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Clinton Hunts for Gun-Control Support : Presidency: A duck is sacrificed for the cause as he joins NRA advocates.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton sacrificed a duck to the cause of gun control Monday--traveling to Maryland’s Eastern Shore marshes for an early morning image-making exercise with one of the leading congressional advocates of the National Rifle Assn.

As a boy, Clinton did some hunting and he engaged in the sport from time to time as governor of Arkansas, but it has rarely ranked as one of his major occupations. Hunting can, however, be a major aid for politicians in search of a point to make. And Clinton was not shy in making it.

Asked how the outing would affect his position on gun control, he said: “It’ll strengthen it. It makes the point I’ve been making all along--that it doesn’t have anything to do with hunting.”

The President has been campaigning for several months with increasing intensity for additional federal gun controls, while at the same time, trying to reassure hunters--the mainstay of the NRA membership--that his stand does not threaten their sport or their guns.

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Hunting “is part of the culture of a big part of America,” Clinton said earlier this month when he signed the Brady bill, which imposes a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases.

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“I live in a place where we still close schools and plants on the first day of deer season,” he said, referring to his former residence in Arkansas, not his current residence, which is in a city where guns are more often used to shoot human targets.

If Clinton’s hunting companion, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), had any comment, reporters on the scene at a hunting lodge on Taylors Island, Md., did not record it.

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Dingell, chairman of the House panel that holds sway over much of Clinton’s health reform proposal, has long been one of Congress’ fiercest gun-control foes. A member of the NRA board, he has used his considerable power to help kill anti-gun measures.

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In addition to drawing attention to the gun-control issue, Clinton’s outing Monday drew a loud protest from animal rights advocates--a protest that was music to the ears of White House officials who spent much of their time throughout last year’s presidential campaign trying to convince middle America that the Arkansas-born but Georgetown-, Yale- and Oxford-educated Clinton is really a regular guy.

Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals Inc., sent a letter to Clinton over the weekend denouncing the planned duck hunt. “Your decision to shoot, and possibly cripple, ducks for your mere amusement represents an obvious departure from your commitment to oppose gratuitous harm to animals,” he wrote. A member of the group picketed outside the Fruit Hill Farm on Slaughter Creek as Clinton and his companions hunted.

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The name Slaughter Creek turned out to have little to do with the day’s events. Clinton, Dingell, Rep. Bill Brewster (D-Okla.), six other men and a hunting dog managed to bag only a single duck during about two hours of hunting in a chilly, 16-degree, duck blind.

“There was only one there. We only shot at one, and we got one,” Clinton said. He and Brewster both shot at the duck, but Brewster was probably the one that hit it, Clinton added.

The day’s events started before dawn, as the President and his party left Washington for the drive across Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore. Along the way, Clinton stopped to buy a $41, three-day, non-residential duck hunting permit, a duck call and ear plugs, aides said. Clinton is slightly deaf in one ear from a hunting accident as a teen-ager, according to his doctors. He borrowed a 12-gauge pump-action Winchester shotgun from Brewster for the occasion.

On arrival at Fruit Hill Farm, the President, clad in blue jeans and a yellow Ducks Unlimited shirt under his camouflage jacket, boarded a pickup truck for the drive to the blind. “This is the first chance I have had to go” hunting, Clinton said, when asked why he had chosen such a cold morning for the outing.

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Later in the day, Clinton headed to Arkansas for a brief family vacation. He plans to accompany his mother, who has been visiting at the White House, back to her home in Hot Springs and to attend a basketball game at the University of Arkansas before heading to Hilton Head, S.C., later in the week for the annual Renaissance Weekend retreat with some U.S. business and political leaders.


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