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Bush announces gun crimes initiative in Texas

September 21, 1999
Web posted at: 6:04 p.m. EDT (2204 GMT)

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Just six days after a deadly church shooting in Texas, Gov. George W. Bush Tuesday announced a new state initiative to increase prosecution of gun crimes.

Bush, the GOP presidential front-runner, was joined at an Austin news conference by U.S. attorneys and state attorneys to announce the initiative, to be modeled on Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia.

The program would enhance cooperation between federal and state prosecutors on firearms violations with the goal of increasing the number of federal firearms prosecutions in the state. Federal gun laws tend to be stiffer than state penalties and carry mandatory minimum sentences. Gun advocate groups, particularly the National Rifle Association, charge that the federal government does not adequately prosecute existing gun laws.

Bush
Gov. George W. Bush prior to a community-wide memorial service in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday.  

The program also will put eight more prosecutors to work in Texas to focus solely on gun crimes.

After last week's Fort Worth shooting, Bush blamed a "wave of evil" rather than lax gun control for the recent spate of multiple shootings. His position was criticized by both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, both of whom said the availability of guns contributed to the evil.

Bush aides insist the plan has been in development for several weeks and was not a result of the violence in Fort Worth last week in which a gunman killed seven people at Wedgwood Baptist Church before killing himself.

Democrats see gun control as a primary issue, and they hope it is a major flaw in the Bush repertoire of issues.

Bush denied any suggestions that his 'hard time for gun crime' message was aimed at defusing critics of his presidential campaign.

"Well you know, that's politics," he said.

The Exile program has the backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA) because the program emphasizes prosecution of gun crimes, rather than restrictions on gun ownership. Gun control groups, who acknowledge the effectiveness of Virginia's Exile program, say that while prosecution is important, actual gun restriction is an essential element to promoting safety.

However, the program would not have prevented the Fort Worth shootings nor does the program address what polls show many Americans support: registration of all hand guns.

"I personally do not believe that registering every hand gun in America is going to make America a safer place," he said. "I think the best way to make sure that America a safe place is to prevent people from buying a gun who shouldn't have a gun in the first place."

Bush signed a law in 1995 that allowed Texans to carry concealed weapons with a permit but the law banned guns from certain places, such as churches and synagogues.

But in 1997, Bush signed another law forcing houses of worship to post signs or hand out cards alerting visitors that guns are off-limits. The law barred prosecution of those who bring guns into churches, unless they received such notice.


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