President Clinton applauded the success of the Brady gun-control law Sunday in keeping guns out of the wrong hands but said the law should be expanded to bar violent juveniles from owning guns for life.

"By keeping guns out of the hands of criminals - and putting more police in our communities - we have helped cut the crime rate to its lowest point in a generation," Clinton said in a statement released by the White House.The Brady law has stopped felons, fugitives and drug addicts from buying 242,000 handguns since it took effect in 1994, 69,000 of them in 1997 alone, the Justice Department said Sunday.

Clinton said the survey proved background checks of handgun buyers were working.

"Since its passage, law enforcement officials have stopped hundreds of thou-sands of felons, fugitives and stalkers from buying handguns every year," he said.

But Clinton said the law, which took effect in February 1994, should bar violent juveniles from owning guns for life.

"I call on Congress once again to pass this needed, common-sense legislation," Clinton said.

The law was named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Its passage triggered a political battle and strong opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association lobby.

In a bitter defeat for Clinton and gun-control advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1997 struck down a provision in the 1993 law requiring that local sheriffs conduct background checks for any record of crimes, mental illness, drug use or other disqualifying problems.

However, the ruling did not affect a provision in the law requiring a five-day waiting period for purchases pending a background check or an instant check.

Since the high court decision, background checks have continued on a voluntary basis.Of 2.6 million handgun applications, the Justice Department said 2.7 percent, or 69,000, were rejected in 1997.

Sixty-two percent of those rejected had been convicted of a felony or were under felony in-dict-ment. Domestic violence mis-de-meanor convictions accounted for more than 9 percent of rejections; domestic violence protection orders about 2 percent.

The FBI received 3.9 million inquiries in 1997 to its National Crime Information Center about people applying to carry or purchase a firearm, according to the report.

From its inception through the end of 1997, more than 10 million applications have been processed, resulting in 242,000 rejections, the Justice Department said.

Beginning November 1998, background checks will be required for all firearms - not just handguns - purchased from federally licensed dealers.

According to statistics compiled by Brady's organization, Handgun Control, the United States has the highest rate of gun-related violence in the developed world, with 9,390 handgun deaths in 1996, com-pared with 211 in Germany, 30 in Great Britain and 15 in Japan.