Clinton says gun control no 'political bonanza'
June 20, 1999
COLOGNE, Germany (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton said Sunday he was seeking a "safer America" -- not a "political bonanza" -- when he pushed for House legislation that would have required three days for background checks at gun shows.
In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Late Edition on Sunday, Clinton cheered progress on the Kosovo peace plan, discussed first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's possible run for Senate seat from New York and critiqued campaign announcements by Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.
But the House gun debate was still fresh with the president, who lamented Friday's defeat of a bill that would have required background checks for the purchase of firearms at gun shows.
"No one seriously questions, after the experience of the last five years of the Brady bill, that if we close the gun show and flea market loophole, that there will be fewer improper sales and it will make America safer at minimum disruption to people who buy and sell guns and use them lawfully," he said.
"I didn't want a political bonanza, I wanted a safer America, and our party didn't seek political points on this," Clinton said.
Moments before a final vote on the gun bill, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment from Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, that would have allowed three days for background checks at gun shows. Then the House passed a National Rifle Association-backed amendment sponsored by Michigan Democrat John Dingell that would limit the waiting period to one day.
Democrats, upset that the bill had been weakened by an amendment from one of their own, comprised a majority of the no vote on the final gun bill.
The debate on gun control took center stage on Capitol Hill following the attack at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two months ago.
Investigators believe the guns used in the attack, which left 15 people dead, may have been purchased at gun shows. They ended up in the hands of two students at the school, police said.
On the subject of Kosovo, Clinton said that Yugoslav troops' withdrawal from the Yugoslav province marked a good day, and that Russia's role in peacekeeping efforts there is acceptable to NATO.
"It's a very happy day," Clinton said, referring to the Yugoslav pullout. NATO formally ended its 11-week air war against Yugoslavia on Sunday.
"We have about 20,000 of our NATO peacekeepers in there. Sixty-two thousand of the Kosovars have already come home. So I feel very good about where we're going with this now, and I'm leaving here with real confidence that we are going to succeed in achieving all of our objectives," Clinton said.
After meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsinon the last day of the G-8 summit, Clinton said he was satisfied with Russia's role at the airport in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.
Originally planned as a staging ground for NATO peacekeepers, the airport was unexpectedly taken over by Russian troops last week.
"The division of labor they've worked out at the airport is quite acceptable to us and guarantees that the mission can go forward," Clinton said. He did not elaborate.
The U.S. president downplayed reports of Yeltsin's poor health.
"His behavior was neither erratic or shaky today. He was strong, clear, forceful and looking to the future," Clinton said.
Discussing the 2000 presidential election, Clinton praised Republican George W. Bush's campaign announcement last week. But he said the issues will decide how well Bush does against Gore on the Democratic side.
"We've got to see where he stands on the issues," Clinton said. "So far we know almost nothing of that except what we know from his record as governor."
"His announcement speech was very well-crafted. But on the specifics, I just don't know. I mean, for example, he said nothing about this gun battle going on in the House. He signed a concealed weapons bill in the Texas legislature. That's just one example."
Clinton was more effusive in his praise of Gore, who he said presented a good mix of experience and the future.
"All elections are about tomorrow," Clinton said. "So if you've been a good vice president or a good governor of Texas, for the voters at election time, that's only valuable if it's evidence that you'll do good tomorrow. They hire you, they give a check every two weeks to do a good job, so I think the most important thing he did was to talk about his 'future vision.'"
On Hillary Rodham Clinton's possible run for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, Clinton said reports that the first lady planned to move out of the White House in the fall were untrue. He said he would be "enthusiastically supportive" if she runs.
Asked what was ahead for his personal life after he leaves office, Clinton said he would continue to work on issues he cares about, such as getting young people involved in public service and promoting racial and religious harmony.
"It's too early to quit work, and I'm not good enough to go on the senior golf tour, so I expect I'll have to just go on doing what I'm doing."
Yugoslav military presence in Kosovo drawing to a close
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