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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on Public Safety in the District of Columbia.

July 03, 1968

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

When crime's lengthening shadow falls on the Nation's Capital, it touches not only the citizens who live and work here--it reaches out to every American.

Unique in the life of the Nation, Washington is the only local community for which the Federal Government bears a special and direct responsibility. But the problems of crime in the District are not unique. They are the problems of any county, city or community in America:

--Police that must be better trained, equipped and paid.

--Court systems that must be modernized and correctional institutions that must be revitalized.

--Guns that must be kept out of criminal or irresponsible hands.

At the national level we have moved to strengthen the network of local law enforcement. With the Safe Streets Act, large scale federal aid is now available--for the first time--to help States and cities and the District plan and carry out comprehensive anticrime campaigns.

In the first major gun control step in over three decades, the Safe Streets Act outlaws the deadly mail order traffic in pistols and handguns and their sales to minors. Now the Congress should extend the protection of sane and sensible gun control laws to every citizen by:

--Banning the interstate sales of rifles and shotguns and ammunition, as I requested on June 6.

--Requiring nationwide registration of all firearms and the licensing of all those who possess guns, as I requested on June 24.

But in the exercise of responsibility for the Nation's Capital, the Nation can rightfully expect the Congress to do more--to make Washington a showcase of safety and security for all the people.

Washington's policemen are among the Nation's finest. In the critical hours of unrest and violence which gripped the city they performed the most difficult missions with great skill. But their ranks must be enlarged and their numbers reinforced. On May 27 I asked the Congress to add--on an urgent basis--1,000 more police officers to the force, increasing the authorized strength by about one-third.

I am today submitting a Fiscal 1969 amendment to the D.C. budget in the amount of $11.5 million to help pay for these needed police reinforcements in the Nation's Capital.

I urge the Congress to develop a sound and responsible financial formula for this program so that the 1,000 new policemen can be recruited, trained, equipped and deployed into the neighborhoods and streets as swiftly as possible.

A larger police force will help us attack crime wherever and whenever it strikes-and will help to prevent crime before it strikes.

It is clear, however, that in the District of Columbia effective crime control requires effective gun control--strong, complete and comprehensive. But the laws in the Nation's Capital are woefully weak:

--They cover only handguns, not rifles or shotguns.

--The handgun law coverage is inadequate, allowing many irresponsible persons to own these small but deadly weapons.

Washington's gun control laws invite evasion and circumvention. They must be tightened and toughened.

I have recommended strong gun control laws for the Nation's Capital each year for the past four years. Each year the Congress has failed to act. Each year crimes at gunpoint have increased.

In 1965, when I called for the registration of all pistols "as the first step," there were 1,786 major crimes--murders, robberies, serious assaults--involving deadly weapons. The Congress did not act in 1965.

In 1966, when I again proposed that law, major crimes at gunpoint increased to 1,850. The Congress did not act that year.

In 1967, when I called for more effective gun control legislation, crimes at gunpoint had risen to 2,479. Still the Congress did not act.

In early 1968, I again renewed my recommendations for District gun control legislation. Although crimes at gunpoint are still rising, the Congress has still not taken action.

The need for strong gun control laws in the Nation's Capital is imperative and it is urgent.

Part of that need can be met by the action of municipal groups, and they are moving now to carry out their responsibilities:

--The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, composed of representatives of the District of Columbia and neighboring cities and counties, has unanimously recommended a strong uniform gun-control ordinance.

--The City Council of the District of Columbia has been holding hearings to strengthen gun control regulations for Washington.

But the D.C. City Council is constrained by legislation enacted at the turn of the century and during the days of Prohibition-legislation which has lost its relevance to the problems of modern life. The Council, for example, is now restricted in the penalty it can set for gun law violations: in most cases only a maximum $300 fine and no more than a token jail sentence. These penalties are far too low. They will remove the teeth from any attempt at effective gun control.

The City Council--within the full reach of its power--will continue to pursue its efforts to develop strong and effective gun control regulations. But it is clear that those powers must now be strengthened.

I recommend enactment of legislation to strengthen the authority of the D.C. City Council to issue gun control regulations that will effectively protect the safety of the entire community--with penalties far stronger than prescribed by existing law.

In this letter, I have submitted two concrete and critical proposals to help increase public safety in the District.

As I have repeatedly emphasized--and as I stated in signing the Safe Streets Act ten days ago: "Crime will never yield to demagogic lament--only to action."

Today--again--I call upon the Congress to take that action for the Nation's Capital.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

In another letter to Speaker McCormack on the same day the President recommended a budget amendment to provide funds for increased police protection in the District of Columbia. The text is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 1052).

The funds requested were included in the District of Columbia Appropriation Act of 1969, approved on August 10, 1968, as Public Law 90-473 (82 Stat. 694).

The recommended legislation to strengthen the authority of the District of Columbia Council to issue gun control regulations was not enacted during the 90th Congress.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on Public Safety in the District of Columbia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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