Monday, May 3, 1999

Transcribed from the audio recording for:



ROOM 1228




MR. HOLDER: -- to weapons, but so that we don't let the pretense of bearing arms allow would-be murderers to assemble arsenals at their will. It is completely constitutional and appropriate that the President proposed the following, none of which we are doing today:

First, to require people to wait a few days before they get a gun when they have purchased one, a cooling period, 3 days;

Second, to close the loophole which allows felons, fugitives, people with mental problems, and wife-beaters to buy guns and gun shows without a background check being performed;

To prohibit the possession of a firearm by an adult who committed a serious violent offense when that person was a juvenile;

To require folks who own guns to keep them safely locked up;

To prohibit juveniles already prohibited by law from possessing hand guns from possessing assault weapons;

To limit adults to one handgun purchase a month, and to hold parents liable when they recklessly leave firearms lying around and their children use those guns to commit acts of violence.

Now, our Constitution is a balanced document, and guarantees us the right to travel freely, yet we can and should be made to go through a security checkpoint every time we fly. I did that today. Balance is one of the reasons.

President Clinton certainly understands this. He grew up in Arkansas and he hunted all of his life. He knows that hunting can be a passion for many, but he also knows that hunters and other sportsmen can get the firearms they need to hunt without giving killers the firearms that they need to kill.

Critics of the President's proposals attempt to frighten people about the effect that they will have. Well, the Brady law, which was also bitterly opposed, has now been in effect for almost 5 years. About 250,000 people who should not have had access to weapons have been turned away by federally licensed firearms dealers when they tried to make a purchase, and yet the universe has not really changed for those Americans who want to obtain a firearm and who do not come within the tightly constructed prohibitions of the law, and in the same way, these new proposals are reasonable and narrowly drawn.

We know also that gun violence is particularly hard on our children. Listen to some of these statistics. Every day, 13 die of gun injuries, and 33 more are seriously injured. Though we have made great progress in recent years, the firearms homicide rate for children under 15 in America is 12 times higher than that of the other 25 industrialized countries in the world combined. Given these statistics, it is imperative that we do all that we can to protect our children, this Nation's future, from gun violence.

Again, the President's new proposals are designed to do exactly that, but it is not enough that we bring about a rational firearms policy. Our children are our responsibility. We all need to be on the lookout for the early warning signs of violence. It is very obvious that it was not only access to guns that led to the Littleton tragedy. The hate that filled the hearts of the killers was almost as lethal as the guns that filled their hands.

We must develop and support strong prevention activities in our schools. Conflict resolution programs are examples of the kinds of efforts that can diffuse situations before they become violent ones.

Now, in this regard, an ability to recognize the early warning signs for violence by young people is one that must be present in teachers, parents, administrators, and in other students as well. Every one of them has, or should have, I hope, a copy of our Guide to Safe Schools, Early Warning, Timely Response.

It is something that we put together with the Department of Education, and we sent out, I guess, 200,000 copies so far. We are in the process of printing another 150,000 of them, and it talks about these early warning signs, things that we should recognize.

If you need more copies, you can write to me at the Justice Department, or if you are computer literate, and I don't profess to be that, you can find it on the Justice Department's home page, and if you click on the flashing banner at the center of the page, you will miraculously somehow get one sent to you. That's what they tell me. I encourage you to download it, get copies of it from us, make copies of it back home, and make sure that every community leader in your community has a copy of it, and that they, in turn, circulate this document.

If you read the guide, you will see that it is not about stigmatizing young people. It is about knowing the difference between a young person who may be having a difficult day, and a young person who is crying out for help.

If a student breaks his leg on a soccer field, who would not get that athlete to the hospital for treatment? We must do the same for the young person who develops a problem which impacts his mental well-being. At the same time, and I really want to emphasize this, I urge restraint.

Let us be certain that we do not label every young person who is dealing with varying degrees of success with the problems of adolescence as a potential murderer. Let us be certain that we do not look for signs of danger in every piece of clothing, but let us also not ignore the silent cries for help that too many young people are making.

Let me end by repeating the pledge by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and the Attorney General. We will assist Columbine, Littleton, Jefferson County, and Colorado in every way that we can. In just about 3 weeks, Columbine will hold its graduation ceremony. Sadly, there will be too few students graduating. There will be a void which quite clearly will be impossible to fill, but I want every young person who graduates on that day and every other student who returns to Columbine in the fall to know that America supports them, and I am sure you would agree.

The silver and blue pin that many of us have been wearing symbolizes that we are with them in spirit, and that we are ever mindful of the tragedy that they have endured, and that we wish them the gifts of hope and healing in the days, weeks, and years to come.

At the same time, we must recognize that only through the use of comprehensive effort will we ever be able to minimize the chance that other schools will face what Columbine has been forced to endure. No one law, and no one program can guarantee violence-free schools. We must admit that.

And yet, taken together, well-designed and adequately funded prevention, intervention, and enforcement programs can keep to a minimum the chances that we will experience more of these tragic school-based incidents. Now, we want to work with you to develop all of these programs in an attempt to ensure that all of this Nation's students are free from violence in their schools.

Thank you very much.


(End of speech.)