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web posted March 20, 2000

Clinton decries NRA 'smear tactics'

U.S. President Bill Clinton said the National Rifle Association used smear tactics in accusing him of milking political gain from gun violence. He challenged a top official of the group to "look into the eyes" of bereaved parents and repeat the charge.

In a pair of Cleveland appearances on March 13, Clinton accused the NRA of stalling his gun legislation with "slash-and-burn" strategies. And he upped the ante in a dispute that has taken a bitterly personal turn.

A day earlier, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, said Clinton apparently "needs a certain level of violence in this country" to serve his political ends. "He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda and his vice president, too," he added.

Clinton quoted that accusation to his audiences and said: "I would like to see him look into the eyes of little Kayla Rolland's mother and say that; or the parents at Columbine; or Springfield, Oregon; or Jonesboro, Arkansas; or the families of those people that were shot in Memphis."

"I want you to see what we're up against whenever we try to change here," Clinton said.

But LaPierre held his ground, saying it is Clinton who owes the parents of children killed by guns an explanation of why federal gun laws are being so poorly enforced.

"I think he should look them in the eye and explain why he won't enforce the laws against crack dealers with guns and take them off the street," he said in an interview.

Clinton, however, came back with another round of retorts, telling a Chicago fund-raising event the same night that LaPierre's comments were "pretty hard for me to take." "Maybe he's frustrated," Clinton said of LaPierre, adding that he believes the NRA had made killing gun legislation its "main mission in life."

He also tried to make light of the running dispute. "It's amazing to me I get into these tussles with the NRA," Clinton said. As Arkansas governor, "I had a lifetime membership with the NRA. I think it's been revoked."

LaPierre said the 6-year-old boy accused of shooting Kayla Rolland came from a "crack house full of guns and contraband." That, he said, is just the sort of situation the administration has not bothered to prosecute in the past.

"If it's not for a political agenda, they need to say something to the NRA or the American people that makes sense," he said.

Clinton spoke to a Democratic fund-raising event and a group gathered to hear his plans for Medicare drug coverage before going on to Chicago to raise almost $800,000 for the Democratic National Committee at two more events.

The verbal sparring was touched off by a new campaign in which NRA President Charlton Heston implies in television ads that Clinton lied when he characterized the NRA as stubbornly resistant to reasonable gun-control laws.

"When what you say is wrong, that's a mistake," Heston says in several of them. "When you know it's wrong, that's a lie."

Clinton said of the NRA: "We ought not to engage in this kind of political smear tactics."

Vice President Al Gore, campaigning in Miami, said LaPierre's remark betrayed "a kind of sickness at the very heart of the NRA."

"Anyone who has spent time, as I have -- many times -- with the families of the victims of gun violence, and felt the heartache, seen the way gun violence tears families apart, couldn't possibly make such a comment," Gore said. "I call upon him to apologize for those comments to the people of this country."

In response, LaPierre said "Gore needs to apologize to the American public for not enforcing the existing federal firearms laws."

Texas Gov. George Bush, campaigning in Mississippi along with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, shunned the fray and appealed for restraint. "I think we can have a civil discussion on emotional issues without name-calling," Bush said.

Clinton, however, said the NRA statements amounted to a personal attack on him and only served to underscore differences between the parties on gun control, "and America has to choose."

"I'm trying to fire your energy for the coming combat," Clinton told his Democratic audience in Cleveland. "Maybe he really believes this. But if he does, we've got even more trouble than if it's just a horrible political mistake."

LaPierre insisted: "Our gripe is with the policy, not the president."

The gun legislation that Clinton is pursuing would require handgun purchasers to undergo background checks that could take as long as 72 hours. Many congressional Republicans and the NRA want any such checks to be instant, or at least no longer than 24 hours.

Clinton also wants background checks at gun shows, mandatory child-safety locks and an option for states to issue photo licenses to gun buyers.

Branch Davidians seek to drop case against FBI sharpshooter

Branch Davidian sect members claiming wrongful death in the 1993 Waco, Texas, siege asked a federal judge on March 13 to dismiss their case against an FBI sharpshooter.

There is "no credible evidence" that sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi fired shots on the 51-day standoff's final day, lawyers for the Davidians said. Horiuchi is the only named defendant in the civil lawsuit against the government, which goes to trial in mid-May.

The lead counsel for the Davidians said a forensic analysis of spent shell casings found at the sniper outpost occupied by Horiuchi's team indicate the rounds "most likely" were fired by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents during the initial Feb. 28, 1993, gun battle that began the siege.

"Our investigation has determined that, while the FBI was clearly sloppy in gathering evidence following the ATF raid on February 28, there is no credible evidence that Horiuchi or other members of his sniper team fired at Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993," said Michael Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead lawyer.

The Justice Department, representing Horiuchi, offered no immediate comment. But weeks ago, Horiuchi's lawyers filed a motion insisting that not a "shred of evidence" existed that he fired his weapon on April 19.

