The new national policy, Clinton said, should be: "No background check, no gun. No exceptions." The National Rifle Association called his proposal a "public relations stunt" and said the federal government is not enforcing existing gun control laws.
In his weekly radio address, Clinton said the 1994 Brady law's requirement for background checks meant to bar felons from owning guns now should include gun-show sales by unlicensed collectors and private hobbyists.
Such sellers make up one-quarter or more of gun-show vendors, leaving the current exemption a loophole "wide enough that criminals reach right through it, grabbing, collectively, thousands of firearms that disappear without a trace," Clinton said.
His proposed legislation, slated to be introduced by Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich, D-Ill., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., would also broaden the legal definition of gun shows to include flea markets and any other venue where two or more people are engaged in the sale of at least 50 firearms.
The Clinton administration also called for federal registration of all gun show promoters and for extending federal record-keeping requirements to unlicensed firearms vendors.
The collection of information from these vendors would be "strictly limited" to data about the guns not the buyers or sellers so that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could trace arms sold at gun shows if they turn up at a crime scene, said Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to the Gun Show Calendar, a periodical, 4,442 gun shows were advertised around the country last year. The highest number, 472, were in Texas. The National Association of Arms Shows says these weekend markets draw up to 5,000 people per show with admission fees starting at $5.
Clinton called for the legislation after recommendations by the Treasury and Justice departments, which jointly surveyed over 300 recent ATF investigations involving 54,000 firearms linked somehow to gun shows.
Almost half of the show-related investigations involved felons buying or selling firearms, and in more than a third of the investigations, the firearms in question were known to have been used in subsequent crimes.
"It shows conclusively that gun shows are a forum for gun traffickers, a cash-and-carry convenience store for weapons used to maim and kill," Clinton said.
The NRA criticized Clinton's plan as just another whack at gun owners, and said the federal government is not prosecuting felons who are identified under the existing Brady bill provisions.
"This is public relations masquerading as substance," said Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., NRA chief executive officer. "It' hollow and it means nothing to felons on the streets. This is an attempt to put the federal government on the backs of more people."
NRA lobbyist James Baker said in the last two years there have been only four prosecutions of illegal dealings at gun shows.
"If they know about them, why aren't they arresting them?" he asked. "There is no reason to pass one more law that the Clinton administration has no intention of enforcing."
Jim Johnson, Treasury undersecretary for enforcement, countered that Clinton's proposed budget for fiscal 2000 includes nearly $24 million for additional ATF enforcement, including the hiring of 120 new ATF agents to support investigations at gun shows.
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