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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK

World: Americas

US Congress rejects gun control bill

President Clinton campaigned for the bill before leaving Washington

After three days of impassioned debate, the American House of Representatives has thrown out a bill aimed at increasing gun controls in the wake of a series of high school shootings.

The rejection of the bill - by 280-147 votes - was the result of an unusual coalition of Democrats, who felt the new controls did not go far enough, and conservative Republicans, who felt they went too far.

If passed, the bill would have banned the import of high capacity ammunition clips, and would have obliged manufacturers to put safety devices on all handguns.

President Clinton: There's more we can do to protect our children
It would also have introduced a 24-hour background check on those seeking to buy firearms at America's 5,000 or so annual gun shows.

But Democrats argued that checks should be given at least three days to be effective, and that the minimum age for handgun ownership should be raised from 18 to 21.

Angry reaction

President Clinton angrily criticised the decision to restrict the time limit for background checks.

[ image: The president reacted angrily to the vote]
The president reacted angrily to the vote
He said the United States appeared to be the only country in the world that did not believe in taking precautions to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals.

The BBC's Washington Correspondent Rob Watson says the outcome is clearly a setback for gun control advocates, but it could also be very damaging to Republicans who face being accused of failing to learn the lessons from the Colorado school shooting in April, when two pupils killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves.

Gun show checks

That incident prompted the US Senate to approve the bill introducing new checks on fire arms buyers at gun shows.

Senators decided that, as when buying a gun at a shop, potential gun owners would have to submit to background checks lasting up to three days.

The House of Representatives voted to reduce that waiting time to 24 hours.

Mr Clinton gave his reaction from Cologne, where he is taking part in the G8-summit of the leading industrialised countries.

"Instead of closing the deadly gun show loophole, the House of Representatives voted in the dead of night to let criminals keep buying guns at gun shows," Clinton said.

"So one more time, the Congress of the United States, with the majority in the lead, says: 'We don't care what's necessary to protect our children.'

The president vowed to "keep working until Congress stands up to the gun lobby and makes the common-sense measures passed by the Senate the law of the land."

Wider debate

The three-day debate covered a wide range of possible measures to deter juvenile crime. Republicans have been putting the blame on what they see as the moral decline of America and too much violence in the media. Democrats have stressed the need to restrict access to guns.

The House voted to permit the Ten Commandments to be put up in schools and other state and local facilities - a step that supporters said will help promote morality across the country.

The final vote leaves the fate of gun control legislation uncertain. Further negotiations are expected in the weeks ahead when the Senate and House of Representatives come together to review the Juvenile Justice Bill.

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