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Republicans Friday opened a drive to repeal Democratic gun control laws with a hearing featuring crime victims who defended themselves with rifles and handguns.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., have promised to push this year for a reversal of a ban on 19 assault weapons in a crime bill passed last year when Democrats controlled Congress.

"Violent criminals have been ignoring gun control laws. Those who feel the need to defend themselves deserve our support," Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the House Crime Subcommittee, said at the hearing.

But Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a leading gun control advocate, called the hearings a "circus," saying, "This hearing is a smoke screen for the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby. This is the first step toward repealing the Brady law and the assault weapons ban.

"Does anyone really believe that giving every American an Uzi will make our streets safer?"

The Brady law, named for former White House Press Secretary James Brady, requires a five-day waiting period to buy handguns so background checks can be made on purchasers. McCollum said he had no plans to try to repeal that law.

The witnesses all said their lives were saved because they had guns and urged Congress to repeal laws restricting gun or ammunition ownership by law-abiding Americans.

"I am convinced that this gun saved my life," said Sharon Ramboz of Walkersville, Md., who frightened away an intruder in her house with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

"I want my kids to have protection," she said.

Gary Baker, who survived a shoot-out with two armed robbers at his jeweler store in Richmond, Va., said, "It's important that crime victims like myself have the opportunity to choose the firearm that is best suited for our self-defense needs."

The two robbers were killed in the gun battle last December with Baker and his employees.

David Joo, a South Korean immigrant, said he and other co-workers at a gun store in Los Angeles fired over 200 rounds defending themselves from rioters in 1992.

"The only thing that stopped them from robbing us and burning down our stores was knowing that we were armed and prepared to stop them with whatever it took," Joo said.

Among those testifying in favor of gun controls was Susan White-Bowden, whose husband and teen-age son both committed suicide with guns in their home.

"There is no such thing as a safe home for children with guns in that home," Ms. White-Bowden said.

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