Clinton acts to enforce existing gun control law

$280 million sought to spend on hiring, improving technology

January 18, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The White House will ask Congress for $280 million in new spending to enforce existing gun control laws, a strategy intended to address one of the main complaints of those who oppose gun restrictions, administration officials said yesterday.

President Clinton plans to announce the spending proposal, which will be part of his 2001 budget submission, at an appearance in Boston today.

The new spending, subject to congressional approval, would be used to hire more gun investigators and prosecutors, foster development of so-called smart-gun technology, improve the government's ballistics testing program and begin an anti-gun news media campaign.

In a joint appearance with Attorney General Janet Reno and local law enforcement officials, Clinton will also hail new Justice Department figures showing a 25 percent increase between 1998 and 1999 in the number of firearms cases brought by federal prosecutors. The number of such cases rose to 5,500 last year, from 4,391 in 1998.

The boost in financing and the release of the new data are intended to counter one of the major arguments advanced by the National Rifle Association and other critics of gun control laws: that new gun restrictions are not needed because scores of existing laws are rarely enforced.

"These numbers should put to rest once and for all the gun lobby's phony contention that the government is not enforcing the existing laws," said Bruce Reed, the White House domestic policy adviser.

Clinton is planning to propose a 20 percent staffing increase at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, adding 300 agents and 200 firearms inspectors, officials said.

The agents will focus on violent gun criminals and illegal gun traffickers, while the inspectors will target "unscrupulous gun dealers that supply guns to criminals and juveniles," a White House fact sheet said.

The president will also recommend tripling the spending for the development of a national ballistics database. At a cost of $30 million, the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network will link the firearms identification computer files operated by the ATF and the FBI. Within two years, 230 local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to have access to the system.

To prosecute violators, the president's budget will also provide financing for more than 1,000 new federal, state and local prosecutors. A new $150 million program will provide grants to state and local governments to hire gun prosecutors.

The National Rifle Association reacted cautiously to the administration's plans, embracing the focus on existing laws while repeating its opposition to new gun legislation.

"We're glad that the Clinton administration agrees with the NRA that enforcing the federal firearms laws is a good thing to do," said James Baker, the NRA's chief lobbyist.

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