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Senators Move on Crime Bill

Biden, Mitchell work on two different compromise efforts to pass gun control measure

IT'S compromise time for gun control. Advocates of the House-approved Brady bill will have to compromise if the Senate is to pass a handgun control bill, and if President Bush is to sign it. They know it, and two different compromise efforts now are under way in the Senate. One is by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, the other by Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine.

President Bush previously signaled his willingness to compromise during House consideration of the Brady bill, with its centerpiece seven-day delay before a handgun purchaser can pick up his weapon. The president said he might approve a gun control proposal if it were part of an overall crime bill that was to his liking. He asked Congress to approve the crime measure by June 15.

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Senator Biden has promised to move swiftly on the crime bill: His committee is likely to complete action on it within a month, so that the measure could go to the Senate floor by late June or July. Whether in content it will be close enough to Mr. Bush's liking to gain his support is difficult to know at this point.

By the end of this week more may be known about both timing and content. Following the committee's final hearing on the crime bill this Wednesday [May 15], Biden and Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the ranking Republican committee member, will meet to plan future action on the measure.

Both Republicans and Democrats want to be able to tell the voters in November of 1992 that they oppose crime; thus political analysts expect Congress and the president to reach accommodation before then on a compromise measure.

Biden has agreed to Bush's demand to have the Senate combine the Brady and crime measures. However, the blending is unlikely to occur in the Judiciary Committee. It is not expected to vote or even hold hearings on the Brady bill, named for former presidential secretary Jim Brady, wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Committee sources say Biden and others will wait until the crime bill reaches the Senate floor before trying to attach the Brady seven-day waiting period to it.

Numerous other amendments are likely, including a gun control amendment by Senator Mitchell, if, meanwhile, he can muster sufficient support for his newly spelled-out compromise proposal.

At a Monitor breakfast the senator unveiled his five-point plan, which he says combines features of current law, the Brady measure, and the competing proposal - defeated in the House - to require an instant check on whether a would-be gun purchaser was a criminal, in which case he would be ineligible to purchase a weapon.

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Mitchell would institute a seven-day waiting period to permit that check, require that the check be done (the Brady bill makes a check discretionary with local officials), ``encourage'' states to computerize their criminal records, press all states to share these records with the federal government, and provide federal funds to meet computerization costs.

Mitchell says the Brady bill would not meet the objective of preventing criminals from purchasing handguns, in part because the identification check is voluntary.

He calls the instant check bill ``obviously unrealistic'' because on average only 60 percent of states' criminal records are computerized; thus, in many states there would not be a reliable source of information with which to make an instant check. At one point Mitchell referred to the measure as the ``NRA bill'' - the National Rifle Association lobbied heavily for it in the House.

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