Clinton Makes Gun Control an Election Issue

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - President Clinton, seizing on comments made by an NRA leader, told supporters in Ohio Monday he hopes gun control will be a defining issue in the battle for control of the House of Representatives.

On Sunday, the NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre suggested that President Clinton "is willing to accept a certain level of [gun] killing to further his political agenda." LaPierre said Clinton "had the power to make America safe" by enforcing existing gun laws - but didn't use it.

Said LaPierre, "When America finds out the truth about the disgraceful failure" to prosecute gun crimes, "it's not the NRA they're going to be calling and asking why."

On Monday, while campaigning in Ohio, Clinton called LaPierre's accusations "outrageous and disgusting." In fact, he read LaPierre's comments out loud -- twice. "I want to read you what he said here just so you'll know that there is a difference here between the two parties -- and America has to choose," Clinton told his audience.

"We ought not to engage in this kind of political smear tactics," he added.

In an interview on NBC television Tuesday, LaPierre accused President Clinton of trying to demonize both him and the NRA, rather than confront the truth: "The truth is, of those 500,000 cases the President brags about where they've stopped felons from trying to buy guns under the instant check, which the NRA supports, he's prosecuted only a handful."

LaPierre offered numbers to back up his case: "Of the drug dealers and the violent felons and the gangs roaming our streets, when they're caught illegally carrying guns, the president's only prosecuted 2 in Washington, D.C., 14 in the entire state of New Jersey, 20 in Atlanta."

"There's only one real question here today," said LaPierre: "Why won't the White House announce, tomorrow morning, zero tolerance on violent felons with guns, drug dealers with guns, and gangs with guns and take those people off the street and put them in jail for five years?"

A White House spokesman responded by pointing to what he called "an aggressive program this year in the budget," which includes $280 million to hire a thousand more prosecutors -- just to prosecute gun crimes -- and will add 500 more ATF agents.

The White House also insists this is a debate that should be taking place in Congress, where legislation calling for modest gun control has languished for months. Republican congressional leaders last week blamed Democrats for stalling the gun control legislation because they have no interest in compromising.

In a statement released last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) noted that 197 Democrats last year voted against a GOP bill "that included child safety locks, a ban on juvenile possession of assault weapons, and a ban on the importation of large capacity ammunition clips" -- all provisions that Clinton is seeking.

As he headed into a meeting with President Clinton last week, Rep. Hyde wondered what the President is doing to bring those Democrats on board.

One Republican congressman has accused President Clinton of hypocrisy for turning up the rhetoric on gun control, when he actually may be undermining efforts to pass gun control legislation. That way, congressional Republicans get blamed for not doing anything about gun control.