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Clinton pushes Congress to pass new gun control legislation
'How many more people have to get killed before we do something?'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Recalling "a pretty rough week last week" in which two shooting incidents left four people dead, President Clinton urged congressional lawmakers to enact a long-stalled package of new gun control laws.
"How many more people have to get killed before we do something?" the president asked. "There is no more time for delay."
To underscore his sense of urgency, Clinton invited Veronica McQueen to the White House for a private visit. McQueen is mother of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, who was shot to death at her school by another 6-year-old.
"When first-graders shoot first-graders, it's time for Congress to do what's right for America's families," Clinton said.
The president spoke Tuesday to reporters after a nearly hour-long meeting with a group of congressmen led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of a House-Senate committee responsible for writing a compromise juvenile justice bill that contains gun control provisions.
"My message was simple, that Congress has kept the American people waiting long enough," Clinton said of his meeting with the lawmakers. "I want Congress to finish the gun bill and send it to me for the anniversary of the Columbine (Colorado) tragedy, April 20th."
Hatch: Two sides poles apart on legislation
Republicans have kept the juvenile justice bill in limbo for eight months, ever since the Senate and House passed separate versions last summer. Sen. Hatch, the GOP point man on gun control legislation, emerged from Tuesday's meeting at the White House pessimistic.
"We're poles apart on what can or cannot be done," Hatch said.
Despite White House prodding, the conference committee has not met since August.
"I know the gun lobby is cranking up pressure on Congress again," the president said.
Hatch appeared reluctant to heed Clinton's request for a committee meeting, saying that "might help polarize (matters) even more."
Hatch also cited the Second Amendment's guarantee to bear arms. "I'm very loathe to go along with some of the suggestions that have been made by those on the other side," he said.
Sticking point: waiting period at gun shows
Most lawmakers do support two of Clinton's three priorities: selling child safety locks with all new handguns, and banning the importation of high-capacity ammunition clips, such as those used at the Columbine massacre.
Differences remain, however, over how to regulate handgun sales at traveling gun shows.
The Senate wants customers to wait three business days for a background check, legislation authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, and passed with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Al Gore.
The House endorsed a one-day waiting period at gun shows.
"To make a long story short, the Lautenberg amendment would basically do away with gun shows and it would push these people out in the streets where we'd have more problems with guns," Hatch said.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, promised to search -- with Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, and the panel's senior Democrat -- for a compromise outside the formal conference.
"I'm hopeful, and we aren't going to abandon this at all," said Hyde, who has been trying to build support among Republicans for a 24-hour waiting period for gun shows.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Congress should proceed with the juvenile justice bill and gun control provisions that have broad support, such as a requirement for child safety locks and a ban on sales to people with juvenile records.
Lott said it was unfortunate that Clinton did not want House Democrats to vote for a bill that contained those provisions but lacked the gun show check law.
But Conyers criticized Hatch's reluctance to call a new conference session, and warned that inaction would carry a political cost: "That's going to cost the Republicans votes at the polls in November, not us."
President Clinton said he is open to a compromise on the gun show language. but first lawmakers have to renew the debate. However, even with last week's shootings and renewed presidential pressure, there is no sign of such a compromise happening yet with election-year politics clouding Congress' agenda.
White House Correspondent Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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