President Bush is considering declaring a national crime emergency and plans to propose a combination of prison construction, a crackdown on criminal gun-users and wider use of the death penalty to cope with lawlessness, it was reported Thursday.
But Bush has not yet resolved a deep split within his administration on the sensitive issue of how, or even whether, to regulate assault weapons as part of the effort, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing government sources.The crime package, shaped principally by Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Roger B. Porter, White House domestic policy adviser, is scheduled to be unveiled by the president on Monday at a peace officers memorial ceremony on the Capital steps.
However, administration officials, noting that announcement of the package already has been postponed, repeatedly pointed out that Bush has yet to sign off on some key elements and that it could be delayed again.
Bush's crime message, said one source familiar with the plan, will declare that the public is endangered by burdensome procedural requirements protecting defendants in criminal cases and will call for greater emphasis on the public's right to safety and the need for certain punishment for hard-core offenders, the Times said.
Among the gun-control provisions being weighed is a five-year ban on sale of a firearm to anyone convicted of even a misdemeanor that carries a six-month jail term.
Currently, federal law bars only convicted felons from owning firearms. A sentencing policy change in the plan would mandate firm minimum prison terms for those convicted of crimes involving firearms, the administration sources said.
Prison reform planks will concentrate on easing overcrowding at institutions to allow more convicts to be incarcerated. The measures will include setting up temporary confinement areas and longer-term efforts to build several new regional prisons.
The proposals are featured in a draft program labeled "the National Crime Emergency Act," in the final stages of White House review. It has been so closely held that major enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have not yet been briefed on its contents, the Times said.
The proposed broadening of the range of crimes subject to the death penalty is said to focus on repeated serious offenders who use firearms in their crimes. It would expand on measures enacted last year by Congress, which authorized the death penalty in murders committed by drug kingpins and for the murder of police officers in the course of drug-related crimes.
The administration also is expected to make another effort to ease the "exclusionary rule" that bars admission in criminal trials of evidence seized in improper searches.