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Clinton: Gun-Check System Works

New instant background checks stopped 400 criminals and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns in the first four days the new national system was used, President Clinton said Saturday.

"That's more than 100 illegal gun sales blocked each day. Who knows how many lives were saved," Clinton said in his weekly radio address.

Still, the president said he will push Congress next year to pass a stiffer law requiring a waiting period of several days before handgun sales become final.

"This cooling-off period will help prevent rash acts of violence and give authorities more time to stop illegal gun purchasers," Clinton said.

The president said he also will seek legislation next year to ban juveniles convicted of violent crimes from owning guns for life. Currently, young people's criminal records are disregarded once they turn 21.

And Clinton said he has asked Attorney General Janet Reno and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to find ways to close a loophole exempting people who buy guns at gun shows from background checks.

The new FBI instant check system, which took effect Nov. 30 and governs the purchase of handguns, shotguns and rifles, replaced a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases only. The waiting period allowed local and state law enforcement authorities time to do background checks on buyers.

The new system uses a toll-free telephone number that gun dealers must call to relay information about prospective gun buyers to the FBI.

Clinton said during the first four days, 100,000 prospective guns sales were reviewed and 400 felons, fugitives, stalkers and other prohibited purchasers were stopped.

The president scolded the National Rifle Association for filing a lawsuit against the new system this week in federal court. The suit charges that the Justice Department is violating Americans' privacy by establishing a national registry of gun buyers.

"They'll stop at nothing to gut the Brady law and undermine our efforts to keep more guns from falling into the wrong hands," Clinton said. The Brady law, named for President Reagan's press secretary James Brady who was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt on Reagan, set up the national system of background checks prior to gun sales.

Justice Department officials say there is no intent to create a permanent gun registry. They say FBI records on gun buyers will be kept for six months or less just long enough to permit audits to assure that all gun purchases are truly legitimate and that weapons do not end up in the hands of criminals or mentally unstable people.

Written by Alice Ann Love