WASHINGTON -- Looking for ways to stop Americans from attacking one another, Clinton administration officials said yesterday they are beginning a far-ranging study that will include consideration of more gun control laws and the role of violence on television.
Child abuse, abuse of the elderly, racial and ethnic violence, and sexual assault are other areas that will be studied by an interagency work group, which came to light during a health reporters' breakfast with U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.
Commenting on a variety of public health issues, Dr. Elders delivered a warning to Congress about eliminating insurance coverage for abortions from President Clinton's health care reform plan. She said women "should make sure they never forgot" who voted to eliminate the coverage, which is one of the most controversial features of the plan.
Administration officials said the mission of the interagency work group on violence is "to look broadly at the question of violence" and develop "suggestions for immediate action" and for the long run, said Peter Edelman, counsel to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
Although federal policies will receive close scrutiny, the group will consult outside experts and make recommendations concerning "the local level, both public and private," Mr. Edelman said.
Some steps are being taken now. Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern said the agency is already working with state officials in Colorado and Nebraska on projects there to control violence.
The study idea was born in a meeting earlier this year involving Ms. Shalala and Attorney General Janet Reno. Mr. Edelman is co-chairing the group with Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann. Other agencies participating include the Departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The role of TV and movies in encouraging violence is a hot topic for many parents and a number of members of Congress. But civil libertarians are concerned about impinging on First Amendment rights of free expression.
Mr. Edelman said, "We're all very conscious of the limitations of the government's role in the regulation of the media." One thing that can be done is to "work with the media to promote anti-violence messages," he said.
"NBC, for example, has some very fine public service announcements about to air in coming weeks and months. Others might do that."
On the question of firearms, President Clinton already has endorsed legislation to control handguns. Mr. Edelman said the jTC work group would consider "what further proposals the administration might make with regard to firearms regulations."