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"Put the Brakes on Youth Crime"

Conference on Strategies to End Youth Violence

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

May 14, 1999

Congresswoman Clayton, thank you for inviting me to participate in this conference to explore strategies to end youth violence. Your work on this issue, and so many other law enforcement issues, demonstrates your strong commitment to public safety interests, and your leadership role in exploring ways to reduce youth violence.

Just a few weeks ago, every one of us became transfixed by the unfolding nightmare in Littleton, Colorado. Several days later, President Clinton announced a series of proposals designed to preserve the legitimate needs of firearms owners while protecting the American public from the scourge of gun violence. The President's proposals received the support of both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, who are themselves concerned about the escalating gun violence among our young people.

It may be a long time before we know what really happened at Columbine High School and the other places touched by tragic violence, but of one thing I am certain -- if the offenders at Columbine had not had access to firearms, twelve other students and one teacher would be alive today. Others would be walking and looking forward to their graduation, not confronting the specter of life in a wheelchair.

That is why it is our duty to assure that the laws of this Nation are changed, not so that legitimate hunters can't hunt, but so that we don't let the pretense of "bearing arms" allow would-be murderers to assemble arsenals at their will. Reducing access to guns is one way in which we can reduce youth violence.

It is completely constitutional:

  1. To require people to wait a few days before they pick up a gun they have purchased;
  2. To close the loophole which allows felons, fugitives and wife beaters to buy guns at gunshows without a background check;
  3. To prohibit the possession of a firearm by an adult who has committed a violent felony as a juvenile
  4. To require folks who own guns to keep them safely locked up.
  5. To prohibit juveniles -- already prohibited by law from possessing handguns -- from possessing assault weapons; and to move the age at which they can possess guns to twenty one
  6. To limit adults to one handgun purchase a month;
  7. And, to hold parents accountable when they recklessly leave firearms lying around and their children use those guns to commit acts of violence.

Our Constitution is a balanced document:

  1. Our Constitution guarantees all of us the right to travel freely, yet we are all searched at a security checkpoint every time we fly; This is how we should view the reasonable regulations the President has proposed. Yes, getting a gun will be marginally more difficult for the legitimate buyer but that is a small price to pay to save the lives of others.

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

It is a sad reality of the times in which we live that we focus on problems after they occur, not before. What would we all give not to be here with Columbine on our mind?

And so, it is not enough that we bring about rational firearms practices. Our children are our responsibility. To stop youth violence they need our attention. And we all need to be on the lookout for the early warning signs of violence. Every one of you should have a copy of our "Guide to Safe Schools"


If you need more copies, it is on the Justice Department's homepage and can be reached by clicking on the flashing banner at the center of the page. I encourage you to make certain that every community leader here has a copy and that they give out copies in turn.

If you read this Guide, you will see that this is not about stigmatizing young people, it is about knowing the difference between a young person who may be having a difficult time dealing with adolescence and a young person who is crying out for help. If a student breaks his leg on the 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 health.

At the same time, I urge restraint. Let us be certain that we do not label every young person who is having a bad day 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 cry for help from those who are asking. We need to be ready not only when problems do occur but before they occur.

This past Monday, a summit was held in the White House t on "Children, Violence, and Responsibility". It was attended by a cross section of America, including law enforcement officials, educators, members of congress, young people and even representatives of gun manufacturers, all of whom agree that more must be done to address issues of youth violence. This administration stands committed to identifying a broad array of federal resources to commit to the prevention of youth violence before it starts. We are committed to strengthening the Safe and Drug Free Schools programs to ensure that schools adopt rigorous and comprehensive safety plans, and we will continue to explore further measures designed to protect our children. We must be prepared to spend money on, and time with, our nation's children. We must develop effective prevention programs that will keep our children away from violence but also not be hesitant to punish those who commit violent acts. It is only through this combination - prevention and enforcement- that we will resolve the problem of youth violence.

I thank you again, Congresswoman Clayton, for stepping forward to address these challenging problems and for your commitment to finding effective ways to end youth violence. Your leadership on this issue will make a positive contribution to the future of America's young people.

Thank you.