Clinton Vows to Veto Weakened Gun Control

President Clinton vowed yesterday to veto any legislation that weakens existing regulations on gun sales but expressed a willingness to negotiate with Congress on measures if they will "keep guns out of the hands of people" who shouldn't have them.

Posing on the White House lawn with 90 students from the Denver area -- including a half-dozen from Columbine High School -- Clinton called on the House to embrace a Senate-passed bill that would require background checks of buyers at gun shows, ban the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips and require that safety locks be sold with new guns.

The House rejected the bill last month, and House-Senate conferees have yet to be named to resolve the chambers' differences.

"I will veto any legislation that appears to be gun control legislation that actually weakens the law," Clinton said. As an example, he cited a proposal that would allow a convicted felon to retrieve a gun from a pawn shop without a criminal background check, which presumably would bar the transaction.

But Clinton stopped short of saying he would veto any measure other than the Senate version.

"I will do whatever I am convinced is best to increase the chances that we can pass responsible legislation to protect our children from guns, to keep guns out of the hands of people who don't, who should not have them," he said.

For the Record

* Legislation has never traveled so quickly down Pennsylvania Avenue. For the first time, Congress e-mailed the president a bill for him to sign into law. A traditional parchment copy of the Y2K legal reform bill, which could save businesses billions of dollars in legal costs from Y2K-related lawsuits, was hand-delivered afterward since President Clinton cannot yet enact a law in cyberspace. He is expected to sign the parchment copy the old-fashioned way.

* A House subcommittee has directed that $1 billion of the Energy Department's $18 billion budget be withheld until Congress reorganizes the department's nuclear weapons programs -- or establishes an independent agency to oversee and manage them -- in the wake of allegations of Chinese espionage. Most of the DOE budget goes to contractors, and the $1 billion is a large part of the department's direct, noncontractor spending.

* The death of a civilian at a Navy missile range in Puerto Rico is "extremely regrettable," but live-fire training exercises there must continue, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said at a Pentagon briefing. The target range on the island of Vieques is uniquely situated for the full gamut of Navy and Marine training operations -- far superior to 18 alternative sites studied by the Navy since the accident, Danzig said, calling it "an important and not replaceable site" as he presented a Navy study that backs continued use of the range. Puerto Rico wants the Navy to stop shelling the 51-square-mile island, where 9,000 people live.