President Bush Monday called himself a proud member of the National Rifle Association but said a compromise must be struck on automatic weapons because "we're in a very different time now."
"The country needs to know that there is some answer to this. I don't yet know what it is," he told a group of women state legislators.Later, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters "clearly there's been some evolution of his (Bush's) thinking" on gun control.
Fitzwater also voiced White House concerns over reports that NRA officials had hinted at political repercussions to national drug control director William Bennett if he cracks down too hard on gun sales.
"This is not a time for threatening people, but time to work together," Fitzwater said.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press last week that Bennett had been receiving warnings from the rifle association through third parties hinting that NRA's campaign fund-raising abilities might be used against him if he ever sought political office.
Bush directed Bennett to review the entire issue of semiautomatic weapons. Fitzwater said Monday that the administration would take no further action until that review is complete beyond last week's banning of the import of semiautomatic weapons.
In his talk to women legislators, Bush said: "On the NRA, of which I am a member, a proud member, I believe we can find an accommodation between the legitimate interest of sportsmen and the interests of police chiefs, whose men put their lives on the line every day."
Bush's comments came after a disagreement among senior federal officials over how fast and far the government should go in urging gun manufacturers to follow the example of Colt Industries Inc. and stop non-military sales of semiautomatic assault rifles. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, John Lawn, on Sunday urged an end to such sales, but drug czar Bennett and Attorney General Dick Thornburgh advised caution.