Speaker Hastert Folds on Gun Control

By David Bozell | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

(CNS) – House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) Thursday gave up efforts to unify Republicans and decide on a joint gun control position.

The Republican from Illinois said he would not pressure his majority party to come up with a definite proposal on new restrictions on firearms. Hastert said he would leave the issue up to the House to "work its will" when it goes before a vote next week.

House Republican leaders decided in a closed-door meeting yesterday to allow members to vote separately on a series of gun-control amendments, rather than push for a party-line position.

Hastert, who personally favors measures to keep guns out of the hands of children and background checks at gun shows, is feeling pressure from a divided and fractious GOP.

"Everybody has their viewpoints on this and I think they will be able to work their will in the House," Hastert said. "I think even within our conference there are two or three different points of view, and legitimately so."

Various reports say House Republicans are fuming over Hastert's recent lack of leadership and change of direction. Members are fearful the continuing confusion and lack of a unified message will lead to further political embarrassment.

However, Rep. Marge Roukema is preaching patience. The Republican from New Jersey said Hastert "is trying to be the mediator and letting everybody vote their conscience and conviction."

"Maybe if you and I were in the same position within a party as polarized as this one on this issue, you and I would do the same thing," she said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) is putting forth a proposal of his own. The Hyde bill would hold parents liable in some cases where they give children easy access to firearms to be used later for crimes. It would also limit the number of gun shows where background checks are mandatory.

Hastert's remarks about the Hyde proposals are evidence of just how deep the divisions are amongst House leaders.

"Henry Hyde certainly has his own personal feelings about what should be done," he said. "I have my own personal feelings about what I think is common-sense legislation."

The Majority Whip, Representative Tom Delay of Texas, who opposes Hyde's bill, added, "The conference is all over the map."

Measures approved by the Senate regarding background checks at gun shows, safety locks on new hand guns, and a ban on importing high capacity ammunition clips, are expected to go before the House next week.

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