WASHINGTON -- President Clinton said yesterday that the new system of computerized, instant background checks on gun buyers, run by the FBI, had already stopped "400 felons, fugitives, stalkers and other prohibited purchasers from walking away with new guns."
In his weekly radio address, Clinton accused the National Rifle Association, which has gone to court to challenge the new instant check system, of trying to "gut the Brady law and undermine our efforts to keep more guns from falling into the wrong hands."
The law, named for James S. Brady, former President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, who was severely wounded during an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, narrowly passed Congress five years ago.
Until the new check system was implemented last week, gun buyers often had to wait days or weeks for a background check before they could purchase a gun. Under the new system, gun dealers can call a central number for an immediate background check. But some dealers complained that they had difficulty reaching operators at the number and in some cases were kept waiting for lengthy periods.
Clinton said yesterday that he would press for further restrictions on gun sales when the new Congress convenes in January.
"One of my top priorities will be to pass legislation to require a minimum waiting period before a handgun sale becomes final," he said, arguing that background checks should be combined with a "cooling-off period" that would stop "rash acts of violence and give authorities more time to stop illegal gun purchases."
He also called for closing a loophole in the existing law that allows juveniles convicted of violent crimes to purchase guns once they turn 21.
He has asked the Treasury Department and the Justice Department to assure that guns sold at gun shows are not exempt from the background checks.
When the NRA filed its suit Tuesday to block the new instant check system, it argued that the FBI was violating federal laws that forbid the creation of a national register of gun owners.
James J. Baker, an NRA spokesman, said in a statement, "The clear intent of the Congress was to conduct the background check unobtrusively at the point of sale, without delay, and with all respect to the privacy of the gun purchaser."
Clinton dismissed the NRA's arguments as a "desperate effort to kill" enforcement of the Brady law.
"We can't turn back," he said. "In these last five years Brady background checks have stopped nearly a quarter of a million illegal handgun sales. We can't go back to the days when dangerous criminals walked away from stores with new guns, no questions asked."
Pub Date: 12/06/98