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President Proposes Increased Enforcement of Firearm Laws

By James Gerstenzang
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- PHILADELPHIA

President Bush entered the debate over gun control Monday for the first time as president, proposing a two-year program based on stepped-up enforcement of gun laws, but no significant new restrictions on access to firearms.

The centerpiece of Bush’s plan is a proposal to spend $15 million to hire 113 additional assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute gun charges. It is a course favored by the National Rifle Association and also supported, as a partial step, by a leading gun control group.

“If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time,” the president said. “This nation must enforce the gun laws which exist on the books.

“We’re going to reduce gun violence in America. And those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration,” he said to an audience of approximately 75 police officers.

Bush’s Project Safe Neighborhoods is intended to coordinate the work of law enforcement agencies. In addition to funding the new federal prosecutors, the $550 million program would help subsidize more state prosecutors, investigators, training and community programs.

At least half of the proposed spending requires congressional approval; the rest comes from funds allocated for law enforcement programs in the current budget.

Critics complained that the program omits steps that could prevent gun violence, such as licensing and registering handgun owners, closing legal loopholes that permit weapons purchases at gun shows without background checks, limiting handgun purchases to one per month and requiring safe storage of handguns.

The president’s speech followed a number of Mother’s Day marches that called for stricter gun regulations. A group from the Philadelphia area rang a bell throughout the morning near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where Bush spoke to commemorate the more than 300 Philadelphians killed by gunfire since Jan. 1, 2000.