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Gonzales Backs Assault Weapons Ban

Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales (search) told the Senate on Tuesday that he supports extending the expired federal assault weapons ban (search).

Gonzales also said he wants Congress to get rid of a requirement that would eliminate part of the Patriot Act this year, despite complaints that it is too intrusive.

"I believe the USA PATRIOT Act (search) has greatly improved our nation's ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks," Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee in written answers to questions left over from his confirmation hearing.

Gonzales, who served as President Bush's lawyer during his first term, is expected to be confirmed when the Senate returns after Bush's inauguration on Jan. 20. He would be the nation's first Hispanic attorney general and replace John Ashcroft.

Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed Gonzales for written answers to several of their questions during his daylong confirmation hearing. Those answers were delivered on Tuesday to the committee, which planned a Wednesday meeting to consider nominations.

Congress let the 10-year-old assault weapons ban expire in September. The measure outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons, banned certain features on firearms such as bayonet mounts, and limited ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.

Gonzales pointed out that his brother Tony is a SWAT (search) officer in Houston.

"I worry about his safety and the types of weapons he will confront on the street," Gonzales said. "The president has made it clear that he stands ready to sign a reauthorization of the federal assault weapons ban if it is sent to him by Congress. I, of course, support the president on this issue."

Antigun groups criticized Bush during the presidential campaign for failing to press for an extension of the ban.

Gonzales also said he supports the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 law that expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

More than a dozen provisions of the law are set to expire by late October 2005 unless renewed by Congress. These include authority for judges to issue search warrants that apply nationwide, authority for FBI and criminal investigators to share information about terrorism cases, and the FBI's power to obtain records in terrorism-related cases from businesses and other entities, including libraries.

"I believe the sunsets that apply to several provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act should be repealed," Gonzales said.

Opponents have called the law intrusive and contend that letting the FBI (search) get library records undermines civil liberties and threatens to let the government snoop into the reading habits of innocent Americans.

Gonzales says people have misunderstood what parts of the Patriot Act does. "I am unaware of abuses under the USA PATRIOT Act," he said. "For this reason, I welcome an honest and real debate."

Gonzales said he is willing to consider tempering that part of the law.

The statute says business and library records must be "sought for" a terrorism investigation. Opponents have claimed that means the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court -- the secret court that approves surveillance and wiretaps for espionage and terrorism cases -- had no choice about whether to grant the subpoena.

"I would be happy for the statute to be amended to state the investigators may ask the FISA court for an order requesting the production of documents 'relevant to' an ongoing foreign intelligence investigation," Gonzales said.