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Gun rights groups divided over bills


WASHINGTON -- A Maryland congressman's alternative to the Brady gun control bill is causing a rift between two gun rights groups with close ties: the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA).

The LEAA, a 35,000-member "pro-Second Amendment police organization," strongly supports a bill sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Frederick Republican who represents Carroll.

It would set up a national computer system to bypass the five-day waiting period for gun sales required by the Brady bill.

The NRA has declined to take a position on Mr. Bartlett's bill and is instead backing a Brady alternative sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican.

The split between the NRA and the LEAA is notable because of the normally cozy relationship between the two groups. The NRA gave the LEAA $100,000 to get off the ground in 1991, said Ed Klecka, an NRA spokesman.

The NRA has also supplied the LEAA with some top staffers. James Fotis, executive director of the LEAA, worked as a liaison in the NRA's law enforcement relations division in 1991. The LEAA's first executive director, Leroy Pyle, served on the NRA's board of directors.

Mr. Fotis said his group and the NRA normally lobby for passage of the same gun-control and crime-related measures. He said the split on Mr. Bartlett's bill is "the first major divergence" between the two groups.

Mr. Bartlett's bill would require state motor vehicle administrations to magnetically encode the driver's licenses of felons or those declared mentally incompetent by a state court.

Gun dealers could instantly identify marked people by running purchasers' driver's licenses through an electronic scanner.

Mr. Craig's measure, like Mr. Bartlett's, also bypasses a waiting period for gun sales and establishes a national computer data base of criminal offenders that would be used to screen gun buyers.

But the Craig bill requires gun dealers to call state or local police, who would tap into the data base of offenders and approve or reject the sale within minutes.

Mr. Bartlett downplayed the split between the two groups and said he expects the NRA to eventually support his bill.

"I think the NRA will be on board once this bill gains enough momentum," he said.

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