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Saturday, June 19, 1999 Published at 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK

World: Americas

Analysis: Why they can't agree on gun control

Gun control fell victim to partisan politics

By BBC Washington Correspondent Rob Watson

For the last three days the US House of Representatives has been debating a heady mix of God and guns.

In the end though, despite all the passion, no new laws have actually been passed.

So how did the congress manage to fight itself to this stalemate?

[ image: Support for gun control was strong after the shootings in Colorado]
Support for gun control was strong after the shootings in Colorado
The story starts in the Senate earlier this year.

It was considering a relatively uncontroversial bill aimed at deterring juvenile crime, and then right in the middle of its deliberations came the Colorado school shootings.

The tragedy promoted the introduction of new gun controls to the bill, including the use of background checks on those seeking to purchase firearms at America's 5000 or so annual gun shows.

The measure passed the Senate, and the pro-gun control Democrats felt they had the Republicans on the run.

Celebration premature

But Democrats and gun control advocates declared victory prematurely.

The Republicans delayed bringing the bill to the House of Representatives allowing the public passion and political momentum caused by the Littleton shootings to die down a bit and the pro-gun lobby to go to work on wavering congressmen.

The debate itself was largely partisan.

Put crudely, most Republicans blame juvenile crime on too much TV and video violence and not enough of God, while most Democrats put the emphasis on access to guns.

Or as one congressman put it, "the Republicans hate Hollywood, and the Democrats hate guns".

At one point, the Republicans managed to push through an amendment allowing the display of the Ten Commandments in schools and other public buildings, a move characterised by Democrats as a threat to America's famed separation of church and state.

As for the Democrats, they pushed for amendments that would have raised the age for handgun ownership from 18 to 21 and that would have given the authorities three days to do background checks on those buying firearms at gun shows.

Blame game begins

Now that the legislation has collapsed, the blame game and political point-scoring has begun.

[ image: President Clinton has vowed to fight for gun control]
President Clinton has vowed to fight for gun control
With a keen eye on public opinion and future campaigns in the wake of Littleton, the Democrats have been quick to paint the Republicans as the gun party, unwilling and unable to learn the lessons of the school shooting.

For their part, the Republicans blame the Democrats, accusing them of failing to support the legislation on offer.

They also accuse the Democrats and President Clinton of having a hidden agenda - the eventual federal registration of all guns and their owners, just like cars.

Losers all round

In the end though it appears everyone has lost from this vote.

Gun control advocates go away empty-handed, and on balance pro-gun Republicans are certain to get the blame for that.

So the question is would any of the proposed legislation have made much difference to the issue at hand - gun violence?

The short answer is no-one really knows.

Although the Clinton administration insists gun show checks would prevent thousands of firearms from falling into the wrong hands, there are no solid figures.

But one of the guns used in the Colorado school shootings was bought at a gun show, and that's enough evidence for many Americans.

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