Good morning. In these first fall days of the new millennium, America is basking in the glow of unprecedented prosperity, with the longest economic expansion in history. But we're not just better off; we're more hopeful, more united, and more secure.
Last year the overall crime rate fell for the eighth consecutive year, the longest continuous drop in crime on record, giving us the lowest crime rate in 27 years. Since 1993, gun violence alone has declined by more than 35 percent. But none of us believes America is as safe as it should be, and none of us should be satisfied until America is the safest big Nation in the world.
This morning I want to talk about new ways we're harnessing the power of technology to catch more gun criminals and keep guns out of the wrong hands. Recently, we saw stark evidence that the Internet is fast becoming a new outlet for illegal gun sales. This past May, two teenagers, using a forged Federal firearms license, were able to order guns over the Internet for delivery to their home in Montclair, New Jersey. Because they used a forged license, there was no scrutiny, no background check, no questions asked. It was only because of the actions of a suspicious UPS delivery man that this scheme was thwarted.
Unfortunately, the Internet, despite all its benefits, is making it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands. There are now 4,000 firearm sales-related sites on the Internet, and there are 80 sites where you can actually buy a gun at auction. Clearly, we must do more to ensure that every sale over the Internet is legal and that no one uses the anonymity of cyberspace to evade our Nation's gun laws.
That's why today I'm announcing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is launching a new website, called EZ CHECK, to prevent criminals and juveniles from using fraudulent licenses to buy firearms. The system, linked to the ATF website, allows licensed gun dealers to quickly verify that licenses presented to them for purchase or shipment of guns are valid. In addition, the ATF is proposing new measures to require gun sellers to verify licenses and report individuals who use invalid ones.
By making it easier to check the validity of gun licenses, we'll make it harder for guns to fall into the wrong hands and give law enforcement and the gun industry a new tool to put a stop to illegal sales.
EZ CHECK is a part of our comprehensive strategy to strengthen gun laws and better enforce those already on the books. In 1993 we passed the Brady law, which has kept more than half a million felons, fugitives, and domestic abusers from buying firearms. In 1994 we passed an historic crime bill, which has funded more than 100,000 additional community police officers around the Nation. The bill also toughened penalties and banned assault weapons.
Meanwhile, gun prosecutions have been rising. Federal firearms prosecutions have increased 16 percent since 1992, and the average sentence has gone up by 2 years. Since this strategy is working, it's quite curious to me that those who argue for more enforcement over new gun safety legislation are, nevertheless, refusing to fund key elements of our $280 million gun enforcement initiative, including funds for an additional 1,000 gun prosecutors. So I ask this Congress, don't just talk about strong enforcement; give us the tools to do the job.
I'm also calling on Congress to help prevent gun crimes from happening in the first place by passing our long-overdue commonsense gun safety measures, requiring background checks at gun shows, mandating child safety locks for handguns, and banning the importation of large capacity ammunition clips.
We must begin this new century by abandoning the stale debate from the last one about whether it's better to strengthen gun laws or enforce existing ones. The ATF's new EZ CHECK system, combined with our unprecedented enforcement budget and our strong commonsense gun safety proposals, will do both. They'll be a major step forward in our efforts to crack down on gun criminals and save lives.
Our current prosperity gives us the chance to focus on the big challenges of the new century. Making America the safest big country in the world is a challenge big enough to be worthy of our attention and one we must meet for the sake of our future and our children.
Thanks for listening.