Horiuchi gained widespread public attention in 1992 when he killed the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver during a standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

Caddell stressed the move to dismiss claims against Horiuchi does not diminish the plaintiffs' view that other FBI agents directed gunfire at the Davidians' retreat during the standoff's final hours.

"This in no way undermines or alters our strong belief that government agents, almost certainly (FBI Hostage Rescue Team) members, directed gunfire at the back of Mount Carmel, from positions that were not observable by the press or the FBI leadership in Washington," Caddell said.

Federal officials insist no civilian or military government personnel fired shots in the waning hours of the Waco siege, when the FBI initiated a tank-and-tear gas operation designed to flush out the Davidians.

Davidian leader David Koresh and about 80 followers died during an inferno that consumed the compound several hours into the operation. Some died from the fire, others from gunshot wounds that federal authorities say were inflicted by the Davidians.

The Davidian plaintiffs contend FBI infrared surveillance footage captured bursts of light that can be nothing other than muzzle blasts directed from government positions into the burning building. The government denies that.

The plaintiffs' theory will be put to the test on March 19 in a court-ordered demonstration at Fort Hood in Texas designed to show whether infrared video technology captures gunfire with bursts of light similar to those that appeared on the 1993 videotape.

Gore, Bush clinch presidential nominations

Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush clinched their presidential nominations in a sweep of Southern primaries on March 14, ensuring a bare-knuckles November matchup that quickly turned contentious.

With both candidates securing delegate majorities needed to lead their parties' tickets, Bush predicted victory in the fall and tried to chain Gore to President Clinton's scandals. "He can't distance himself from the president when, for eight years, he's served as cheerleader-in-chief," the Texas governor told supporters, American and Texas flags serving as a colorful backdrop.

Gore told The Associated Press that voters will soon get "a choice between keeping prosperity going or going back to the Bush-Quayle days of gigantic budget deficits and paralyzed democracy."

Their chief rivals vanquished less than one week before, the Southern sons of political patriarchs racked up huge victories in Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas and Louisiana.

Saying Americans have "caught on" to Gore's political tactics, including questionable fund-raising in 1996, Bush said, "Al Gore can't solve campaign finance problems when he symbolizes them. He can't talk about rebuilding the military when his administration has dismantled our military."

Gore rattled off a laundry list of issues he would address, including education, health care, Social Security, Medicare and the national debt. And he suggested that Bush is beholden to his party's right wing, warning that the Texan would give anti-abortion evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell a "working majority" on the Supreme court.

"This election is a fork in the road. I represent one direction. He represents another," Gore told the AP.

Gore, who once claimed to have invented the Internet, e-mailed Bush and said Democrats won't air TV ads purchased with unlimited, unregulated donations called "soft money" unless Republicans do so first. After expensive primary fights, both parties are planning ad campaigns to help their nominees.

Zhu: China will never allow Taiwan to declare independence

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji says Taiwan will never be allowed to declare independence.

"This is our bottom line, and the will of 1.25 billion Chinese people," Zhu told a press conference on March 15 to end China's 15-day National People's Conference legislative session.

Prior to the election on March 18, Zhu urged Taiwan's electorate to vote with a cool head or risk not getting a second chance.

"Do not just act on impulse at this juncture, which will decide the future course that China and Taiwan will follow, otherwise I'm afraid you won't get another opportunity for regret," Zhu said.

Taiwan's recent stock market volatility was "a clear reflection of the worries of the aggression and arrogance of pro-Taiwan independence forces," Zhu said.

"Whoever stands for 'one China' will get our support. We can have talks with them, and our talks will cover anything," Zhu added, tempering his remarks.

China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, threatened last month in a policy white paper to attack Taiwan if it tries to drag its feet indefinitely over reunification negotiations. China and Taiwan split in 1949 amid a civil war.

The white paper's release prompted strong reaction from around the world, Zhu said, noting people have complained about its contents and voiced dissatisfaction with China's position.

But most people, Zhu said, haven't read the policy paper, which calls for the peaceful reunification of Taiwan and China under the "one country, two systems" concept implemented between China and Hong Kong in 1997 and China and Macau last year.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping several years ago used words similar to those in the white paper to outline China's position on Taiwan.

"But why has there been such a strong reaction?" Zhu asked. He said the reason is that some people have always opposed China, and consistently think of the country as an enemy.

These people, Zhu said, would be happy to see the Taiwan issue drag on indefinitely. There have also been threats of retaliation, possibly armed intervention, against China if it tries to settle the Taiwan issue, he added.

Zhu noted U.S. President Bill Clinton used strong words to deal with the China-Taiwan issue during a recent speech at Johns Hopkins University.

"There must be a shift from threat to dialogue across the Taiwan Strait," Zhu quoted Clinton as saying. He suggested, however, that two words should be changed in Clinton's statement: "There must be a shift from threat to dialogue across the Pacific Ocean."

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