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  • Guns, Ads in Candidates' Sights

    A two-year, $1.6 million program announced by Texas Gov. George W. Bush Tuesday could add prison time for crimes where a weapon is used or possessed. (AP)
    By Terry M. Neal
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, September 22, 1999; Page A4

    AUSTIN, Sept. 21 Two presidential candidates today tackled two issues that are being much talked about this fall: Here in Austin, Texas Gov. George W. Bush announced a program strengthening enforcement of existing gun laws, while across the country in New Hampshire, Democrat Bill Bradley floated a new idea to limit the influence of special interests in campaigns.

    Less than a week after a gunman's rampage through a Fort Worth church killed seven people, Bush, surrounded by the state's top prosecutors, announced a $1.6 million program that would, among other things, pay for eight special prosecutors to focus strictly on gun crimes. The prosecutors would have the option of trying gun crime cases in federal court, where prison sentences are longer, judges have less discretion and parole is nonexistent.

    "The best way to protect our citizens is to vigorously enforce the tough laws we have on the books," Bush said, echoing a common sentiment of gun control opponents.

    Many Democrats believe guns have emerged as a battleground issue for the 2000 presidential campaign--an issue on which the party has a big advantage over the GOP in general and Bush in particular. Vice President Gore has repeatedly contrasted his support for gun control to Bush's positions.

    Democrats argue that Bush has been a lackey for the gun industry and the National Rifle Association, noting that he signed into law measures allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons and precluding Texas cities from suing the gun industry. Democrats escalated their criticism of Bush's record after the shootings in Fort Worth last week.

    At a news conference at the state capitol after the announcement, Bush brushed off attacks on his record, saying, "Well, you know that's politics." He reiterated his opposition to certain gun control provisions, such as mandatory registration of firearms, saying that a framework within the legal system to address violent gun crime already exists and that limiting the ability of law-abiding citizens to carry weapons is not a solution to the problem. "The idea is to send a clear message . . . there will be consequences," he said.

    Democrats said today that Bush was trying to obscure his weak record with tough talk. "It's time for Bush and his backers in Congress to stop talking about how they are pro-law enforcement and start acting in the interests of law enforcement instead of the interest of the NRA," said Jenny Bachus, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman.

    In New Hampshire today, Bradley, who has promised to make campaign finance reform one of his key platform issues, said that interest groups that run television ads should finance response ads from their opponents. Or, Bradley said, opponents should get free air time to respond.

    He also said he supported public financing of general elections, free television time for candidates 60 days before an election and banning unrestricted "soft money" contributions to political parties.

    "I think the way to deal with that is to say if you're going to buy issue ads, there's got to be equal time for the other side," Bradley said on New Hampshire Public Radio.

    Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson promptly called Bradley's proposal "the silliest notion we've heard this campaign season. Essentially, what Bradley is proposing is a new speech tax."

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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