Vice President Gore, sounding his "we can do better" presidential campaign theme, laid out an anti-crime agenda today that he said would allow Americans to "come out from behind their locked doors" and "reclaim our lost communities."
Even though the national crime rate has fallen, Gore said that more must be done and he pledged that as president he would go even further in clamping down on guns, imposing harsher penalties for violent criminals and spending more on prevention.
"The statistics are significant--and they are gratifying," he said in a speech outside Boston Police headquarters. "But we must be honest: too many families and too many communities still live in fear."
In a trip paid for by his presidential campaign, Gore unveiled several proposals, including: longer sentences for crimes committed in front of a child and crimes against the elderly, photo licenses for handgun buyers, child safety locks on guns, and drug testing in prisons. He would also provide special grants to states that wish to eliminate plea bargaining for crimes committed with guns.
"Crime must have serious consequences and the rights of victims should be at the center of all justice," he said. "How can we expect children to choose the good if our very system of justice too often fails to side with the good guys?"
Gore's proposals came under attack from both sides.
Democratic rival Bill Bradley's camp said the vice president did not go far enough in his efforts to curb gun violence, while criminal defense lawyers complained that Gore was neglecting basic civil rights with many of his harsh sentencing proposals.
William Moffitt, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, "Al Gore poses a clear and present danger to the citizens of the United States."
For his part, Gore targeted Republican Gov. George W. Bush, who has signed a "conceal and carry" law in his state of Texas.
"There are too many political leaders who take their marching orders from the gun lobby," Gore said. "It's time for them to get their instructions from the American people."
His aides were even more willing to draw distinctions between Gore and the man widely expected to be his general election opponent next year. "If the holster fits, wear it," said spokesman Chris Lehane.
Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, pressed for a response to Gore's proposals, said that the governor does not believe licensing or registration would "prevent criminals from committing crimes with a gun."
The vice president's anti-gun proposals also differ somewhat from a five-point plan laid out by Bradley, though Gore's aides said the speech was directed at Bush, not at their primary opponent. While Gore wants states to conduct background checks and then issue photo IDs for prospective gun buyers, Bradley has called for registering "every one of the 65 million handguns in this country."
Under Gore's plan, prospective buyers would be required to pass a gun safety test; Bradley wants handgun buyers to take a safety course. Both Democrats would ban "junk guns" or "Saturday night specials" and both support "one-gun-a-month" proposals.
Bradley spokesman Eric Hauser said the former senator's registration proposal would cover far more weapons and he noted that Gore was silent on Bradley's plan to prohibit gun dealers from selling guns in residential neighborhoods.
Since the high school massacre in Littleton, Colo., Gore has returned repeatedly to the theme of gun control. In late May, he cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate on legislation that would have required background checks for sales at gun shows. Today, he identified gun control as his top anti-crime priority.
In today's speech, Gore also tweaked Bush for opposing hate crime legislation and took aim at the GOP-led Congress for refusing to act on judicial nominees.
Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that promotes alternative sentencing, called Gore's plan "political rhetoric" and said much of it would undercut the role of judges in sentencing. Mandating extra jail time for crimes committed in front of children, Mauer said, is unrealistic. And on Gore's plan to impose longer sentences for crimes against the elderly, Mauer said: "How do you define elderly? Do you ask for an ID before you go and mug them?"
Moffitt said Gore's attempt to curtail plea bargaining for violent crimes would clog jails, while a proposal to enact a ban on "gang-related clothing" amounted to creation of the "fashion police."
Even as Gore touted new government programs, he stressed that his approach is holistic. "Good values are the best anti-crime insurance," he said.
Gore and his aides did not specify how he would pay for all that he promised today--from quadrupling the money spent on after-school programs to increases in spending on drug treatment programs. In Iowa on Wednesday, he will discuss his ideas on tackling rural crime, especially the widespread use of methamphetamines.
CAPTION: At Boston Police headquarters, Vice President Gore proposed photo licenses for handgun buyers and child safety locks for guns.