WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Saturday directed federal law enforcement officials to work more closely with local authorities to thwart illegal gun sales and expand the prosecution of criminals who use guns.
Seated by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, two police chiefs and other officials, Clinton said in his weekly radio address that the Justice and Treasury departments would report to him with "a plan to reduce gun violence by applying proven local strategies to fight gun crime nationwide."
As an example, he cited a program run by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and federal prosecutors in Richmond, Va. "Project Exile" uses federal laws to deny bail to gun offenders.
Homicides involving guns dropped in Richmond by 41% between mid-1997 and mid-1998, Clinton said. Richmond's police chief, Jerry Oliver, attended Clinton's address, as did Chief Robert Olsen of Minneapolis.
"Guns have magnified the malevolence of crime," Clinton said, adding that disarming criminals remained his top crime-fighting priority.
But Wayne Lapierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Assn., who also voiced support for "Project Exile," rejected the president's approach.
"What has magnified the level of crime is the fact that we are not doing the most common-sense thing at all, which is confronting criminals directly and [taking] them off the street," Lapierre said.
Lapierre accused Clinton of introducing the measures to fend off expected criticism of his administration's gun-crime prosecution record at a Senate hearing Monday.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Friday that the hearing would examine firearms prosecutions.