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  •   Bush Weighs Position on Senate Gun Bill

    Saturday, May 22, 1999; Page A8

    Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential front-runner in the polls, declined to take a stand yesterday on the gun control bill passed by the Senate.

    A Bush aide said the governor needed time to study the measure before passing judgment, while a spokesman for his top GOP rival for the 2000 presidential nomination, Elizabeth Dole, said if she were president she would "be pleased to sign the bill into law."

    Dole broke ranks with Bush and many other Republicans earlier this month by pushing for tougher gun control laws.

    Bush has been criticized for straddling the fence on some hot-button issues in recent months. He stayed out of a fight in the state legislature over a hate crimes bill, which was defeated, and he was slow to express an opinion on President Clinton's decision to bomb Yugoslavia.

    The Republican-led Senate on Thursday narrowly approved a Democratic proposal to require background checks for those purchasing firearms at gun shows and impose other new controls on firearms. The proposal was part of a broader juvenile justice bill, which the chamber also passed Thursday, 73 to 25.

    Its passage was seen as a major defeat for the gun lobby, a traditional Republican ally.

    A Reuters survey of the offices of the 13 Republican and Democratic presidential aspirants yesterday found that five of them, including Dole, supported the Senate-passed bill.

    Both Democratic White House hopefuls, Vice President Gore and former senator Bill Bradley (N.J.), backed the measure, aides said.

    Three of the nine Republican aspirants gave their blessing. In addition to Dole, the others were former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

    McCain voted Thursday against the gun control provision. But he said in a statement yesterday that he supported the overall measure, designed to toughen prosecution of juveniles.

    Former vice president Dan Quayle, another Republican White House hopeful, needed more time to examine the comprehensive measure, an aide said.

    Four GOP presidential contenders oppose the Senate bill, aides said. They are: Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, Sen. Robert C. Smith (N.H.), Gary Bauer and conservative radio talk show host Alan Keyes.

    Aides to Rep. John R. Kasich (Ohio) and Patrick J. Buchanan said those two Republican presidential aspirants could not be reached for comment on the bill.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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