WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, decrying the "crazy" way guns have been permitted to proliferate in the United States, has declared that he is prepared to challenge the powerful National Rifle Association lobby and introduce major new gun control measures.
The American people "are way ahead of Congress" on the gun control issue, Mr. Clinton said in extraordinarily candid and at times heated remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Gun violence has created enough public concern to support a ban on certain kinds of guns and "a lot of other reasonable regulations."
White House aides said yesterday that the president will introduce major gun control measures early next year, but that he believes the time is not ripe to seek a handgun ban.
An administration task force on crime and violence that is working with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering various gun control proposals, the aides say. Attorney General Janet Reno, Education Secretary Richard Riley and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala head the task force.
In the interview, which will appear in the Dec. 9 Rolling Stone magazine, Mr. Clinton indicated he may one day propose a ban on handguns, and that he might have enough public support to get it through Congress: "I don't think the American people are there right now," he said. "But with more than 200 million guns in circulation, we've got so much more to do on this issue before we even reach that. I don't think that's an option now."
The interview, by Jann S. Wenner, Rolling Stone editor, and William Greider, the magazine's national editor, took place three weeks ago, when Mr. Clinton was given little chance of winning the North American Free Trade Agreement fight and questions persisted about his ability to lead.
In the article, Mr. Greider said the president became angry and emotional as the session ended. The president's outburst came as Mr. Greider suggested that Mr. Clinton tends to back down on crucial issues, and told the president one of his own supporters wanted to know what Mr. Clinton is "willing to stand up for and die on."
Heatedly denying the implication, Mr. Clinton declared, "I have fought more damn battles for more things here than any president in 20 years, with the possible exception of Reagan's first budget, and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press, and I am sick and tired of it, and you can put that in the damn article."
He also complained: "You get no credit around here for fighting and bleeding and that's why the know-nothings and the do-nothings and the negative people and the right-wingers always win. Because of the way people like you put questions to people like me."