THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||July 8, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON CHILDREN AND HANDGUN SAFETY
Old Executive Office Building
12:03 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to begin by thankingSuzanne Wilson for making the long trip up here from Arkansas, withher sister, to be with us today, so soon after that terrible tragedy.Most people wouldn't feel like going out of the house, much lesscoming all the way to Washington, and I think it is a real credit toher and to her devotion to her daughter that she is here today.(Applause.)
I want to thank Colonel Mitchell and Lt. GovernorKathleen Kennedy Townsend, and in his absence, Governor Glendening,for the path-breaking work being done in Maryland on this importantissue. I thank Secretary Rubin and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Magaw forbeing here, and the work the Treasury Department is doing. Thankyou, Secretary Riley, for the work you've done to have zero tolerancefor guns in schools. Thank you, Attorney General Reno, for thesteady work now we have done for six years to try to bring this issueto the American people.
I thank Senator Durbin, Senator Chafee, Senator Kohl,and a special word of thanks to Representative Carolyn McCarthy. Andto all the advocates out here, I welcome you here and I thank you,and especially to the law enforcement officers.
I think that this recent series of killings in ourschools has seared the heart of America about as much as anything Ican remember in a long, long time. I will always personally rememberreceiving the news from Jonesboro because it's a town I know well. Iknow the local officials, I know the school officials. I've spentlarge numbers of days there. I've been in all the schools andanswered the children's questions. And once you know a place likethat, you can't possibly imagine something like this occurring.
But it's happened all over the country. I was inSpringfield, Oregon, as you know, in the last couple of weeks,meeting with the families there. I think every American has sent outprayers to Suzanne and the other parents and the other spouses andpeople who were so wounded by this. But in a fundamental way, ourentire nation has been wounded by these troubled children with theirguns.
As has already been said, these events have been evenmore difficult for us to understand because they're occurring at atime when we've had the lowest crime rate in America in 25 years and,for the first time in a decade, a steady drop in the juvenile crimerate. So we struggle for answers. We say, well, does the popularculture have anything to do with this? Does good parenting haveanything to do with this? And we know that probably everything weconsider has something to do with this. But no matter how youanalyze this, it is clear that the combination of children andfirearms is deadly. As parents, public officials, citizens, wesimply cannot allow easy access to weapons that kill.
For five years now, our administration has worked toprotect our children, and we are making progress, as has been said.A great deal of the credit goes to far-sighted leaders at the citylevel and at the state level -- people like Lt. Governor KathleenKennedy Townsend and Superintendent Mitchell, Governor Glendening.
We're well on our way toward putting 100,000 police onthe street. About a quarter of a million people have not been ableto buy guns in the first place because of the Brady law, because oftheir criminal background or their mental health history. We havebanned several types of assault weapons and have struggled topreserve the integrity of that law against a commercial assault fromimporters.
School security is tighter; anti-gang prevention isbetter; penalties are stronger. We promoted discipline in schoolswith anti-truancy and curfew and school uniform policies, and, invarious ways, they have worked marvelously in many communities. Andwe have a national policy now in all our schools of zero tolerancefor guns in schools. Over 6,000 students with guns were disarmed andsent home last year, doubtless preventing even more terrible acts ofviolence.
But it is not enough if children have access to guns.In Springfield, Oregon, the young man in custody was sent home theday before because he had a gun in the school.
So, yes, our laws must be strong, our enforcementresolute. At home, parents must teach their children the differencebetween right and wrong and lead them away from violence. But recentevents remind us that even if all this is done, it is still too easyfor deadly weapons to wind up in the hands of children -- by intentor by accident -- and then, to lead to tragedy -- by intent or byaccident.
We can't shrug our shoulders and say, well, accidentswill happen, or some kids are just beyond hope. That is a cop-out.Instead, every one of us must step up to our responsibility, thatcertainly includes gun owners, gun purchasers, and gun dealers.Today, we say to them, protecting children is your responsibilitytoo, and there are penalties for the failure to fulfill it.
In response to the directive I issued to Secretary Rubinin June of last year, all federal gun dealers will now be required toissue written warnings and post signs like that one over there. Thesign makes it plain for all to see in simple, direct language, thatit's illegal to sell, deliver or transfer a handgun to a minor,period. From now on, no customer or employee can avoid personalresponsibility by pleading ignorance of the law.
Responsibility at gun shops, of course, must be matchedby responsibility at home. Suzanne talked movingly about that. Gunsare kept in the home for many purposes, from hunting to self-defense.That is every family's right and, as she said more eloquently than I,that is not in question. The real question is every parent'sresponsibility, every adult's responsibility to make sure thatunsupervised children cannot get a hold of the guns. When guns arestored carelessly, children can find them, pick them up, courtdanger. Most will put them back where they found them. Others, aswe know now from hard experience, will touch the trigger by accident;a troubled few will take guns to school with violence in mind.
Too many guns wielded in rage by troubled adolescentscan be traced back to an irresponsible adult. As has been previouslysaid, in Maryland now, and now in 14 other states, parents have alegal responsibility to keep guns locked and out of reach of younghands. That should be the law in all 50 states. There are 35 morethat ought to follow Maryland's lead. It should be the practice inevery home.
There is also a proper federal role in preventingchildren's access to firearms, and Congress should pass a tough,targeted child access prevention law with new penalties to punish themost egregious offenders.
I applaud Senators Chafee and Durbin for theirlegislation, starting us down the road toward making this the law ofthe land. I thank Senator Kohl and Representative McCarthy for theirstrong support. They are doing the right thing. And during the lastdays of this legislative session, this is how we should move forward-- again I say, with progress, not partisanship.
There is much we must do in public life to fulfill ourobligation to our children. More than a year ago, we directed allfederal law enforcement agencies to issue child safety locks tofederal officers so that their guns could not be misused. A majorityof our gun manufacturers have joined us voluntarily in this effort,and that has been successful. I hope all other gun manufacturerswill follow suit.
The real work, of course, must still be done in ourhomes -- beyond law and policy -- to the most basic values ofrespect, right and wrong, conscience and community, and violencerejected in favor of nonviolence and communication. Only parents canremedy what ails children in their heart of hearts. But the rest ofus must do our part to help, and must do our part to contain thepotential for destructive violence when things fail at home.
So I say again, this is an issue that has wounded everyAmerican in one way or the other. Of the four women standing to myright, three have lost members of their immediate family because ofgun violence. All of us have grieved with them. We can do better.This is one big first step.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)