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  •   Clinton Proposes Handgun Limits

    Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY)
    President Bill Clinton comforts Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) Tuesday after calling for new gun-control laws. (Reuters)
    By Charles Babington
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 28, 1999; Page A11

    President Clinton proposed yesterday to limit Americans to one handgun purchase a month, as he delivered an emotional appeal to sportsmen and hunters to tolerate new inconveniences in hopes of saving youths from violence such as that seen last week in Littleton, Colo.

    Clinton, expanding his previously announced gun control proposals, said it's time for the entire nation to adopt the one-handgun-a-month limit that is now law in Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina. He also proposed banning handgun possession by persons under 21 (the current cutoff is 18) and a ban on juvenile possession of semi-automatic assault rifles.

    Together with his previously outlined proposals – such as regulating gun shows, banning large ammunition clips and requiring child safety locks to be sold with all new handguns – the package would create "a hassle" for law-abiding gun buyers and sellers, Clinton said in a White House ceremony. "It's worth it," he said. "People's lives are at stake."

    The White House called the package "the most comprehensive gun crime legislation any administration has put forward in a generation." While some gun control groups want greater top-to-bottom regulation of the firearms industry, they enthusiastically embraced Clinton's proposals.

    "We almost don't have adjectives to describe how important this comprehensive package is," said Naomi Paiss, communications director of Handgun Control Inc.

    In an impassioned speech before 40 members of Congress and dozens of gun control advocates, Clinton said those trying to explain last week's high school massacre in Colorado must focus on more than gory video games and Internet sites on bomb making.

    "It's not just the culture of violence that has to change," he said, alternately brandishing his left fist and right forefinger. "It's the culture of hunting and sport shooting that has to stop financing efforts to frighten their members who are good, God-fearing, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens out there into believing that every time we try to save a kid's life it's a camel's nose in the tent."

    He referred specifically to the National Rifle Association, which warns its members that incremental limits on gun rights may lead to major restrictions, even confiscation. Clinton – who said he shot tin cans with a .22-caliber rifle as a 12-year-old – called on sport shooters to accept new inconveniences in order to limit the flow of arms to persons bent on violence. He likened his gun proposals to the inconvenience of x-ray machines and metal detectors at airports, safeguards now widely accepted.

    Clinton said the NRA will lose its influence in Congress "when people from rural Pennsylvania and rural West Virginia and rural Colorado and Idaho start calling their congressmen and saying, 'Hey, we can live with this. . . . We'll gladly put up with an extra hassle, a little wait, a little this, a little that, because we want to save several thousand kids a year.' . . . You change the culture, we'll change the laws."

    The NRA, sensitive to public reaction after the Colorado shooting, declined to comment on the president's remarks. John Velleco, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said Clinton was "exploiting this tragedy in Littleton to further his gun control agenda. There is not a gun control law on the books, or one that is being proposed today, that would have prevented this tragedy."

    Congress has rejected several of the proposals in Clinton's package. But some gun control advocates say the harrowing television accounts of the Littleton massacre may arouse Americans who previously were indifferent to gun control.

    "The level of public focus and outrage is unprecedented," said Adam Eisgrau, public policy director for Handgun Control.

    Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday that senators will have a chance to debate and vote on firearms proposals in about two weeks. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called that "a breakthrough" in a GOP-led Congress generally unfavorable to gun restrictions.

    Clinton's package would require criminal background checks on prospective buyers at gun shows and on would-be purchasers of dynamite, blasting caps and black powder, which can be used to make bombs.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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