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Bush wants review of bullet tracing system

Administration appears to shift position

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush wants a review of a proposed national tracking system to trace bullets.
President Bush wants a review of a proposed national tracking system to trace bullets.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has asked firearms officials to conduct a review of a proposed national tracking system to trace bullets, a senior administration official told CNN Wednesday -- one day after President Bush's spokesman strongly suggested the administration was opposed to such a system.

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, said the president wanted the issue to be explored. White House aides conveyed the request to officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday afternoon.

At that meeting, White House aides asked firearms experts to look into the technological and feasibility issues of such a system and to determine if it would be an effective tool in fighting crime, said Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary.

"The administration wanted to learn more about this and decided to have... people look into it," McClellan said.

McClellan could not say how long it would take for firearms experts to conduct the review, and said federal officials would look at states such as Maryland and New York that already have programs in place.

The move appeared to represent a shift from the Bush administration's position, communicated by Fleischer during a Tuesday briefing. The Bush spokesman seemed to signal that Bush could not support such a system, saying the president had questions about the accuracy of such a system and had concerns about privacy issues.

Fleischer also questioned whether new laws could actually stop a serial sniper like the person or persons terrorizing the Washington area.

"New laws don't stop people like this," Flesicher said Tuesday. "When it comes to criminal behavior and people who use guns to commit murder, there's no amount of laws that's going to stop these people from committing these depraved crimes. The issues is morality. The issue is their values."

Fleischer denied any suggestion he was leaving the impression that such a system was a non-starter with the president, and said he stressed that the president believed the issue needs to be explored.

The Bush spokesman said he knew of the meeting between White House aides and firearms officials, but did not reveal it to reporters because of a standard practice of not discussing staff-level meetings.

McClellan disputed any suggestion that the White House was softening its position, arguing that Fleischer indicated the need to explore the issue and determine if it is effective in fighting crime.

The move does come as momentum builds for a national tracking system with the sniper at loose in the Washington area.

A proposed bill in the House of Representatives would call for the "fingerprinting" of guns to be kept in a national law enforcement data base. The goal of the program would be to help investigators who find a shell casing at a crime scene trace that bullet back to the gun owner.

The National Rifle Association is vigorously opposed to such a system, arguing it would infringe on the rights of gun owners.

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