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Gun-buyback funds keep flowing

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The government will continue offering federal money for local gun buyback programs, President Clinton said Sunday, defying House Republicans who maintain that current law doesn't allow it.

The $15 million "Buyback America" program is "an important part of my administration's comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence in America," Clinton said in a statement. He said it would help prevent "an untold number of gun accidents, suicides and crimes."

Despite the Department of Housing and Urban Development's "clear authority to carry out this important program, the gun lobby and other opponents of commonsense gun safety measures continue to challenge this initiative," Clinton said.

Programs in at least 30 cities are on hold because of the dispute between HUD and Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the department.

"The proposal is to fund this gun buyback program with drug elimination funds," Walsh said Sunday in Philadelphia, where he was to attend the Republican National Convention.

"Drug elimination funds are for eliminating drugs. ... Gun buyback programs, whether you agree or disagree with them, do not qualify under that funding scheme," Walsh said.

Walsh contends that Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, supports his position that the such spending is not authorized by law.

He told The New York Times that if the buyback program continues, housing officials could be fined or even jailed. He said, however, that he might not seek such penalties.

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo scoffed at the notion that department officials could be thrown in jail.

"They have to bully people, because they are wrong on facts and merits," Cuomo said in an interview Sunday.

So far, the 10-month-old program has paid out $3.5 million to buy back more than 17,000 guns in 70 cities. HUD suggests a buyback price of $50 a gun, and local businesses are encouraged to donate gift certificates for food, toys and other goods to individuals who turn in weapons.

"We have 100 cities across the U.S. who want to do buybacks. These are the cities who want to do buybacks because it helps," Cuomo said.

The National Rifle Association has attacked the program as wasteful and argues that it is impossible to calculate what impact buybacks might have on crime rates.

"I think gun buybacks are sort of silly. They don't have the desired effect," Walsh said. Criminals, he said, will not trade their guns for groceries or tennis shoes.