Angry Clinton threatens ban on guns: President courts Pacific partners and warns Europe against blocking trade deal

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton has said he may propose a total ban on handguns, and accused Congress of lagging behind the American people in introducing control measures. In the fiercest attack on the gun lobby yet made by a president, Mr Clinton said: 'It's crazy what we have permitted to happen here, literally crazy.'

In a heated interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he promised to introduce strict control measures next year. He also said he is prepared to 'go a long way' to get Congress to pass a five-day waiting period for handgun purchase, known as the Brady Bill, after President Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was shot in the head in 1981.

Mr Clinton rounded angrily on critics who accuse him of backing down on issues. He said: 'I have fought more damn battles for more things here than any president in 20 years, with the possible exception of Reagan's first budget, and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press.'

The outburst was sparked by the suggestion that even Mr Clinton's supporters wanted to know whether there was anything he was 'willing to stand up and die for'. Showing his sensitivity to accusations that he has no rooted principles, Mr Clinton said: 'You get no credit around here for fighting and bleeding and that's why the know- nothings and the do-nothings and the right-wingers always win.'

A draconian crime Bill - extending use of the death penalty and authorising the hiring of 100,000 police officers - was passed yesterday by the Senate. Senators will vote separately on the Brady Bill, which would allow background checks on gun purchasers for five days before they are allowed to take possession of an ordered gun.

Mr Clinton said that one day he may introduce a total handgun ban, and he might have enough popular support to get the measure through Congress. On gun control as a whole he said: 'We know from national surveys that people are way ahead of Congress . . . A number of things are finally galvanising the attention of the American people on this - starting with the killing of the foreign tourists in Florida.'

Guns were used in two thirds of the US's 24,000 murders last year, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says there are 200 million in the country - one for each adult. Recent measures have focused on handguns which in 1992 were used in 10,567 murders, compared with 22 in Britain, 68 in Canada and 10 in Australia.

In a speech last weekend, Mr Clinton said something must be done about the disproportionate impact of violence on the black community. Of the 443 people murdered in the District of Columbia last year - most within 10 minutes' drive of the White House - only 12 were white.

In New York on Tuesday night there were 10 murders and a suicide, a firearm being used in eight of the incidents.

The main gun lobby argument is that Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms and, as guns are so widely available, banning them would not hit criminals but home-owners trying to defend themselves. However, a New England Medical Journal study showed that someone with a gun at home is 43 times more likely to kill, accidentally or on purpose, himself, a family member or friend than to kill an intruder.

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