Texas Gov. George W. Bush's call for stepped-up prosecution of criminals carrying guns is a step in the right direction, but he could go further, critics say.
Days after a gunman killed seven people and himself at a Fort Worth church, the Republican presidential front-runner said Tuesday it is time to "vigorously" enforce federal and state laws that could make streets safer.
"We have some very tough laws against gun violence in Texas, and federal law with its mandatory sentences is tough as well," Bush said. "Only with tough enforcement can we win the war against gun violence."
Bush and Attorney General John Cornyn unveiled a two-year, $1.6 million program they said could add prison time for using or possessing a weapon during a crime.
While saying it welcomed the initiative, the group Texans Against Gun Violence said Bush should do more.
"We call on Gov. Bush to prevent as well as prosecute gun crime in Texas," said Nina Butts, a lobbyist for the group. "While prosecution is crucial to curbing gun violence, most victims of gun crime would prefer that the criminal never got his hands on the gun in the first place."
Butts criticized Bush for failing to support a bill in the Legislature this spring that would have required background checks on buyers at Texas gun shows. Bush said it was a federal issue.
She also noted that Bush signed into law a bill to prevent Texas cities and counties from suing gun manufacturers for gun violence.
Bush also came under fire from Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "You can't say that you're in favor of protecting children and families and siding with law enforcement when time and time again you follow the lead of the NRA," she said.
Asked whether the gun initiative was a reaction to Democratic criticism of his gun control policies after the church shooting, Bush said, "That's politics."
"I'm doing my job," he said. "The attorney general's doing his job."
The Texas governor, a gun rights supporter, said, "If law-abiding citizens legally carry a gun, I see no harm."
The program announced Tuesday calls for coordination among local, state and federal prosecutors to make certain criminals face the stiffest prison sentences possible under state or federal law, they said.
In some cases, state law enhances penalties for gun use. In other cases, such as those involving felons and drug dealers, a criminal can receive an additional five-year prison sentence under federal law for gun use or gun possession, said Ted Delisi, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.
Bush said his office is providing a $1.6 million grant for the two-year program, including $1.28 million to pay for eight full-time prosecutors.
The grant also will pay for advertising to make Texans aware of the effort and create a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting those suspected of illegally using or possessing gun.
Cornyn said he and Bush have discussed the effort for several weeks, patterning it after a program in Richmond, Va.
Bush said "we certainly hope" the new effort might help prevent such tragedies as the Fort Worth shootings.