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Crossfire ON GUNS.

In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, Gore and Bush clash on the emotional issue of gun control

Eighteen months after the massacre at Columbine High School, the haunting questions remain: Could the tragedy have been prevented by stricter gun-control laws? Would those 12 slain students and their teacher still be alive today if it had been tougher for kids to get guns?

Despite a steep drop in the crime rate, more than 30,000 people were killed by gunfire in !998, including almost 4,000 teenagers. How to reduce those shocking statistics has become one of the central issues in the 2000 presidential race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.

Because the candidates have sharply different views on gun control--Gore favors more restrictions, while Bush believes in stronger enforcement of existing laws--and because the recent rash of school shootings has made the public more aware of gun violence, the issue could influence the choices of many voters.

"It's clear that gun control is more important in this election than it has been in any presidential election in modem times," says Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York and author of The Politics of Gun Control.

Gore and Bush both support proposed laws that would halt imports of military-style ammunition clips and raise the minimum age for possessing a handgun from 18 to 21.

But Gore also supports many other new laws that would make it more difficult to obtain firearms, including a requirement that all buyers obtain a photo license proving they are eligible to own a handgun. He also wants to require safety locks, which are designed to prevent children from accidentally shooting a gun, on all new handguns. And he would require those attempting to buy a gun to wait at least three days, giving authorities time to conduct a criminal background check and providing a "cooling off" period that would stop people from buying and using guns in anger. "Families need help getting guns off our streets, out of our schools, and away from children and criminals," Gore says.

Bush opposes those measures, saying too many restrictions could prevent law-abiding citizens from buying guns to protect themselves and their families. "I believe innocent people ought to be allowed to own a gun, he says. Although he originally opposed mandatory safety locks, he now says he would sign such a law if Congress passed it, but wouldn't push for the legislation.

Bush calls for more money to enforce current gun laws and automatic detention for juveniles who commit crimes with guns. Bush also favors instant background checks, rather than Gore's three-day waiting period.

Most pro-gun groups back Bush, while those who support stricter gun control tend to favor Gore. Leaders of the National Rifle Association have accused Gore of trying to "disarm the country," but the head of one gun-control organization claims Bush is "carrying water for the NRA."
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Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 16, 2000
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