WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) on Monday accused President Bush (search) of ducking his responsibility to protect the country from crime and terrorism by allowing a national assault weapons ban to expire.
Kerry outlined his own $5 billion plan to fight crime and picked up the endorsement of the National Association of Police Organizations (search), a coalition of more than 2,000 police unions and associations.
"Today George Bush made the job of terrorists easier and made the job of America's law enforcement officers harder and that's just plain wrong," the Democratic nominee told a Washington audience.
Kerry said, "George Bush made a choice today. He chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over the police officers and the families he promised to protect."
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that was "another false attack from Senator Kerry." Bush believes the best way to curb gun violence is to enforce laws that are on the books, McClellan said, and he added that violent crime was at a 30-year low.
On CBS' "The Early Show," gun control advocate Sarah Brady said that allowing the ban to lapse was "purely political."
"The real onus fell on President George W. Bush (news - web sites)," she said. "He has exerted absolutely no leadership. We have a president and leadership in the House and Senate that simply do not want to face this."
Brady's husband, Jim, was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on former President Reagan.
Republican leaders in Congress said last week they have no plans to renew the 1994 ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons, even as some law enforcement officials encouraged them to keep the prohibition alive. Bush has said he would sign a renewal, but Democrats say he has made no effort to press Congress to approve one.
McClellan, who spoke aboard Air Force One as Bush flew to a campaign event in Michigan, was asked to name any member of Congress that the president had lobbied on the subject.
"The president's position is well known," McClellan answered. "Congress is well aware of the president's position."
Kerry also faulted Bush for proposing deep cuts to the Community Oriented Policing Services (search) program, known as COPS, which the Massachusetts senator pushed to passage 10 years ago. The program provides grants to state and local agencies to hire police officers. Bush proposed cutting it from $482 million to $97 million next year.
Kerry said renewing the assault weapons ban would not interfere with the Second Amendment (search) rights of gun owners.
"Let me be very clear. I support the Second Amendment. I've been a hunter all my life," Kerry said. "But I don't think we need to make the job of terrorists any easier."
Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said, "Senator Kerry has spent his entire 20-year career in the U.S. Senate fighting against Second Amendment rights."
Kerry outlined a $5 billion, 10-year anti-crime agenda, to be paid for by extension of customs fees already included in numerous pending bills.
To cut crime, he would restore the assault weapons ban and push to:
— Fund the COPS program to the full amount authorized by Congress.
— Ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies get access to the national terrorist lists, and simplify those lists.
— Increase scrutiny of purchases at gun shows.
— Enforce existing gun laws and help U.S. attorneys battle interstate gun trafficking.
— Crack down on gang violence and increase former gang members' access to jobs, job training, school and drug rehabilitation.
— Increase federal aid to local governments fighting methamphetamine (search) and ban bulk purchasing of over-the-counter drugs used to manufacture methamphetamine.
— Hire 5,000 new community prosecutors over five years.
— Expand DNA testing and remove the statute of limitations on some DNA evidence (search).
— Provide money for jobs and technology to improve probation and parole systems.
On Sunday, the Justice Department said the nation's crime rate last year held steady at the lowest levels since the government began surveying crime victims in 1973, the latest in a decade-long trend showing violent crime falling.