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NRA Criticizes Leading Weapons Makers for White House Meeting

By Charles Babington
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

A fissure in the nation’s gun lobby grew wider Monday, as leading gun manufacturers participated in a White House meeting on youth violence while the National Rifle Association attacked the event in a news conference and newspaper ads.

The firearms industry has come under increasing criticism in the wake of the Littleton, Colo., killings and unrelated liability lawsuits filed by several cities. Major gun manufacturers have responded by saying they would support some new restrictions on the right to possess guns.

But the NRA, the major group representing gun owners, has remained defiant. The gulf between the two factions was particularly evident Monday when President Clinton hosted a three-hour meeting on “children, violence and responsibility,” involving 60 people representing television, Hollywood, video games and other industries.

At the huge rectangular table were top executives of the Glock Inc. and Smith & Wesson gun manufacturers and the American Shooting Sports Council, which represents about 350 makers and distributors of firearms. They embraced several proposals backed by Clinton, including raising the legal age for handgun possession to 21 from the current 18, and requiring criminal background checks on people buying weapons at gun shows.

The White House did not invite top NRA officials, who expressed their views in a Washington news conference and full-page ads in newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal.

“More firearms legislation, like previous legislation, that is passed with no intention of enforcement is a dangerous fraud perpetrated upon the safety of the American people that must stop,” said the ad, signed by NRA President Charlton Heston. The ad said it was “unfortunate” that Clinton did not invite the NRA, which it described as “the nation’s foremost authority on firearms education, accident prevention and proven policies that curb criminal misuse of guns.”

Clinton took pains not to single out gun owners or other groups as he called for a variety of voluntary efforts to curb youth violence. “Everyone was talking about what could be done to accept responsibility. No one was pointing the finger of blame,” he said in a Rose Garden ceremony after the closed meeting, which he called a “strategy session.” He praised “the remarkable support that gun manufacturers have given to many of our common-sense gun proposals.”

Clinton, joined by his wife and Vice President and Tipper Gore, called for “a national campaign to prevent youth violence,” modeled on earlier public-private endeavors to curb teen pregnancy and to move welfare recipients into jobs. Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration will help create a nonprofit agency that “will bring together many of the people around the table today . . . (and) come forward, we hope, with very specific suggestions about what parents can do, what schools can do, what community groups can do, what the media can do, what gun manufacturers can do.”

Monday’s meeting stressed voluntary rather than mandatory efforts to identify and address possible causes of youth violence. Many of the strategies have been aired before.

For example, U.S. television manufacturers already are required to begin installing V-Chips.