Good morning. Today I want to talk with you about the next important steps we can take to rid our streets of gun violence and to make our communities even safer for our families. I'm proud to be joined today in the Oval Office by Attorney General Janet Reno, Treasury Under Secretary Jim Johnson, ATF Director John Magaw, Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, Police Chief Jerry Oliver of Richmond, and Chief Robert Olson of Minneapolis, Congressman Anthony Weiner, as well as four of our United States attorneys who are leading this fight across America.
Over the last 6 years we've worked hard to fight crime, putting in place a strategy of more prevention, stricter enforcement, tougher punishment. We funded more than 92,000 police officers for 11,000 communities, taken more criminals and deadly assault weapons off the street, and with Brady background checks, stopped more than a quarter of a million handguns from falling into the hands of convicted felons and other prohibited persons.
As a result, the crime rate has dropped by more than 20 percent, to the lowest level in a generation. Gun crimes have declined by more than 25 percent. Gun murders have fallen by a third. Slowly but surely, neighborhoods once abandoned at the crack of gunfire and the wail of ambulance sirens are coming alive with the sounds of children playing freely in the streets.
This is indeed encouraging news. But we must do more. In 1997, 14,000 people were murdered by guns. While the numbers are declining, any child caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout, or a police officer struck down by a criminal's bullet, or a store clerk murdered in a robbery is one tragedy too many.
That is why today I'm directing Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Attorney General Reno to use every available tool to increase the prosecution of gun criminals and shut down illegal gun markets. I'm asking them to work closely with local, State, and Federal law enforcement officials and to report back to me with a plan to reduce gun violence by applying proven local strategies to fight gun crime nationwide.
Look at what Federal prosecutors and the ATF are doing in Richmond, Virginia, in an effort they call Project Exile. Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey, Project Exile has used the threat of tough Federal statutes— statutes that require stiff sentences and deny bail to offenders—to reduce gun crime and take serious gun criminals off the street. And gun murders are down in Richmond by a remarkable 41 percent.
My balanced budget will help to hire more Federal prosecutors and ATF agents so we can crack down on even more gun criminals and illegal gun trafficking all across America.
After 6 years of hard work, America is winning the war against crime. But we're a long way from declaring victory. We must keep even more guns from falling into the wrong hands by requiring background checks at gun shows and banning violent juvenile offenders from owning guns for life. And I ask you to support our 21st century policing initiative to give law enforcement the manpower, the high-tech tools, and the prevention strategies they need to keep us safe.
Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress have proposed a budget that would dramatically cut back our investment in community policing, just when we're trying to increase it. That would be a big mistake. We must move forward in our fight for safer streets and safer families.
Over the years, the proliferation of guns in our streets, of criminals packing pistols instead of switchblades, have made crime deadlier than ever. Guns have magnified the malevolence of crime. That is why disarming criminals has been and must continue to be a top crime-fighting priority. Let none of us rest until every American is safe from gun violence.
Thanks for listening.