrieve the firearm or open the compartment. Under this scenario, the drunk driver could well get away with a suspended sentence. But you WILL be sent to prison for a MANDATORY minimum prison sentence of TEN YEARS under H.R. 424. This bill punishes with long mandatory prison sentences anyone who merely POSSESSES a firearm in connection with what is broadly defined as a federal “crime of violence.” As mentioned above, such a “crime” can include a simple threat to damage property, whether the threat is serious, non-serious, or even joking. The firearm does not have to be anywhere in the vicinity of the “crime.”