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  Originally cited at http://www.ardemgaz.com/prev/jonesboro/Aaguns09.html

Clinton evokes Jonesboro, urges new lid on guns


WASHINGTON -- Saying that recent school shootings such as the one near Jonesboro have "seared the heart of America," President Clinton on Wednesday urged Congress and the states to tighten restrictions on children's access to guns.
Clinton was joined for the White House announcement by Suzann Wilson, whose 11-year-old daughter, Britthney Varner, was among those killed March 24 at Westside Middle School.
While the president and three other speakers discussed efforts to keep guns out of the hands of children, Wilson's emotional comments made the point most clearly.
"Today is not about the right to bear arms, because I come from a state where hunting is just a tradition," she said, speaking with a soft Southern accent and occasionally crying. "And I don't care how many guns people own.
"But to every gun owner in America, I want to say: Please, please, for the sake of the children, lock up your guns. Don't let your children borrow the gun, or don't let them steal the gun. Be responsible. Don't let your gun become an instrument of murder. Don't let what happened in Jonesboro happen to your town."
Speaking at a noon event moved because of rain from the Rose Garden to the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, Wilson said she was there not to seek sympathy but to deter future tragedies. What happened in Jonesboro, she said, could have been prevented.
"Two children who should never have had unsupervised access to firearms were able to put together a small arsenal," she said, recounting how two boys allegedly broke into a grandfather's home and took rifles and more than 500 rounds of ammunition -- "enough ammunition that day to have totally eliminated that middle school."
Wilson and Clinton endorsed legislation that proponents contend might have prevented the shooting where five people -- students Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson and Britthney, as well as teacher Shannon Wright -- died.
Two Westside students, 12-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, are suspected of setting a false fire alarm, then firing on their classmates and teachers as they filed out of the school building.
"This recent series of killings in our schools has seared the heart of America about as much as anything I can remember in a long, long time," Clinton said, referring to the Westside shootings as well as violence in Mississippi, Kentucky, Oregon and Virginia.
The president expressed his support for a bipartisan Senate bill -- sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I. -- that is intended to encourage adults to store their guns and ammunition safely and separately
Under the measure, adults would be held liable if a loaded gun or a gun stored with ammunition is taken by a child and used to injure or kill that child or another person. The bill would make exceptions for adults whose guns are safely stored or have safety locks, for children who use guns in self-defense, and for gun owners who have no reasonable expectation that a child will be on the premises.
Currently, 15 states have enacted such measures, commonly referred to as "child access prevention" laws.
But groups such as the National Rifle Association oppose the proposed legislation, saying it would be unsound to prescribe a single federal gun-storage standard. The NRA contends that many people keep guns in their homes for protection and that different families have different needs that can't all be addressed by such legislative efforts.
"It's a one-size-fits-all federal mandate," said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. "It's inappropriate; it's heavy-handed."
While Clinton acknowledged that factors such as popular culture and parenting skills likely play a role in youth gun violence, he said the bottom line is that "the combination of children and firearms is deadly."
"We can't shrug our shoulders and say, well, accidents will happen, or some kids are just beyond hope. That is a cop-out," Clinton said. "Instead, every one of us must step up to our responsibility."
That includes gun owners, gun purchasers and gun dealers, the president said. He announced new federal regulations, based on a directive he issued in June 1997, that require gun shops to post signs and issue written warnings regarding handgun possession by children.
While Wilson said she supported such measures, she said her goal was simply "making sure that our children are safe and that the schools are safe."
Wilson was accompanied by her sister, Regina Kaut of Jonesboro. Before the event began, they spent about 15 minutes in the Oval Office with Clinton and several other officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Education Secretary Richard Riley.
Wednesday's event marked the second time Wilson has appeared in Washington calling for measures to toughen firearms laws and protect children from gun violence.

This article was published on Thursday, July 9, 1998

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