- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

PHILADELPHIA — President Bush yesterday announced an "unprecedented partnership" between federal and local prosecutors to crack down on gun violence, vowing to spend $550 million to crack down on crime and make criminals pay by doing "hard time."
"Project Safe Neighborhoods," which the president announced at a city police department promotion ceremony, will fund the addition of 113 federal "gun prosecutors" to focus solely on prosecution of gun crimes. The program also will earmark $75 million to pay for 600 state and local prosecutors, who will work closely with the assistant U.S. attorneys.
"It will send an unmistakable message: If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time," Mr. Bush said. "Were going to reduce gun violence in America, and those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration."
With three dozen newly promoted corporals behind him, the president said American teen-agers are more likely to die from gunshots than from all natural causes of death combined.
"These details have caused too many families to bury the next generation. And for all our childrens sake, this nation must reclaim our neighborhoods and our streets," he said.
Prosecution of gun crimes dropped 44 percent during President Clintons tenure, but Democrats have continued their effort to create new gun laws, which now number more than 20,000 nationwide. Mr. Bushs plan, promised during the 2000 campaign, will make prosecution the cornerstone of enforcement by doling out stiff penalties to criminals who use guns.
"Nationally, there were 12,658 murders in 1999, two-thirds of which were shooting deaths… . This is unacceptable in America. Its just unacceptable. And were going to do something about it," the president said.
Mr. Bushs plan calls for $44 million to improve criminal record-keeping so convicts cannot buy guns legally; $29 million to integrate the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms computerized ballistics testing so illegal guns and ammunition can be traced; and $19 million for the ATFs youth gun interdiction initiative.
Project Safe Neighborhoods also will focus on what the administration calls an "effective deterrent message" — as Virginia has with Project Exile. Under the program, begun in Richmond in 1997, anyone convicted of using a gun in a crime receives a mandatory five-year sentence — no plea bargaining, no parole.
The citys crime rate, which had been second in the nation, plunged nearly 40 percent the first year, partly because of a campaign to inform criminals what they faced if convicted of gun crimes. Project Exile signs are posted at all Virginia borders, as well as on buses and billboards across the state.
Mr. Bush picked Philadelphia for its "Operation Ceasefire," which has had equal success. The city had 231 homicides in 1999, when the program began, but only 68 so far this year, leading to a police department projection of 150 for this year, a 21 percent reduction. Violent crimes committed with guns numbered 3,278 in 1999, but projections show 2,400 for this year, said Cpl. Jim Pauley.
Mr. Bushs program will include $41 million to coordinate state-of-the-art technology to target illegal gun traffickers, armed violent offenders and prohibited gun buyers identified by the National Instant Check System.
In addition, the Justice Department will partner with the ATF, the National District Attorneys Association and local law enforcement to conduct innovative regional cross-training, involving prosecutors and agents participating in gun crime enforcement.
More than $234 million of the $550 million package will be available this year.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who accompanied Mr. Bush to Philadelphia, said the program would be light on rhetoric and heavy on accountability.
"The United States attorneys will receive resources to measure the long-term impact of the programs that they implement," he said. "The measurement will vary from the traditional output method of counting the number of arrests, prosecutions and convictions, and will instead gauge the reduction in crime or the outcome of the initiative.
"The outcome of this initiative should be safer communities and safer citizens, and we will measure the reduction in crime," Mr. Ashcroft said.
The National Rifle Association applauded the presidents effort.
"Hes basically outlined on a national basis what weve been supporting for the last four or five years, which is an aggressive arrest and prosecution agenda for using existing laws against violent criminals carrying firearms," said Jim Baker, the NRAs executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action.
"We think it worked in Richmond, Va., to reduce the homicide rates, and we think it can work nationally," he said.
But Arlington-based Americans for Gun Safety opposes the new prosecution program. The group aired 60-second radio ads in Philadelphia urging Mr. Bush to support mandatory background checks for customers at gun shows, and a coalition of other groups called on him to sign several new gun-control laws.
Michael Barnes, president of Handgun Control, said of Mr. Bushs program: "We think this is a good first step, but prosecution alone will not make our communities safer from gun violence. Punishment after the fact is no panacea for gun crimes. Project Exile would not have stopped the killers in the Columbine High School massacre from getting their guns, but closing the gun show loophole might have."
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, today will introduce a bill to require a three-day waiting period for the outcome of background checks after the purchase of a firearm at a gun show. Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, has introduced similar legislation. Such a provision died in Congress in 1999.
* Dave Boyer contributed to this report.


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