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NRA RESURGES TO KEEP CRIME BILL STALLED

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Bouncing back from a series of defeats in Congress, the National Rifle Association has managed to stall for more than a week a $33.2 billion crime bill that would ban many assault-style firearms.

At first, it looked as if the crime bill would breeze through Congress, putting 100,000 more police on the streets and providing life sentences for some third-time felons and billions for prisons and crime prevention.And the NRA looked like a spent force in this Congress, having lost crucial votes on the firearms ban and the Brady bill requiring a five-day wait and background check for handgun purchases.

But the NRA found a way to delay the crime bill: Persuade enough gun-ban opponents to block a procedural vote on rules lawmakers would follow when the measure comes up for a final vote in the House. Given that Republicans tend to oppose rules as a matter of course, the targets were narrowed to Democrats.

Combined with some black lawmakers' opposition to the bill's more than 50 new death penalties and its dropping of a provision making it easier to prove bias in capital cases, the Democrats couldn't move the bill.

President Clinton, who has publicly blamed the NRA for blocking the crime bill, continued lobbying Wednesday morning, along with Vice President Al Gore and Cabinet members, "to make sure that the vote passes," White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said.

A White House source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they still needed about eight votes this morning, down from 10 to 12 needed Tuesday. Bill supporters found Tuesday that as some decided to vote for it, gun-control opponents pulled others back.

The bill was not expected to reach the floor until at least Thursday.

"This is to us a very important vote, as it is to our 3.4 million members," NRA chief lobbyist Tanya Metaksa said Tuesday. "We've been fighting against gun bans all of 1994 and will continue to do so until our last breath."

This view has been conveyed to members of Congress, she said, but she demurred when asked if it was accompanied by threats.