Gun lobbies feel betrayed by Reagan shift

March 30, 1991|By Steven A. Holmes | Steven A. Holmes,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- When John Snyder heard that former President Ronald Reagan had endorsed a national seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, he said he was reminded of the 146th Psalm: "Put not your trust in princes, the children of men, in whom there is no salvation."

Mr. Snyder, director of public affairs for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, is not alone. Around the country, opponents of gun control say they feel betrayed by Mr. Reagan, the prince they had campaigned for, idolized and trusted.

"I watched it on television, and I felt somebody had stabbed me in the back," said Tanya K. Metaksa, a former official with the National Rifle Association who headed Sportsmen for Reagan/Bush, a committee of hunters and gun owners that campaigned for Mr. Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

On Thursday, at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attempt on his life, Mr. Reagan strongly endorsed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named for his former press secretary, James S. Brady. Mr. Brady was seriously wounded in the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt.

In the past, Mr. Reagan, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, had spoken favorably of waiting periods and background checks. But he had always said it should be a matter for the states to decide.

The bill would require most prospective buyers to wait up to seven days before taking possession of handguns from dealers. Local law-enforcement agencies would be permitted, but not required, to check buyers backgrounds to see if they had criminal records or had been confined to a mental institution, and to determine whether possession of a gun would violate local, state or federal law.

A gun dealer would have to give the local law-enforcement agency the name, address and date of birth of the prospective buyer.

Seventeen states now require some kind of waiting period, ranging from 48 hours to 15 days. States that already have a waiting period of at least seven days, or already require a background check, would be exempted from the Brady bill.

In one sense, opponents of gun control say they are becoming jaded about seeing politicians turn against them.

Last year, President Bush, also a lifetime member of the rifle association, banned the importation of certain types of semiautomatic weapons that he said could not be considered purely sporting weapons.

Also, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., another lifetime member of the association, sponsored a bill to ban the sale and manufacture of nine types of semiautomatic weapons.

While the Senate was considering Senator DeConcini's measure, Barry Goldwater, the retired Arizona senator who has appeared in NRA advertisements, expressed support for the measure, which passed the Senate but never became law because the House did not vote on it.

And recently, Representative Les AuCoin, D-Ore., who always voted against gun control measures, announced his support of the Brady bill.

Still, because of the reverence in which he was held by many gun control opponents, Mr. Reagan's change of heart cut deeply. "I think this action on his part leads one to the conclusion that, well, he's just another politician, after all," Mr. Snyder said. "There was the feeling that he was a cut above the average politician."

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