Clinton to keep gun buyback program despite GOP objection

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. - President Clinton intends to continue offering federal money to local governments for gun buyback programs, despite a challenge from House Republicans who claim the administration lacks legal authority.

Clinton plans to issue a statement Sunday that pledges continued administration support for gun the federally subsidized buyback programs, White House spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said.

She did not have details of the statement Saturday, but the White House plans to answer congressional critics of the $15 million Buyback America program.

After an overnight visit to his new home north of New York City, Clinton is due to travel to Chicago on Sunday. He is scheduled to address a fund-raising luncheon and the annual meeting of the Association of Trial Lawyers.

Programs in at least 30 cities have been put on hold because of the dispute between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Republican chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees HUD.

Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y, said existing law did not authorize such spending. His position is supported by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The program pays local police and public housing administrators in 70 cities who in turn pay $50 apiece for guns turned in by private owners. The program is almost no-questions-asked, and is intended to get guns off the streets in dangerous neighborhoods.

So far, the 10-month-old program has paid out $3.5 million to buy back more than 17,000 guns. Most of the weapons were destroyed.

The National Rifle Association and gun control opponents in Congress attacked the program as wasteful and potentially dangerous, since it could put cash into criminals' pockets.

Clinton maintains that HUD has clear legal authority to finance the program, which he contends will help prevent ''an untold number of gun accidents, suicides and crimes,'' The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

''Despite HUD's clear authority to carry out this important program, the gun lobby and other opponents of common-sense gun safety measures continue to challenge this initiative,'' the Times quoted Clinton's forthcoming statement as saying.

Walsh told the newspaper that if the buyback program continued, housing officials could be fined or even jailed. But he said he may not seek such penalties.

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