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Remarks on Action by the House of Representatives on Legislation To Ban Assault Weapons and an Exchange With Reporters

May 05, 1994

The President. This afternoon, the House of Representatives rose to the occasion and stood up for the national interest. Two hundred and sixteen Members stood up for our police, our children, and for safety on our streets. They stood up against the madness that we have come to see when criminals and terrorists have legal access to assault weapons and then find themselves better armed than police, putting more and more people in increasing danger of their lives.

The 19 assault weapons banned by this proposal are deadly, dangerous weapons. They were designed for one purpose only, to kill people. And as long as violent criminals have easy access to them, they will continue to be used to kill people. We as a nation are determined to turn that around.

In the last year there has been a sea change in the crime debate. To be sure, there is still a national consensus in support of the rights of hunters and sportsmen to keep and bear their arms. And as long as I am President, those rights will continue to be protected. But we have also overcome the partisanship and the rhetoric that has divided us too long and kept us from our responsibilities to provide for law and order, to protect the peace and safety of ordinary Americans.

We have come together in the belief that more police, more prisons, tougher sentences, and better prevention together can make our neighborhoods safer, our streets, our schools, and our homes more secure.

This legislation passed today now becomes part of a larger strategy to fight crime, to make the American people safer. That's what the elected mayors and Governors want without regard to party. That's what every major police organization wants, representing people who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. And most importantly, that is what the American people want, the right to be safe and secure without having their freedoms taken away by criminals or by an unresponsive or unreasoning National Government.

I want to especially thank Congressman Schumer for the tenacity, the determination that he demonstrated in leading this fight for so long in the House. And I want to thank every Member of the House of Representatives in both parties who voted for this bill today, and in so doing, demonstrated extraordinary courage in the face of extraordinary political pressure to walk away.

I want to thank our remarkable Cabinet led by the Attorney General and by Secretary Bentsen who worked so hard for the passage of this legislation. I want to thank the band of stalwart workers here in the White House, in our Congressional Liaison Office and elsewhere, and especially I want to recognize Karen Hancox and Rahm Emanuel who never gave up and always believed we could win this fight.

Let me conclude by reminding all of you that Americans are not divided by party or section or philosophy on their deep yearning and determination to be safer. And so I close by extending the hand of friendship to our friends on both sides of the aisle and both sides of this issue. In particular, to Chairman Jack Brooks whose leadership is going to bring us the toughest and most significant anticrime bill ever passed by the United States Congress. Let us go back to work until our work is finished.

Thank you very much.

Assault Weapons

Q. Mr. President, how much difference did your lobbying make, sir, do you think? How much difference did your personal lobbying make, did you think? And when did you know that you had it, if it was before the vote itself?

The President. Well, it's hard for me to know how much difference my personal lobbying made. I made dozens of phone calls. I finished my phone calls last night at midnight, and I started again this morning. And I continued up to the very end.

To be candid, I never did know we were going to win. I don't think we ever knew for sure how this was going to come out. I had an instinct right at the beginning of the vote when I spoke with Congressman Carr.

The hunters and sportsmen of this country and the National Rifle Association itself never had a better friend in the Congress than him. And he decided to vote for this measure because he thought it was the right thing to do. And after I hung up the phone—that was right at the beginning of the vote, I think—I said, "You know, we just might pull this off." But I didn't know before then.


Q. Mr. President, there was a very broad subpoena served in the White House today which might raise a number of questions for you. How will you decide whether to assert executive or lawyer-client privilege on things that might be very private, such as notes to you from Vince Foster or from you to Vince Foster?

The President. I don't know. I don't know anything about it. I've been working on this all day. I have no knowledge of it.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:40 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Action by the House of Representatives on Legislation To Ban Assault Weapons and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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