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Congress, Bush Unlikely to Back New Gun Curbs

Politics: Any drive stemming from the Santee shootings faces a president opposed to stricter limits and a GOP-controlled Capitol Hill.


WASHINGTON — In the nation's capital, reactions to the school shooting in the San Diego suburb of Santee on Monday followed what has become a familiar script.

There were official words of solace to the victims. There were pledges to campaign against youth violence. And, inevitably, there was a renewed call from some quarters for stricter gun laws.

But even among gun control advocates, the bottom line was unmistakable: Prospects are slim that a Republican-controlled Congress and White House will enact new limits.

"It will be difficult at best," said Laura Nichols, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who is a staunch gun control advocate.

"Interest always gets renewed when a school shooting happens," Nichols said. But gun control advocates "are probably not going to get what they hope for from this Congress," she added.

President Bush, in remarks to reporters at the White House, called the shooting "a disgraceful act of cowardice" and extended condolences to "the parents and the teachers and the children whose lives have been completely turned upside-down right now."

Asked what as president he could do, if anything, to stop children from shooting one another, Bush replied: "All of us, all adults in society, can teach children right from wrong, can explain . . . that life is precious. All of us must be mindful of . . . the fact that some people may decide to act out their aggressions or their pain and hurt on somebody else."

In discussing gun control in the past, Bush generally has discounted the need for stricter laws. He has called instead for tougher federal enforcement of existing regulations, such as those banning juvenile possession of handguns.

The shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado almost two years ago had produced surprising momentum in Congress for new restrictions on gun use and sales. Such measures would have been the first significant gun control legislation passed since Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections.

The Senate, aided by the tiebreaking vote of then-Vice President Al Gore, approved a measure that would have cracked down on unchecked sales at gun shows. But the measure failed in the House, and House-Senate negotiations aimed at producing a compromise died.

As a political matter, the gun issue lost steam during last year's presidential election despite a major march against gun violence on Mother's Day in Washington and other marches elsewhere.

As the campaign progressed, Gore discussed gun control as his race with Bush increasingly focused on swing states where there was no voter consensus on the issue.

One strong opponent of gun control is Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), whose district includes the site of Monday's carnage. In 1999, Hunter proposed a measure to relax the strict gun control law in the District of Columbia, arguing that the capital's residents deserved to be able to keep handguns at home for their defense.

On Monday, Hunter released a statement lamenting the violence at Santana High School.

"Now is the time for all of us to pray for the victims, their families, and our community," Hunter said. "Our community is strong, full of people with good hearts, who will pull together to get through this tragedy and be available to those who need help."

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