Bush Walks a Fine Line in his Get-Tough Talk on Gun Violence

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Gun violence is a plague on American society, and it must be stopped.

It sounds like a typical speech by a gun-control advocate, but itís actually the latest get-tough-but-not-too-tough stance at the Bush White House.

Monday, the President traveled to Philadelphia, where he attended a ceremony for promoted police officers with Democratic Mayor John Street. He used the occasion to pledge federal dollars for the increased enforcement of existing gun laws.

The federal government, Bush announced, will contribute $550 million to pay new U.S. district attorneys and local and state prosecutors. Itís a hefty promise, but, as the White House itself pointed out after some prodding, it actually increases exiting law enforcement funding by only about $154 million — the other $400 million is already in the system.

Itís a safe call: Bush knows that heís not stepping on any toes by promoting law enforcement — especially because heís actually placing the onus of actual enforcement on state and local officials. Not coincidentally, heís also not ruffling the feathers of the powerful National Rifle Association, a key backer. "This package is part of what Bush promised during his presidential campaign, says Robert Spitzer, professor of political science at SUNY Cortland. "It also happens to be the NRAís agenda."

The inflated figures, the timing of the announcement — itís all part of a carefully choreographed political dance, says Spitzer. "Itís no coincidence Bush made this announcement the day after Motherís Day, and on the first anniversary of the Million Mom March," Spitzer told TIME.com. "The administration is obviously trying to get out front of the issue a bit by not seeming totally reactive."

It may also be designed to avoid criticism that he backed away from campaign promises. During run for president, Bush called repeatedly for lawmakers to close the loopholes in current background check legislation; he has not mentioned the topic since taking office — despite calls from bipartisan committees to do so.

And given that the NRA is scheduled to hold its annual meeting Friday, the President may have decided now was not the time to call for more radical measures. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain seem to have decided exactly the opposite; they are expected to introduce legislation closing gun show loopholes later this week.