WASHINGTON -- Proponents of gun control are hailing the news that President Bush is willing to negotiate with Congress over a proposal to require a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases.
"I think it's a tremendous step forward," said Gwen Fitzgerald spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., a leading advocacy group.
"It shows us that President Bush is willing to come to the tabl and talk about it and that's more than the NRA [the National Rifle Association] is willing to do," Fitzgerald said.
Proponents of waiting period legislation also praised forme President Reagan's endorsement of the legislation, while opponents dismissed it.
The legislation, defeated in the House in 1988 by 36 votes, woul give local police time to do background checks on prospective gun purchasers to screen out convicted felons, drug-abusers and the mentally incompetent, who are barred from owning guns.
The double dose of gun-control news yesterday was nearl simultaneous. While Reagan was preparing to speak at George Washington University, White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk was telling reporters that Bush is willing to discuss the legislation, dubbed the Brady bill.
"We don't support the Brady bill in its current form," Popadiuk said. "We have concerns with specific pieces of the bill, which we will work out with [legislators]. And the attorney general will work with members on the Hill concerning those issues."
Popadiuk suggested the possibility of a trade-off, saying "a lo may depend on what the Congress does with the president's crime bill."
Some administration officials have urged the White House t offer Congress the option of passing Bush's crime package in return for Bush's signature on the gun-control bill, the Associated Press reported.
Bush's crime proposals would, in part, expand use of the deat penalty to about 40 crimes, limit appeals by death-row prisoners and increase penalties for firearms crimes.
However, some influential liberal Democrats who support th Brady bill, such as Rep. Don Edwards of California, would be unlikely to support provisions in Bush's crime bill -- which they consider threats to civil liberties -- to win passage of the waiting period for handgun purchases.
The NRA had no immediate comment on Popadiuk's statements which came in response to reporters' questions. Reacting to Reagan's statement, NRA official Wayne LaPierre said the former president "has an understandable loyalty to James Brady."
Brady is the Reagan press secretary who was shot an permanently disabled during the attempted assassination of Reagan in 1981.
LaPierre reiterated the NRA's support for legislation providing fo instant, computerized checks of a gun-purchaser's possible criminal background. He said "very few criminals" try to buy guns from stores.
But Reagan's statement cheered longtime gun-contro advocates such as Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan, who is prominent in national police groups and is chairman of the firearms committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Behan said Reagan's endorsement is "extremely valuable and helpful." He warned, however, that the Brady bill has been massaged these past few years as a result of NRA objections to make it palatable to members of Congress and the American public" and expressed concern over any further modifications.
"Any idea why it took 10 years?" Behan asked in response to Reagan's seeming about-face on gun-control legislation.
Reagan insisted to reporters he always favored a waiting period even though his administration opposed other legislation on guns.
"It's just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law-enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to buy a handgun," Reagan said to loud applause at the university.
Fitzgerald, of Handgun Control, said the legislation sought by the NRA is "redundant" because previous legislation directs the attorney general to develop a computerized background check system that gun shops could use. But such a system is years away. Meanwhile, the Brady bill would save lives, she said.