- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Bush, Gore differ on whether tougher enforcement is enough

The presidential candidates sharpened their positions on guns and violence Thursday as a new poll found that most Americans favor stricter enforcement of existing gun laws over more controls on firearm sales and safety.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now believe it is more important to enforce existing gun laws "than to enact new statutes aimed at restricting weapons sales and improving gun safety," according to a national survey of voter attitudes toward guns and youth violence by the Pew Research Center.

On the anniversary of the high school shooting rampage in Littleton, Colo., that left 15 dead, the Pew poll found that just 6 percent of voters believe that tougher gun control laws would prevent a reoccurrence of the Columbine High School tragedy.

At campaign appearances Thursday, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore staked out different positions on gun violence an issue that has grown to one of major concern among voters in the aftermath of the shootings at Columbine and at other schools.

Supported by the Pew findings, Mr. Bush said he thought it was more important to pursue tougher enforcement of the nation's present gun laws than to enact more laws. He also said that teaching character, values, and right and wrong in schools was the most effective, long-term answer to youth violence.

"Strict enforcement of tough laws is important. But ultimately the safety of our children depends on more than laws. It depends on the values we teach them, and the kind of culture we create and condone."

Mr. Bush said that "character education," which his school reforms have made a part of the Texas school curriculum, should be added to every school curriculum in the country.

"Columbine was a sad lesson, but it is an important reminder for us to love our children and to teach our children what's right in life and what's wrong in life and to make the right choices," he said.

Mr. Bush's emphasis on teaching values and character, along with increased federal funding for such curriculums, earned some rare praise from Mr. Gore, who called for tougher gun laws at an appearance at Fort Lee, N.J.

"I compliment him for doing that," Mr. Gore said. "I think that's right near the top of the list."

Speaking at a student assembly at Fort Lee High School, Mr. Gore said there was no "easy, glib, silver-bullet answer" to juvenile shootings, which, despite the higher profile of recent years, have been declining.

Mr. Gore proposed new gun control laws that would, among other things, require photo licenses for handgun buyers and mandate gun makers and licensed dealers to report sales to a state authority.

Mr. Gore also was critical of concealed weapons laws, such as the one that Mr. Bush signed into law in 1995 that allows people with permits to carry guns to protect themselves.

The vice president's campaign put out a press release Thursday listing the "differences on gun control" with his Republican rival. But the Bush campaign responded with a statement saying that Mr. Gore "failed to explain why prosecuting current gun laws is not a priority," noting the Pew poll.

"It's fine to call for new laws, but it cannot hide Al Gore's failed record on enforcing the current gun laws already on the books," said a Bush campaign spokesman.

An Associated Press poll Thursday also found stronger support for stricter enforcement (42 percent) vs. tougher gun control laws (33 percent). One year ago, immediately after the Littleton shootings, more than half of Americans said more gun laws was the answer.

Meanwhile, the Pew poll's findings appeared to support Mr. Bush's emphasis on placing more responsibility upon schools and parents to teach values to young people.

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