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Clinton Attends Gun Bill-Signing
Tuesday, April 11, 2000

By SONYA ROSS, Associated Press Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md.--President Clinton said today Congress does not have to look far for a model for gun-control legislation. Clinton traveled the short distance to Maryland's state Capitol to preside as Gov. Parris Glendening signed a bill making Maryland the first state to require built-in locks on handguns while imposing other stringent gun-control rules.  "Congress should follow Maryland's lead," Clinton said to
applause.  Annapolis, the closest state capital to Washington, has often been in the forefront on gun control, Clinton said. And the state, with large rural areas that are traditionally leery of new gun laws, has
demonstrated the power of public will to reduce gun violence, Clinton said.

"I hope that the U.S. Congress is paying attention to this event today, because every child in America deserves the same protection you have given Maryland children, and only Congress can do that,"
Clinton said.   Both Clinton and Glendening encouraged the National Rifle Association to join in what Clinton calls "commonsense gun legislation," including trigger locks and other safety devices the White
House says will reduce crimes and accidental shootings.

The Maryland law was hard-fought, Glendening said.  "It represents only a beginning -a beginning of an era when the voice of the people and their desire to end gun violence is no longer undercut by the voice of the gun lobby," the governor said.  "Maryland has shown it can be done."  Clinton's appearance in Annapolis also kicks off his outside-Washington bid to push Congress to pass his stalled gun-safety proposals.

"This shouldn't be the only signing ceremony going on this year. We should have one," said White House legislative adviser Joel Johnson.   Clinton is taking a similar message Wednesday to Colorado, to
help push a ballot initiative asking voters to approve a requirement that all gun-show gun sales, including those by unlicensed dealers, be subject to background checks.    Initially, the White House had hoped Congress would pass gun legislation before April 20, the one-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Now, aides have resigned themselves to missing that deadline and are aiming for passage before year's end.

The Maryland bill, passed April 3, requires built-in locks on new handguns sold as of Jan. 1, 2003, and external locks on all handguns sold in the state as of Oct. 1 of this year. It sets a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for illegal firearms possession by felons convicted of a violent or drug crime, and bars those convicted of a violent crime as a juvenile from possessing a handgun until age 30.   Also, police agencies would not be able to sell confiscated guns,  gun makers would have to provide a ballistic fingerprint of shell casings of every new gun, and gun buyers would have to pass a two-hour safety course.

Congress was moving in its own direction today: The House on a 358 -60 vote, approved "Project Exile," a program that sends $100 million in block grants to states that impose mandatory sentences for gun crimes. The legislation emerged as a rallying point for critics of Clinton's gun proposals, who say his administration should be focused more on the type of enforcement Project Exile represents.    "Since the Clinton-Gore administration refuses to prosecute, it's time Congress takes it upon itself to start protecting Americans from gun violence," said Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee.   "Congress has an opportunity to accomplish a rare feat, and I hope that it's a unanimous vote for what most Americans want, and that is tough enforcement," said NRA spokesman Bill Powers. "Our members are looking forward to a great vote in the House."

The White House disputed the lax enforcement argument, calling the Project Exile vote "purely political" and saying Congress has sat on Clinton's $280 million proposal to hire 1,000 new gun prosecutors and 500 new Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.  Aides did not dismiss Project Exile out of hand, saying only that it should not be used to supplant further funding of enforcement.

"I don't think there's anything in there we find objectionable or offensive. It's just too little," Johnson said. "We shouldn't be talking about how little we can get away with doing."

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On the Net:
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Maryland General Assembly: http://mlis.state.md.us
National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org
The Virginia Exile program: http://www.virginiaexile.com