President Bush today called himself a “proud” member of the National Rifle Assn. but said a compromise must be struck on semiautomatic weapons because “we’re in a very different time now.”
“The country needs to know that there is some answer to this. I don’t yet know what it is,” he told a group of women state legislators.
Later, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters “clearly there’s been some evolution of his (Bush’s) thinking” on gun control.
Fitzwater also voiced White House concerns over reports that NRA officials had hinted at political repercussions to national drug control Director William J. Bennett if he cracks down too hard on gun sales.
“This is not a time for threatening people, but time to work together,” Fitzwater said.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press last week that Bennett had been receiving warnings from the rifle association through third parties hinting that the NRA’s campaign fund-raising abilities might be used against him if he ever sought political office.
Bennett said through a spokesman, Don Hamilton, that “there have been a lot of phone calls, a lot of pressure. Let’s cool off.” At the time, NRA official Wayne LaPierre called the allegations “absolutely ridiculous.”
Bush directed Bennett to review the entire issue of semiautomatic weapons. Fitzwater said today that the Administration will take no further action beyond last week’s banning of the import of semiautomatic weapons until that review is complete.
In his talk to women legislators, Bush said: “On the NRA, of which I am a member, a proud member, I believe we can find an accommodation between the legitimate interest of sportsmen and the interests of police chiefs, whose men put their lives on the line every day.
“We’re in very different time now. I am convinced that reasonable men and women can work together to find an answer to the problem of these automated weapons.”
Bush’s comments came against a backdrop of disagreement among senior federal officials over how fast and far the government should go in urging gun manufacturers to follow the example of Colt Industries Inc. and stop non-military sales of semiautomatic assault rifles.
The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, John Lawn, urged an end to such sales in a TV appearance on Sunday, but drug czar Bennett and Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh advised caution.
The assault rifle issue has become a difficult one for Bush, who opposed previous efforts to impose stricter gun control laws.
Various law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who advised Bush during last year’s presidential campaign, have come out in favor of making it more difficult to obtain assault rifles.
The rifles have become popular among illegal drug dealers. Although automatic rifles are outlawed, semiautomatic rifles can be purchased in all 50 states.
Experts say semiautomatic rifles easily may be converted to automatic weapons.