RONALD REAGAN, often portrayed as a macho gunslinger, ended up supporting a number of gun-control measures while in the White House. George Bush's thinking on the subject has yet to evolve. So far Mr. Bush stresses he wants to be the President who ``protects the rights of people to have arms.'' He is concerned about military assault weapons such as the AK-47, he says, but wants to enforce laws already on the books against import of these weapons rather than ban them.
``Whenever there is a crime involving a firearm, there are various groups, some of them quite persuasive in their logic, that think you can ban certain kinds of guns, and I am not in that mode,'' the President said this week. ``I am in the mode of being deeply concerned and would like to be a part of finding a national answer to this problem.''
Gun-control advocates would welcome presidential support on the issue. ``The fact that George Bush and Ronald Reagan are lifetime members of the NRA doesn't make our jobs easier,'' says Eric Ellman, of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns. ``Presidential leadership can contribute to the cause.''
``We would love to have his support,'' says Sarah Brady, who founded Handgun Control Inc. after the assassination attempt on President Reagan and injury to her husband, White House spokesman James Brady. ``But he hasn't focused on the issue yet. ... When he is briefed and looks at a particular piece of legislation it's hard to believe he wouldn't support it.''
Handgun Control Inc. has launched a campaign for a national law to stop the sale of assault weapons. Mrs. Brady recently wrote the President spelling out her legislative plans and voicing hope they could work together on the gun violence problem.
Barbara Bush, for her part, has said that she favors a ban on assault weapons.