"It is still too easy for deadly weapons to wind up in the hands of children, by intent or by accident," Mr. Clinton said in a White House announcement attended by the mother of one of the four girls killed in a March 24 schoolyard shooting in Jonesboro, Ark.
An emotion-choked plea by Suzann Wilson, mother of 11-year-old Jonesboro victim Britthney Varner, highlighted the morning news conference at which Attorney General Janet Reno also spoke.
In a voice that quavered and at times was silenced by sobs, Wilson asked that her family's tragedy be a lesson for others around the country.
"To every gun owner in America, I want to say, please, please, for the sake of the children, lock up the guns," she said. "Don't let your gun become an instrument of murder. Don't let what happened in Jonesboro happen in your town."
School Violence: Web ResourcesDescribing the last time she saw her daughter alive, she said, "What happened in Jonesboro should never have occurred. Two children who should never have had access to firearms were able to put together a small arsenal."
Referring to Bill of Rights objections, she said, "This is not about the right to bear arms. I come from a state where hunting is a tradition."
Mr. Clinton expressed his support for a bipartisan Senate bill that would hold adults criminally responsible if they allow children easy access to loaded firearms.
"Too many guns wielded in rage by troubled adolescents can be traced back to an irresponsible adult," he said.
At Wednesday's event, President Clinton said he remained mystified by the school shootings.
"This recent series of killings in our schools has seared the heart of America about as much as anything I can remember in a long, long time," he said in a somber speech.
The White House also announced Wednesday new federal regulations, based on a directive Mr. Clinton issued in June 1997, that require gun shops to post signs and issue written warnings regarding youth handgun possession.
Under the Treasury Department regulations, all federally licensed gun dealers are required to post signs stating that "misuse of handguns is a leading contributor to juvenile violence and fatalities," and that safely storing and securing guns away from children will help stop accidents and save lives.
With these signs in place at gun shops, President Clinton said, "No customer or employee can avoid personal responsibility by pleading ignorance of the law."
The Senate proposal Mr. Clinton endorsed Wednesday takes a new tack.
Sponsored by Sens. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the measure would mean that an adult who left a loaded gun in a bureau drawer, for example, would face criminal penalties if the gun were subsequently used by a child to harm someone
"This proposal is not about taking guns away," Durbin said Wednesday. "It's about taking guns seriously."
The proposal already has the backing of gun-control advocates Jim and Sarah Brady, as well as the Children's Defense Fund and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Chafee said.
More than a dozen states have similar laws, often called "safe storage" laws, that generally require adults to store guns and bullets in a place that is reasonably inaccessible to children. President Clinton Wednesday called on other states to pass similar legislation.
Mr. Clinton also announced Wednesday that the administration will launch a joint initiative with Maryland State Police to trace every crime gun seized in that state.