REMARKS DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.
National Association of Attorneys General
May 3, 1999
General Moore, thank you for inviting me to your hometown. My thanks to the National Association of Attorneys General for placing a focus on school safety. Your work demonstrates the leadership role of state attorneys general on the issues which are of paramount concern to this Nation. General Salazar, let me take a special moment to thank you for all that you have done during the past two weeks. Coloradans are lucky to have you serving them. I would also like to commend all of the other members of the Colorado delegation who have traveled here today to share their experiences: Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, My friend Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, Ari Zevaris from Colorado's Department of Public Safety and Troy Ide representing Governor Bill Owen. In your time of crisis, you formed partnerships which should serve as a model for all law enforcement officers around the Nation. President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Attorney General Reno and I are all deeply saddened by the tragedy in Littleton, and we are thankful for the opportunity to continue working with state attorneys general to address the momentous issues that have arisen from this, and other horrendous similar events. Let me start by reading a letter from one of your former colleagues who, I believe, has stayed in public service: READ POTUS LETTER Thirteen days ago -- almost to the minute -- every one of us became transfixed by the unfolding nightmare in Colorado. And then, six days ago almost to the minute I was proud to stand at the White House with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Attorney General Reno and almost 40 Members of Congress. With the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, 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. It may be a long time before we know what really happened at Columbine High School, but of one thing I am certain -- if the offenders at Columbine had not had access to firearms, several 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. It is completely constitutional and appropriate that the President propose the following- none of which we are doing today:
- To require people to wait a few days before they get a gun they have purchased; "cooling period"
- To close the loophole which allows felons, fugitives, people with mental problems and wife beaters to buy guns at gunshows without a background check;
- To prohibit the possession of a firearm by an adult who committed a serious violent offense when he was a juvenile;
- To require folks who own guns to keep them safely locked up.
- To prohibit juveniles -- already prohibited by law from possessing handguns -- 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.
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.The balance is one of reason. 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 hunters and other sportsmen can get the firearms they need to hunt, without giving killers the firearms they need to kill.
Critics of the President's proposals attempt to frighten people about the effect they will have. Well, the Brady Law, which was also bitterly opposed, has been in effect for about five years now. About 250,000 people who should not have had access to guns 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. In the same way, these new proposals are reasonable and narrowly drawn. We know that gun violence is particularly hard on our children- 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 in the 25 other industrialized countries combined. Given these statistics it is imperative that we do all 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 rational firearms practices. 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 kind of efforts that can defuse situations before they become violent. 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 other students. Every one of you has, or should have, a copy of our "Guide to Safe Schools." If you need more copies, you can write to me or find it on the Justice Department's homepage. It 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 back home 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 day 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 well being. At the same time, 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 cry for help of those who are asking. Let me end by repeating the pledge made by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno and I: we will assist Columbine, Littleton, Jefferson County and Colorado in every way that we can. In just about three weeks, Columbine High School will hold its graduation ceremony. Sadly, there will be too few students graduating. There will be a void which 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 that the silver and blue pin many of us have worn symbolizes that we are with them in spirit, that we are ever mindful of the tragedy which 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 endured. No one law, no one program can guarantee violence free schools. 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. We want to work with you to develop all these programs in an attempt to insure that all of this nation's students are free from violence in their schools.