Sunday, May 23, 1999

Tristate lawmakers wary of new controls on guns

Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Although a school shooting stunned the nation and Congress again last week, most Cincinnati-area lawmakers remain reluctant to blame gun laws for causing the violence.

        But the string of school shootings, especially April's massacre in Littleton, Colo., and Thursday's wounding of six students in Conyers, Ga., are promising to focus attention as never before on the gun-control positions of members of Congress.

        “Let's not rely on gun control to solve deeper problems in our society,” said Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park.

        “We are generally unsympathetic to efforts to blame inanimate objects for the moral failings of human beings,” added Rep. John Boehner's press aide, Dave Schnittger.

Control bill approved
        The Senate has seen a flurry of gun-related votes in the past two weeks, highlighted by Thursday's passage of legislation to require background checks of all buyers at gun shows and pawn shows.

        Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, both R-Ohio, went against the National Rifle Association — and most of their Republican colleagues — to vote for the measure.

        Both senators have said they regard recent gun control proposals in the Senate as more commonsense safety measures than attempts to restrict gun rights.

        “It was a conscience vote,” said DeWine press aide Charlie Boesel.

        Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, both R-Ky., voted with the NRA position and opposed the bill.

        Afterward, Mr. Bunning refused comment on either his vote or reports from campaign-reform advocacy groups that he is one of the leading recipients of gun-lobby political campaign contributions in Congress.

        The Center for Responsive Politics identified Mr. Bunning as one of the leading recipients of campaign money from the gun lobby over the last six years, taking in $11,900 from the NRA and other groups. Mr. McConnell received $10,272.

        Mr. DeWine, who supported the gun control measure, was listed as receiving $5,950 from pro-gun rights interests. Mr. Voinovich received no money from that particular special interest group, the center said.

        At a meeting with Washington reporters last week, Mr. McConnell said the Senate gun votes reflected geographical differences as much as party differences.

        ┘Both of Indiana's senators — Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and Richard Lugar, a Republican — voted for the bill.

Fight moves to House
        Now the focus will shift to the House, where Republicans say they'll bring the gun-control measures up for a vote in early June. Democrats are expected to push for a vote this week.

        The reach of the NRA's political contributions touches several Cincinnati-area House members, too.

        Those receiving gun lobby support during the 1998 elections were Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville ($10,400); followed by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati ($4,959); and Mr. Boehner, R-West Chester, ($3,000).

        Messrs. Chabot and Strickland denied the contributions influenced their positions.

        But Mr. Strickland said many of his constituents grew up “where hunting is a very common activity and guns have been part of the culture and the life of the people. That influences me.”


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