Clinton Fires Warning Shots to Gun Makers

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Still fuming over the failure of gun control legislation to pass through Congress this summer, President Clinton has decided to take a page from the states' anti-tobacco playbook. The White House announced Tuesday that, along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would sue gun manufacturers on behalf on HUD tenants. HUD chief exec Andrew Cuomo hit the morning TV news circuit Wednesday to say that his agency is riding shotgun on the suit because public housing residents are the principal victims of gun violence, both in terms of shootings and the climate of fear they live in.

The move covers the same legal ground that the states' attorneys general used in suing Big Tobacco to recover Medicare costs. In recent months Clinton's even evoked that old quadruped, Joe Camel, in attacking gun ads that promote crime-friendly features like fingerprint-proof handles. But the White House isn't necessarily after gun manufacturers' wallets. "While a big money settlement like the one with tobacco would be nice," notes TIME senior political writer Adam Cohen, "I think the President really wants behavioral control." That includes manufacturing safer guns, such as "smart guns," which can only be fired by their owners. With this kind of pressure coming to bear, the gunmakers' best shot at minimizing the damage may be to swallow hard and take a seat at the bargaining table.