President Bush's anti-crime proposals place him in a crossfire between gun lobbyists who say he went too far and lawmakers who say his plans won't stop the shooting on America's streets.
The skirmishing erupted Monday after the president unveiled plans for a permanent ban on imports of many semiautomatic assault weapons and a ban on the manufacture of ammunition magazines for those guns containing more than 15 rounds.Bush spoke Monday afternoon in the rain outside the U.S. Capitol to relatives of 161 police officers killed last year - including Orem resident Ann House, widow of officer Fred House who was killed in the January 1988 Singer-Swapp standoff in Marion, Utah.
During the speech, Bush vowed to "take back the streets" from violent criminals with tougher enforcement and stiffer penalties.
The proposal is part of a $1.2 billion anti-crime package that also calls for building new prisons, hiring more federal agents, widening the death penalty and toughening sentences for illegally using semiautomatic guns.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh defended the program Tuesday on "CBS This Morning," saying, "I think it represents a very important tangible commitment to law enforcement. The war on crime is no longer rhetorical. In the street language, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime."
But opposition to the president's plan - from the right and the left - surfaced quickly:
-The National Rifle Association of America: "We don't see a heck of a difference between a 15-round magazine and three five-round magazines other than about the two seconds it takes to change from one to another," said James Baker, the NRA's chief lobbyist in Washington.
-Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, sponsor of broader restrictions on semiautomatic weapons: "I'm disappointed that the president chose to limit his action" to foreign-made guns, which account for only about 25 percent of U.S. sales.
-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: "If it makes sense to ban the importation of assault weapons, why doesn't it make sense to ban similar weapons made here in the United States?"
-Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.: Bush's proposals "don't do enough to protect police officers who are going against these weapons in urban battle zones."
-Gun Owners of America: "If George Bush thinks that American gun owners and other clear-thinking Americans will accept this public relations stunt and drop the pressure on him, the president is sadly mistaken," said Larry Pratt, executive director.
Bush said that most guns are "legitimately owned for legitimate purposes," but that "the right to own guns is not a license to harm others."
"There is substantial controversy and debate," Bush said. "But one thing that we do know about these assault weapons is that they invariably are equipped with unjustifiably large magazines," he said, explaining his proposal to limit magazines to 15 rounds.
Civil libertarians are likely to oppose Bush's other proposals to limit access to the federal courts for state prisoners challenging criminal convictions, and for a "good-faith" exception to the rule that excludes improperly seized evidence from court.
Bush's anti-crime proposals
- Making permanent a two-month suspension on importation of the semiautomatic assault-style rifles if a government review finds they are not for sporting purposes.
- Blocking manufacture, transfer or sale of gun magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds.
- Doubling the current five-year maximum sentence for using a semiautomatic firearm in commission of a crime.
- Spending $1 billion for new prison construction.
- Identifying government properties and facilities that can be converted to jails and prisons.
- Authorizing 825 new federal agents and staff in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Marshal Service; and FBI.
- Offering a 5 percent bonus to drug and law enforcement grants to states that follow his standards on stiffening penalties for use of a gun in committing a crime.
- Adding 1,600 positions in the U.S. attorney's office.
- Implementing the death penalty and designating the use of a firearm as an aggravating factor for determining whether the death penalty should be imposed.
- Strengthening laws against criminal access to firearms by expanding the existing ban on sales to people convicted of violent crimes, to cover anyone convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes.
- Blocking the practice of plea-bargaining away charges of using a gun in commission to a federal crime.
- Requiring juveniles to be tried as adults for cases considered serious drugoffenses under the Armed Career Criminal statue.