Remarks Announcing the Anticrime Initiative and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Thank you very much. Mr. Vice President and Attorney General, distinguished Members of the Congress, the law enforcement community, and concerned American citizens. I'm glad to have all of you here in the Rose Garden today for this important announcement. I want to say a special word of appreciation to Senator Biden and to Chairman Brooks, who have worked for a long time to try to get a good crime bill through the United States Congress. I hope today is the beginning of that.
I'm proud to be here with representatives of the Nation's police and prosecutors and States' attorneys general with whom we have worked closely to fashion this bill. And it gives me particular pleasure to be here with some of the brave men and women who risk their lives every day to protect the people of this country and to preserve the law.
The first duty of any government is to try to keep its citizens safe, but clearly too many Americans are not safe today. We no longer have the freedom from fear for all our citizens that is essential to security and to prosperity. The past 4 years have seen 90,000 murders in this country. Last month in this city, our Nation's Capital, in one week 24 murders were committed. When our children must pass through metal detectors to go to school or worry that they'll be the victim of random drive-by shootings when they're playing in the swimming pool in the summertime, when parents are imprisoned in their own apartments behind locked doors, when we can't walk the streets of our cities without fear, we have lost an essential element of our civilization.
Many of you have heard me tell many times over the last year and a half or so of the immigrant worker in the New York hotel who said that if I became President he just wanted me to make his son free. And when I asked him what he meant, he meant that his son couldn't walk to school two blocks without his walking with him, his son couldn't play in the park across the street from their apartment house without his father being there. He said his son was not free.
It's time we put aside the divisions of party and philosophy and put our best efforts to work on a crime plan that will help all the American people and go beyond the cynicism of mere speeches to clear action.
Today I'm proud to be here with the chairs of the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees to announce this plan. The plan is not— it's tough. It is fair. It will put police on the street and criminals in jail. It expands the Federal death penalty to let criminals know that if they are guilty, they will be punished. It lets law-abiding citizens know that we are working to give them the safety they deserve. It is the beginning, just the beginning but a major beginning, of a long-term strategy to make America a more law-abiding, peaceful place and to make Americans more secure and to give our young people, wherever they live, a better chance to grow up, to learn, to function, to work, and to have a decent life.
This bill first addresses the most pressing need in the fight against crime. There simply are not enough police officers on the beat. The plan is designed to make the major downpayment on the pledge that I made in the campaign to put 100,000 police officers on the street. Thirty years ago there were three police officers for every violent crime. Today the ratio is reversed, three crimes for every police officer.
Like so many of the best ideas, community policing was spawned in the laboratories of experimentation on the streets of our cities and towns. Then-commissioner Lee Brown of New York, now my Drug Director, sent some 3,000 additional police officers onto the streets of New York City, launching community policing in every precinct. Then shortly thereafter, for the first time in 36 years, crime rates went down in every major category. It's worked from Boston to St. Louis, to Los Angeles.
The crime bill that will be introduced next month will include $3.4 billion to fund up to 50,000 new police officers to walk the beat. It will also create a police corps to give young people money for college, train them in community policing, and ask them to return to their communities to serve as police officers in return for their education. This will add to the numerous community policing initiatives we have already undertaken. For example, earlier this year I signed a jobs bill that will make $150 million available right away to hire or rehire police officers. And I'm happy to report that the Labor Department will allocate $10 million to retrain newly discharged troops from the United States Armed Forces to become police officers. After defending our freedom abroad, they'll be given a chance to do so at home.
Second, we must end the insanity of being able to buy or sell a handgun more easily than obtaining a driver's license. The Brady bill, which requires a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, is simply common sense. I have said so before Congress and before the American people. It is long past time to pass it. If the Congress will pass it, I will sign it. I believe now that Congress will pass it. There is no conceivable excuse to delay this action one more day.
