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Mayors push for tougher gun laws

NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Conference of Mayors is urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert to press for swift passage of legislation requiring higher age restrictions for all firearms buyers and background checks for all customers at gun shows.

The mayors' proposal, contained in a letter to the Illinois Republican, is more stringent than pending House legislation. Their plan includes raising the legal age of gun buyers from 18 to 21 and limiting purchases to one gun a month."The time is ripe for meaningful change," New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial told a news conference Friday, the opening day of the mayors' 67th annual meeting.

"We are engaged in a multifront movement. In this letter we are focusing on the United States House of Representatives. We want a meaningful bill with teeth," Morial said.

Leaders of more than 300 communities gathered for the five-day meeting to discuss such topics as urban development, health and human services, welfare reform and fair housing.

But no issue was expected to draw more attention than the search for ways to defuse the lethal mix of guns and young people.

Spurred to action by the high school shootings in Littleton, Colo., President Clinton and congressional leaders have wrangled over the best way to balance safety concerns and gun owners' rights.

Attorney General Janet Reno criticized the pending House legislation Friday, saying it would undermine the Senate's "common-sense" effort to stop criminals from buying weapons at gun shows.

The House bill, she told reporters, would narrow the definition of "gun show" and restrict the time police have to complete background checks of prospective gun buyers at such events. In addition, she said, the bill would not cover many places where guns are often sold, such as flea markets.