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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Gun control hits US election agenda

By the BBC's Gordon Corera

Gun control is gathering pace as an issue in this US election year.

On America's Mothers' Day - 14 May - a "million mom march" descends on Washington DC to call for tighter restrictions on guns.

Mothers from 67 communities around the country will turn out to draw attention to a subject which already has a higher profile than in previous elections - and where public opinion leads, politicians are sure to follow.

On Friday, President Clinton appeared on national television to meet women concerned about guns in the US.

Trigger locks

A tearful mother broke down in front of the president as she showed him the death certificate showing gunshot as the cause of her son's death.

Bill Clinton: frustration
Mr Clinton expressed his frustration at the failure to get significant gun control legislation through Congress in the year since the US's worst school shooting at Columbine, Colorado.

A key moment in this presidential election campaign came when a video surfaced which showed a vice-president of the National Rifle Administration (NRA) saying that, if Republican candidate George W Bush won the presidency in November, the NRA would "have a president, where we work out of their office".

Democratic candidate Al Gore, as well as handgun control groups, seized on the remark and pointed to Mr Bush's pro-gun record in Texas, where he is state governor.

This record includes signing a bill that allowed Texans to carry concealed weapons, and another preventing Texas cities from suing gun manufacturers.

While Mr Gore favours changes to the existing gun control regime, the Bush agenda is close to the NRA line, which calls for greater enforcement of existing laws rather than any new restrictions.

In advance of the "million mom march", however, Mr Bush has announced a programme to distribute free trigger locks for handguns.

Public opinion

It is not yet clear which candidate will benefit most from the gun control debate.

the capitol
Washington prepares for marching moms
In the past, the pro-gun forces have been better organised and more passionate and made their presence felt - particularly in Congressional elections.

Non-Americans are often surprised at how many US citizens actually own guns - and how many people support gun ownership.

Statistics show that there are about 220 million guns in private hands, and one in three households has a gun.

This year though - thanks to the number of recent high-profile shootings, and the action of the mothers - those calling for more gun control may be getting the upper hand and making more of an impact.

A recent poll by the Pew Center found that, when asked what was more important - gun owner's rights or gun control - 57% said gun restrictions and 38% said gun owner's rights.

Interestingly, there was a sharp gender divide with 67% of women saying restrictions were more important, compared with 28% who said gun rights took higher priority.

This compares to a much closer 49% to 46% divide amongst men.

As Mr Clinton said at his meeting with the mothers, the problem for those favouring gun control is "changing the voting behaviour of the American public" so that a candidate's position on guns becomes a key determinant of whether people vote for them.

In 2000, there are signs that this may at last happen.

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20 Apr 00 | Americas
One year after Columbine
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