WASHINGTON – President Bush, stepping back into the gun-control debate, is renewing his pledge to help communities and states combat gun violence.
Bush was visiting Philadelphia on Monday to highlight his efforts to catch gun offenders. Bush has advocated ``vigorously'' enforcing laws involving gun crimes and said it should be a priority to keep juveniles from obtaining guns.
Underscoring the contentiousness of the issue, a gun-control advocacy group was airing ads urging him to support mandatory background checks for customers at gun shows.
``Felons in 32 states can get guns at gun shows with no questions asked, and resell them on our streets,'' the radio spot says. ``That's why we need a national law requiring background checks at all gun shows.''
The 60-second ad was being run in Philadelphia Monday by Americans for Gun Safety of Rosslyn, Va., founded by Andrew McKelvey, the creator of the Monster.com online job referral service.
The group's mission statement says it ``supports the rights of individuals who own firearms and seeks stronger new laws and tougher enforcement of current laws to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and kids, and to make guns safer in the home.''
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., has proposed requiring a three-day waiting period on gun show purchases, and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., plan to introduce similar legislation.
Bush said during the presidential campaign that he supported closing gun show loopholes.
With Monday's trip to Philadelphia, the president was returning to an issue that was a thorny one for him during last year's campaign. Democratic rival Al Gore appealed to urban and suburban voters by painting Bush as pro-gun. Bush, then the governor of Texas, appealed to his rural base by defending firearm owners' rights.
Bush's proposed 2002 budget includes $49.8 million for states to establish programs for increasing arrests and prosecution of gun offenders.
The budget also contains $75 million in federal matching funds for ChildSafe, which provides law enforcement agencies with kits containing trigger locks and lessons on safe gun storage.
An additional $20 million would provide grants to support state-level prosecutions of gun offenders and establish ``safe school'' task forces involving local police and schools.
The Justice Department's budget request also includes $9 million for a federal-state partnership to prosecute juvenile gun offenders and crack down on illegal gun traffickers selling to children. It creates 94 new positions in U.S. attorneys' offices for a partnership to identify and prosecute juvenile offenders and those who supply guns to them.
Also Monday, Bush was meeting with Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of the city's archdiocese.
Monday's trip was his third to Pennsylvania, a swing state that went narrowly to Gore in November. He travels to the state again on Friday to promote his national energy strategy.