- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Congressional Republicans fear they will be hurt by the increasingly bitter rhetorical duel between the National Rifle Association and the White House.
"I don't know anybody who wants to discuss it," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, told The Washington Times yesterday. "It's not a good discussion."
Republican staffers say the angry war of words between President Clinton and NRA Vice President Wayne R. LaPierre Jr. could hurt them in the November elections and damages the chances of any new gun-control or juvenile-justice initiatives emerging soon from a long-deadlocked House-Senate conference committee.
Other anti-violence legislation that was in the works, including an expansion of Virginia's successful "Project Exile," will have to wait at least a week while the spat dies down.
"For some members, there is the fear that politics will drive the ultimate resolution, or at least the appearance of politics," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland Republican and a co-sponsor of the Project Exile bill. "That's not a pleasant outcome."
One of the most ardently pro-gun-rights Republicans, Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, criticized his colleagues for avoiding a fight.
"It's a misplaced hope that by simply being nice to the White House, we will get the White House to stop beating us up," said Mr. Barr, an NRA board member. "The White House will beat us up no matter what. I wonder why our people haven't figured that out."
But Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican and a firm opponent of new gun regulations, said the Republican fear is well founded.
The majority of Republicans oppose Democratic efforts to "chip away at the Second Amendment," he said, "but at the same time, it's not something you particularly want to refight over and over. We want to pick where we want to fight, not where the president wants to fight."
Mr. Souder said Republicans don't necessarily disagree with Mr. LaPierre on gun issues but his remarks give the president an excuse to focus narrowly on guns where Democrats may have some advantage in public opinion rather than on cultural causes of violence, such as media violence and the breakdown of the family, where Republicans have an advantage.
The latest flare-up between the NRA and the White House began with a new series of NRA ads criticizing the president's record and sincerity on enforcing gun laws. But it turned particularly bitter earlier this week when Mr. LaPierre said the president was "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."
The White House called the comment "sick" and the president has been using the incident to pressure Congress to pass a package of gun-control measures. He has taken to reading Mr. LaPierre's comment at public speeches and using it to attack those who oppose his proposals.
Democratic leader Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, jumped on the controversy yesterday, saying "the Republican leadership is looking for any available excuse to placate the NRA," even though Republicans have distanced themselves from Mr. LaPierre's comment.
Republicans say the exchange deepens the divisions in an already highly polarized political environment and has steeled the resolve of Democrats, who have rejected Republican offers to break the deadlock.
"I don't think the bomb throwing or shootout has been very helpful," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. "I think the White House has been very hostile to gun ownership, and I think they finally got the reaction [from the NRA] they were looking for."
Mr. Armey agreed.
"There's been a hardening of the attitudes over the juvenile-justice gun provisions to where, frankly, if you go a little bit this way, you lose the conservative votes; you go this way, you lose the liberal votes … so they've sort of logjammed that."
Mr. Armey and other Republican leaders say they will try to break apart the large juvenile-justice bill that contains the contentious gun provisions. They will attempt to save parts of the bill that impose tough penalties on persons who commit crimes with guns and explosives and that call for strengthening the nation's juvenile-justice system.
They also want to include some measures aimed at combating violence in the culture, including authorizing a federal study of media violence and allowing states to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings, such as schools.
"There is a larger battle being waged," said a senior Republican staffer who asked not to be named. "Obviously, in the short term, this will have an impact; but in the long term, it won't have an impact."
Mr. Gephardt rejected out of hand any move to break up the bill.
Neither Mr. LaPierre nor the White House appeared ready to back down yesterday. In a joint appearance with White House spokesman Joe Lockhart on NBC's "Today," Mr. LaPierre stood by his attack on the president.
"I think that the fact is the president would rather make NRA rhetoric the issue rather than his own policies," he said. "And I know now he'd like to demonize Wayne LaPierre and demonize the NRA."
"I don't think the comments, the really sick comments that Mr. LaPierre made, are reflected in the gun owners of this country, in Republicans that are aligned with the NRA," Mr. Lockhart said. "They ought to stand up and repudiate them."
The Senate passed a package of gun regulations including requiring the sale of trigger locks with handguns, a ban on large capacity magazines and clips, and background checks for all buyers at gun shows in April of last year in the wake of the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
The House agreed to most of the restrictions in June, but pro-gun-control Democrats and pro-gun-rights Republicans allied to kill the entire package in a dispute over the details of the gun-show provision.

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