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  •   Clinton to Seek Weapons Controls

    By Charles Babington and Helen Dewar
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, April 27, 1999; Page A8

    President Clinton will call today for criminal background checks on persons seeking to buy dynamite and blasting caps, part of what appears to be a relatively modest new package of weapons control the administration is proposing in the wake of last week's high school massacre in Colorado.

    Although advocates had hoped the shootings might spur an ambitious new effort to restrict gun ownership, the initial reaction from both Democrats and Republicans has been far more tepid.

    Clinton's crime package primarily recycles gun control measures proposed before last week's tragedy, while in Congress, the Senate's Democratic leader questioned whether new gun laws are needed at all. GOP congressional leaders, meanwhile, discussed plans for a "national dialogue on youth and culture," which would focus on responses other than new gun restrictions.

    Clinton's overall package has "little new," said Bruce Reed, White House director of domestic policy. But Reed said Clinton "already had a very ambitious agenda," in part because of previous school shootings. "This package includes every major measure to crack down on juvenile access to guns," he said.

    Aides said Clinton plans to announce several other proposals at a White House ceremony today, including:

    Requiring manufacturers to put child safety locks on handguns.

    Holding parents criminally liable -- under very specific circumstances -- if they let their children get access to guns later used in crimes.

    Requiring background checks for those buying weapons at gun shows.

    Imposing a lifetime ban on gun ownership for people who committed violent crimes as juveniles.

    That last measure would require the opening of juvenile court records that traditionally remain sealed.

    The president's chief new proposal applies to explosives, not guns. The culprits in Littleton, Colo., used pipe bombs and other explosives as well as guns in their attack.

    Current law prohibits such purchases by felons, fugitives, stalkers or mentally unstable persons, Reed said, but it does not require merchants to check each buyer's background, as Clinton will propose.

    Clinton also will call for expanding a federal program that traces firearms used by juveniles in crimes, which has helped identify several illegal gun markets, Reed said.

    A third new proposal, Reed said, will affect few people. It would make it a felony for an adult to "knowingly or recklessly allow a child unlawful access to a gun that is later used to cause death or injury."

    Even a modest legislative agenda could face problems in Congress. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) yesterday questioned whether more gun control legislation is needed. Daschle said he was prepared to look at "all options" but remained skeptical about the need for new gun laws.

    "I think for me the question has always been how enforceable, how practical are additional laws when it comes to guns," he told reporters. "I think it's very important that we recognize that we've got a lot of gun laws on the books right now, in the states and nationally. I'm not sure that gun legislation is what we need."

    Instead, he said, Congress should look at broader societal problems, including parental responsibilities and violence on the Internet and in the media.

    Other sources said the Littleton shootings may provide new impetus for a plethora of gun bills that have been introduced this year, at least 50 so far, including Clinton's proposals. But many questioned whether it will be enough to overcome opposition of many Republicans and the National Rifle Association, which has stalled gun legislation for the last five years. The NRA declined to comment yesterday on Clinton's new package.

    Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), a gun control advocate, said, "I'd like to think they will [pass a gun bill], but I don't know. There's a rationale to explain it away . . . like the roots [of violence] lie in the lack of family control. I don't see much excitement except among those who were committed in the first place."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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