WASHINGTON — – President Clinton, lamenting that 13 children are killed by guns every day in America, said Thursday he will seek a meeting with congressional leaders next week to "break the logjam" on legislation to require gun safety locks.
"We need the public aroused on this," Clinton said.
He said Congress has not passed the legislation because of "the heat the NRA (National Rifle Association) has put on them."
The president was interviewed on NBC's Today show in the wake of the fatal shooting Tuesday of a 6-year-old girl by a classmate in Michigan. A day later, a gunman killed two people and critically wounded three others in Wilkinsburg, Pa.
The president said America's gun death rate has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years but still is the highest of any major country. He said 13 children die from guns every day and that the United States has a higher child gun death rate than the next 24 biggest countries combined.
Clinton is seeking legislation that would require safety locks on guns, ban the import of large-capacity ammunition clips and require background checks before buying a weapon at gun shows. The House and Senate have passed separate versions of the bill but have not come together on a compromise.
The president also is proposing a system of photo IDs for gun owners and said he does not oppose the idea of licensing guns, although he said that poses logistical problems because there are upwards of 200 million guns in the United States.
"I'm not sure if practically we could get all the guns licensed," he said.
Complaining that Congress has not acted for eight months on stricter gun control, the president said, "I don't think most Americans have any idea what a stranglehold the NRA has had on this Congress. ... The reason they can't act is the heat the NRA has put on them."
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said Clinton could have had an NRA-backed bill last year that would have required safety locks, instant gun-show checks and other provisions. But he said Clinton insisted on restrictions that even some key Democrats revolted against.
"It's being marketed as a safety-lock bill and gun-show-check bill when actually what it is is a phone-book volume of federal regulation that only hits the law abiding, not the criminal," LaPierre said. "That's our problem with it."
Furthermore, he said gun manufacturers already are providing safety locks. "All you're doing is codifying existing practices," LaPierre said. "Its all just politics. It has nothing, in my opinion, to do with making America safer and that's sad."
The president also is asking Congress for money for research on smart-gun technology that would allow guns to be fired only by their adult owners.
"I'm going to call the leaders of both parties in both houses and ask them to come down here and break the logjam," the president said. "There's been a House version and a Senate version of this bill for eight months and they have done nothing. Meanwhile, 13 kids every day, every single day, there are 13 children who die from guns in this country. So I do think we need more legislation."