03/96 House Passes Repeal

— House leadership stops Stockman from offering FULL repeal!
The Gun Ban Repeal:
What was in the bill and where do we go from here

by Gun Owners of America
8001 Forbes Place, Suite 102
Springfield, VA 22151
(703)321-8585, fax: 321-8408

(Friday, March 22) — The House of Representatives voted to repeal the Clinton gun ban by a vote of 239-173. This action represents a useful first step and is the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise made last year by the House leadership. Gun owners should now press Sen. Bob Dole to make good on his promise to bring a repeal bill for a vote in the Senate. (Dole stated last year that the semi-auto ban “is one of my legislative priorities.” To date, Dole has neither introduced a bill to repeal the ban nor has he offered a repeal amendment to any legislation in the Senate. In fact, he is quoted by Reuters as saying he has no plans to bring the repeal up anytime soon. “It’s not a priority,” he said today.)

As for the good news, gun owners can take heart in that they accomplished quite a bit. The House was originally set last year to bring H.R. 1488 for a vote — a bill that would have federalized many state gun crimes (thus giving more power and authority to the BATF), increased the ability of federal agents to harass unsuspecting gun owners on firearms charges, and much, much more. GOA, in conjunction with its members and activists, put tremendous heat on legislators and succeeded in getting ALL of these provisions removed.

Indeed, Roll Call, the newspaper of record for events in Congress, stated in October that GOA had “won a match” over forcing changes in H.R. 1488. GOA members had deluged Congress with postcards, faxes and phone calls urging legislators to make changes in the bill. As a result, many legislators publicly stated they would not cosponsor the legislation until the BATF enhancement provision was dropped. GOA grassroots members had truly won a hard-fought victory.

But four months later, there was still no action being taken on the repeal bill by the Henry Hyde-led Judiciary Committee. Thus, GOA worked closely with Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) who introduced a discharge petition to secure a vote on H.R. 464. Less than two weeks after Stockman sent a Dear Colleague letter to every House member asking them to support his discharge petition, the Republican leadership announced they would bring up a bill to repeal the gun ban — the chosen vehicle would be H.R. 125, a bill which did not repeal the entire ban.

The good news is that the repeal provisions in the bill were improved before going to the House floor. And so the bill that passed today does repeal the ban on semi-autos and large- capacity magazines. (Thank you for your hard work in pressuring the leadership to strengthen the language!) Other news, however, was not so good. The primary backers of the bill — Representatives Chapman and Barr — agreed to leave the definition of large-capacity magazines in the U.S. Code for the purpose of applying mandatory minimum sentences on people who use such magazines during a crime. This not only demonizes such items, it keeps the definition available for some future regulation or executive order applying special sanctions to owners of these magazines.

Stockman goes to bat for gun owners —
gets rebuffed by leadership

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) went to the Rules Committee on Thursday and urged fellow members to allow his amendment to fully repeal the Clinton gun control package from 1994. (The Rules Committee decides which amendments will be allowed during debate on the House floor.) The repeal bill which passed on Friday does nothing to protect gun dealers from the BATF, which has used provisions in the crime bill to drive thousands of gun dealers out of business since 1994.

Stockman’s amendment would have remedied this by deleting every gun control provision that passed in the 1994 crime bill — including the ban on semi-automatic firearms and large magazines. Stockman’s pleas, however, fell on deaf ears. The Rules Committee, in concert with the leadership of the House, would not allow the Stockman amendment to be offered on the floor.

The Rules Committee members argued they did not want to open up the amendment process and thus allow people like Charles Schumer to offer their own amendments. That is certainly a good excuse. However, the leadership could have incorporated the Stockman provision into the bill BEFORE it went to the floor. After all, several problem sections — detailed below — were added to the bill before it went to Rules Committee. The House leadership simply shut Stockman out. Even though gun owners had asked the leadership to push a FULL repeal bill — and even though Stockman was a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the gun ban — the leadership did not consult with him, nor did they make any attempt to incorporate the provisions of his repeal bill.

Federal Mandatory Minimums:
a future problem for gun owners?

As the focus now shifts to the Senate, gun owners should take note of several problem sections which were added to the House bill. Hopefully, by learning from the mistakes of the past, we can encourage the Republican leadership to avoid these same mistakes in the future. The repeal bill that passed is not as good as it could have been, and certain Republicans tacked on language which will serve as slow-ticking “time bombs” for gun owners.

One provision which was added late in the day on Thursday increases mandatory minimum sentences for the use of a firearm in a federal violent crime. This is similar to the provision in Section 3 of H.R. 1488 which would have federalized almost every state gun crime, thus giving the BATF broad new powers. BUT, the provision which passed in H.R. 125 is different in that it does NOT federalize state crimes, and to that extent, Rep. Bob Barr made good on his promise to GOA.

The provision does remain a concern, however, since it assumes the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute violent crimes — a jurisdiction which is absent in the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, the provision applies heavy sentences which could one day be expanded to federalize state crimes. (Remember that last year, GOA, with the help of its members and activists, already fought off an effort to federalize state crimes in H.R. 1488.)

The current mandatory minimum laws are often quite selective and end up demonizing gun owners. For example, there are situations where the law applies mandatory minimum sentences on someone who — brandishing a firearm — threatens to shoot the air out of someone’s tires. And yet, those same provisions place no mandatory minimums on an individual who brutally butchers his wife with an ax. H.R. 125 exacerbates this situation by increasing the mandatory minimums for crimes that, in some cases, do not involve actual damage to persons or property.

GOA secures sunset provision

Section 3 of the repeal bill also contains a provision which serves as an impetus to prosecute even technical paperwork gun violations. The “armed violent criminal apprehension program” creates a federal task force which would make regular reports to the Department of Justice on the number of gun offenders — paperwork offenders included. The provision will also inflate criminal statistics by defining “armed violent criminal” as someone “who is accused” of committing certain crimes. GOA opposed this provision when it was first put in H.R. 1488 and was able to secure a 5 year sunset as a result — a sunset that was maintained in H.R. 125.

Food for Thought: If the Republican leadership were really interested in getting a gun ban repeal past the President, they would try to stick this bill onto the Terrorism Bill — a bill which the President is desperate to sign.