The Clinton administration, convinced that Congress has badly underestimated the public appetite for new gun regulations, will convene a meeting of top aides today "to prepare an all-out offensive on guns in the coming year," a senior White House official said last night.
The plan will include extra spending by the Justice and Treasury departments for various gun control measures, the official said. It underscores a growing fervor for gun regulation in the administration, which last week announced it was joining forces with several cities that have sued or threatened to sue the gun manufacturing industry over safety and distribution issues.
Administration sources said the goal is either to force the Republican-controlled Congress to adopt new gun control measures--including several it rejected this fall--or pay a heavy price in the 2000 House and Senate elections.
"We believe if we keep the pressure on, we can bring the industry to an agreement and make it as difficult as possible for Congress to go home without doing anything," the White House official said.
Today's meeting will be run by Chief of Staff John D. Podesta and include White House domestic policy chief Bruce N. Reed, Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart E. Eizenstat, Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., vice presidential counsel Charles W. Burson, presidential adviser Joel Johnson and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo. Podesta "is going to ask them to come up with a series of actions to build pressure on the gun industry for an agreement and intensify the pressure on Congress to break the logjam on the gun bill and provide the president with a series of executive actions he can take in the weeks and months to come," said the official, who declined to offer specifics.
In the wake of the April school shooting in Littleton, Colo., the Senate passed gun legislation that called for child safety locks on new handguns and criminal background checks on prospective buyers at gun shows. But the House, which includes several leaders who strongly support gun ownership rights, rejected the package.
Since the Littleton tragedy, several highly publicized shootings at schools and other sites have kept the gun issue before the public. White House officials believe congressional Republicans have misread the electorate's feelings about regulating firearms.
"The country is tired of waiting for Congress to respond to the tragedy in Littleton," Reed said in an interview. "The administration is going to do everything in its power to make progress on guns."
Republican leaders have said most Americans still support the constitutional right to own guns, and they argue that the answer to gun violence is tougher enforcement of existing laws.