The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Wednesday, July 10, 1996              TAG: 9607100354
SECTION: FRONT                   PAGE: A1   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: RICHMOND                          LENGTH:   71 lines


Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole stepped back from his pledge to push for repeal of the ban on assault-style weapons Tuesday.

Making his fourth Virginia campaign stop, Dole staked out a moderate stance on the emotional issue of gun control by declining to adopt absolutist views on either side. Dole used Virginia's ``Insta-check'' system of conducting background checks on firearm purchasers as a backdrop to propose the system nationwide.

``I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,'' Dole told about 200 invited guests at Virginia's State Police training center. ``But everyone understands that some people must not own guns, either because they have forfeited the right or for a variety of other common-sense reasons.

``There's no good reason why we can't have a system like Virginia's at the federal level.''

Dole used the gathering of government and law enforcement officials to call for a national computer network to check potential firearms purchasers nationwide for felony convictions, dishonorable military discharges or other disqualifiers.

Then Dole seemed to retreat from a promise he made last year to have a repeal of the assault-style weapons ban ``on the president's desk'' by the end of the summer.

``Let's be realistic,'' Dole said. ``Of the 17 weapons that were specifically outlawed, 11 are already back on the market in some other form. We've moved beyond the debate over banning assault weapons. Instead of endlessly debating which guns to ban, we ought to be emphasizing what works.''

Nelson Warfield, Dole's press secretary, later said Dole's remarks meant that repealing the assault weapons ban ``will not be on his agenda and he will focus on what works.'' An example? Virginia's computerized background-check network, which was demonstrated for Dole on Tuesday and has denied the sale of some 10,000 firearms since its implementation seven years ago.

While viewed as a type of gun control - the background-check system would affect the purchase of any type of firearm - Dole's commitment to the system was not likely to pacify his anti-gun critics. Use of the system can exempt states from the five-day waiting period for handgun purchases required in the federal Brady law.

Sarah Brady, who heads a gun-control lobbying group in Washington, countered that Dole's proposal would ``destroy the Brady law, not improve it'' because the waiting period serves as a cooling-off time for would-be criminals.

``When Bob Dole calls for a national instant check system, he is speaking for the National Rifle Association, not for the American people,'' she said in a news release.

But Dole's choice of venue also has been the source of criticism, partly because he turned down an invitation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to address its convention Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.

Dole's campaign issued a statement saying that a ``major scheduling conflict'' kept him from the NAACP. President Clinton is scheduled to speak there today.

``If he wants the support from blacks - Republicans and even Democrats - he's got to show, regardless of how he feels,'' said Sid Nelson, an NAACP member from Charleston, S.C., who is black and votes Republican.

The Virginia event was criticized by Democrats who saw it as a politicization of the State Police. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


GOP presidential hopeful Bob Dole confers with Gov. George F. Allen

during Tuesday's appearance at Virginia's State Police training

center, his fourth campaign stop in Virginia.