The effort to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals cannot and should not wait for the passage of this legislation. Today I will sign two Presidential directives that fight gun violence. I am ordering that the rules governing gun dealers be reviewed to make sure that only legitimate gun dealers are in the business of selling guns. And I am ordering the Treasury Department to take the necessary action to suspend the importation of foreign-made assault pistols, which have become the weapons of choice for many gangs and drug dealers. Too many weapons of war are making their way onto our streets and turning our streets into war zones. Let me also say that this effort against crime will not be complete if we do not eliminate assault weapons from our streets. No other nation would tolerate roving gangs stalking the streets better armed than the police officers of a country. Why do we do it? We shouldn't, and we ought to stop it.
Finally, if we are to take back the streets of America from the gangs and the drug dealers, we must do what has not been done before: We must actually enact a crime bill. This legislation will be introduced by Chairmen Biden and Brooks, and it will build upon a lot of good ideas from around the country, including one I worked hard on when I was Governor, community boot camps for young offenders, boot camps which give young people the discipline, the training, the treatment they need for a second chance to build a good life. When it comes to hardened, violent criminals, society has the right to impose the most severe penalties, but I believe we should give young people a chance to make it.
As I said during the campaign and as I said during my tenure as a Governor, I support capital punishment. This legislation will reform procedures by limiting death-row inmates to a single habeas corpus appeal within a 6-month time limit but also guaranteeing them a higher standard of legal representation than many have had in the past. Both elements are important if this is to be genuine reform. And it will provide the death penalty for some Federal offenses, including killing a Federal law enforcement officer.
As I said, this is just the beginning of our efforts to restore the rule of law on our streets. To do this we must work with thousands of law enforcement officials around the country who risk their lives every day. We must work with the mayors, with the Governors; we must work with the people who deal with children before they become criminals. We must have a broad-based assault on the terrible things that are rending the fabric of life for millions of Americans.
But we in Washington must work together, too. For too long, crime has been used as a way to divide Americans with rhetoric. It is time—and I thank the Republican Members of Congress who are here today—it is time to use crime as a way to unite Americans through action. I call on the Democrats and the Republicans together to work with us and with the law enforcement community to craft the best possible crime legislation.
Last week we began to break the gridlock with a new budget and an economic plan. Now we can do so again in ways that unite us as Americans. And I pledge to you my best and strongest efforts to pass this bill at the earliest possible time. There are good things in it. It will make our people safer. It will shore up our police officers. It will move America in the right direction.
May I now introduce the person who has done a great deal to do all those things just in the last few months, our distinguished Attorney General, Janet Reno.
[At this point, Attorney General Janet Reno, Senator Joseph Biden, Representative Jack Brooks, Mississippi attorney general Mike Moore, National Association of District Attorneys president William O'Malley, and Boston, MA, police commissioner William Bratton made brief remarks.]
Meeting With Pope John Paul II
Q. [Inaudible]—your visit with the Pope tomorrow, what you anticipate from it?
The President. [Inaudible]—I'm really very, very excited. I'm looking forward to the visit, and I'm honored that he's come to the United States.
Q. Mr. President, there are all sorts of attempts to water down the Brady bill. Are you one of those purists that Chairman Brooks talked about, or would you consider amendments to water it down?
The President. That bill shouldn't be amended. It's a modest bill, and I think it ought to be passed like it is. We would like to see the Senate go on and do it. I feel very strongly about it. I also associate myself with the other remarks of the Attorney General. I think it's the beginning. It's not the end of the process by any means.
Q. What would you like to see on handguns?
The President. Well, I think extending the ban on imported handguns is important, which I will do today. Then Congress is debating this whole issue of assault weapons generally, broad definition, and we'll see what we can come out with. But you know, there's a bill in the House; there's a bill in the Senate. And I'd like the crime bill to pass, and then I'd like for that to be debated.
Q. Would you do the Brady bill separate?
Q. Yes, would you do the Brady bill separately or as part of the crime——
The President. It's fine with me, whatever— [inaudible]—done. I would prefer to get it as quickly as possible, but I think the important thing is that it be passed in a strong and clear and unambiguous form.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9:43 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. The memorandums on gun dealer licensing and importation of assault pistols are listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Announcing the Anticrime Initiative and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217731