With his official presidential announcement just two days away, Vice President Gore came to this southern metropolis on a typically muggy June day to speak of community, faith, livability and guns, the latter being the dominant domestic issue in the nation's capital.

A little after noon, Gore took to the podium at the Fairmont Hotel ballroom, outside the French Quarter, where more than 300 city executives from around the country had gathered for the national meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Although he was speaking before a bipartisan group, Gore confidently recited his party's line on gun control, denouncing the National Rifle Association and urging the House to pass legislation approved by the Senate.

"This week we face a test," he said. "Will we let the NRA call the shots in Washington, or will we cross party lines to make our children safer? Will the Congress close the gun show loophole to help protect our children, or will we stand by as the carnage continues?"

The vice president reminded the audience of what was perhaps his most politically fortuitous moment of recent weeks -- the day he cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to approve gun control legislation.

"Now it's time for every parent, every citizen, every elected official, every national leader to stand up and be counted," he said, a line aides suggested was meant to highlight the silence of some GOP presidential candidates on the subject. "Don't duck. No more delays, no more fuzziness and no more excuses."

In decrying loopholes in current federal laws, Gore said teenagers should not be able to purchase guns at gun shows. But he misspoke by saying they could purchase them at pawn shops and gun shops, which by law they cannot.

Gore's welcome was warm, even enthusiastic in parts, although on balance it was clear who was a Democrat and who was a Republican based on reactions to the obvious applause lines.

"It's time we got a little more serious about the gun issue," Robert W. West, a Republican and the mayor of Lansing, Ill., said afterward. "I think he's really bringing some people around on this subject."

Danny Szostkiewicz, a Democrat and the mayor of Holyoke, Mass., said he believed the gun issue was resonating in big towns and small towns across the country.

"Ours is a small town, but we're experiencing tremendous problems with violence and guns, and it's all young people," he said.

Gore's office today released a Justice Department study that suggests nearly a quarter of all gun-related homicides are committed by people ages 18 to 20. Gore used those statistics to underscore his argument that the House should increase the minimum age for purchasing a handgun from 18 to 21.

As he has in recent speeches, he spoke of spiritual renewal and values.

And he chided those who have derided his focus on urban sprawl issues, saying those who "say livability is not a major challenge" are out of touch and unfamiliar with the concerns of a vast number of Americans.

Gore began the day in New Orleans a little before noon with a fund-raiser at the Storyville restaurant in the French Quarter, where about 200 of Louisiana's political and business elite paid $1,000 each to talk for a few minutes with the vice president.

"One thing we believe is that the presidency should not be inherited," said Sen. John Breaux (La.) at the fund-raiser, in a clear reference to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the son of President George Bush. "This isn't England. We don't pass the presidency from father to son. It must be earned."

CAPTION: Vice President Gore acknowledges applause at U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in New Orleans. A total of 167 mayors support his candidacy.