Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Signing the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996

October 03, 1996

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Attorney General Reno; Secretary Rubin; Secretary Shalala; General McCaffrey; OMB Director Frank Raines; Under Secretary Kelly; our ATF Director, John Magaw; Bonnie Campbell; Bob Scully and the board members of NAPO; to the families who are here represented that were mentioned by the Attorney General who have paid such a great price to serve our country in law enforcement. To the Members of Congress who are here who supported this action in a completely bipartisan way, I thank you for being here: Senator Biden, Senator Graham, Senator Feinstein, Senator John Kerry, Senator Reid, Senator Specter, Senator Wellstone, Congressman Conyers, Congressman Fazio, Congressman Fox, Congressman Frost, Congressman Luther, Congressman Studds. I thank you all for your active support of these initiatives and for your presence here today.

I would like to begin by saluting the brave men and women who are in law enforcement in the United States. Before this ceremony, I had the honor of meeting and presenting the annual Top Cop award to 25 law enforcement officials from around the country who have displayed heroism, devotion to duty, and service to their communities that is truly extraordinary. That service is also on display in every community every day. Our police are at the center of our strategy as a nation for fighting crime, and today I think every American should give them thanks. So I would like to ask all of you to recognize those who have been awarded the Top Cop award behind us. [Applause]

I would also like to say again a special word of thanks to Richard Hagerman and Donna Whitson, to the O'Hara and Alu families, and to Karen Degan and her family for their remarkable work to prove that representative government can still represent, can still actually respond to the legitimate needs and concerns of the citizens of this country.

This is a good day for America because we have seen a change in the attitudes of our people, the actions of communities, and the work in Washington on the problem of crime. Today, after years and years of talking about the crime problem, we can actually see that we can say with a clear heart and a clear mind and absolute conviction to the American people, "There is something you can do about crime." We are getting results, and today we mark the passage of three more laws that further advance our anticrime strategy.

Four years ago, we put in place an anticrime strategy that was both tough and smart. It was eventually embodied in the 1994 crime bill. It has been behind all of our actions over the last 3 1/2 years. We are on track to putting 100,000 new community police officers on the street, people who work with their neighbors to catch criminals, close crack houses, who work with citizens groups, which we have also supported, to prevent crime before it happens.

I am pleased that the budget bill I signed on Monday evening will keep moving forward on our promise to finish putting 100,000 police on the street. We have toughened penalties, made "three strikes and you're out" the law of the land, expanded the death penalty, said to drug dealers who prey on public housing, "One criminal conviction and you are out of public housing." We have said to sexual predators, "The law will follow you wherever you go," and we are working to establish a national registry for sexual predators to make absolutely sure that that is exactly what happens. We are taking guns off the street, banning 19 deadly assault weapons, passing the Brady bill.

And we are giving our young people some things to say yes to as well: expanded antidrug programs in our schools, encouragement to communities to enforce truancy laws, impose community curfews, introduce policies like school uniforms. All of these things will work to give our children a stronger sense of right and wrong and a greater capacity to do what is right.

This strategy, of course, is not ours alone. In fact, I would say to all those here—especially to you, Senator Biden, who helped us write the crime bill of 1994—what we have done in Washington is a reflection of what we have heard from the energy, the determination, and the activities of thousands and thousands of citizens and law enforcement officials all across this country where our police are taking back their streets, enlisting the active support of community watch groups, of parents, of businesses.

For 4 years in a row now, crime has come down in America. Murders are down; rapes are down; robberies are down; drug use is down. The rising tide of juvenile violence, which seemed poised to upend our progress, has finally begun to recede. There are one million fewer crime victims today than there were a year ago. Now we must press on. We must build on this strategy of putting more police on the street and taking criminals, drugs, and guns off the street. That is what these measures we mark today do.

First, earlier this week, Congress answered my call to expand on the proven success of the Brady bill. When our police officers and crime victims were advocating the passage of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban, those who opposed them told the Nation's hunters that Congress would take their guns away. Well, now we know. After 2 years, not a single hunter has been denied a weapon, but 60,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers have been denied guns because of the Brady bill. It was plainly the right thing to do. It has worked.

Until now, the Brady bill has worked to bar felons from buying guns, handguns. Thousands of people, however, who are wifebeaters or child abusers, even those who have wielded weapons in their assaults, could still buy handguns with potentially deadly consequences. There is no more harmful type of violence than this.

In August, I asked Congress to pass an extension of the Brady bill to deny handguns to anyone convicted of domestic violence. I am pleased that the Congress enacted this important domestic violence law as part of the budget bill. It is a very fitting way to begin Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which I am proclaiming today. Now, with a strong voice, America says: If you are convicted of a felony you should not have a gun. If you are a fugitive from the law, you should not have a gun. If you are stalking or harassing women or children, you should not have a gun. And if you raise—and commit an act of violence against your spouse or your child, you should not have a gun. That is now the law of the land.

Second, I am very pleased that in the budget bill Congress passed, more was done to help break the cycle of crime and drugs. Drug dealers with guns and criminals on drugs are central to our crime problem. Up to two-thirds of the adults arrested for felonies today have substance abuse problems. When criminals go on parole and then they go back on drugs, chances are very high that they will commit new crimes. Now, listen to this—I couldn't believe it when I learned this—60 percent—60 percent—of the heroin and cocaine sold in our country is purchased by people on bail, on probation, or on parole. Seventy-five percent of the prisoners with a history of heroin or cocaine use are released without treatment, to go back on drugs within 3 months and back to the cycle of crime and drugs.

Today, States often do not do much to drug test prisoners or parolees or take action to break them of their habit. Last month, I proposed legislation to do something about that. It requires States receiving Federal prison funds to develop comprehensive drug testing and treatment programs for prisoners and parolees. And I am very, very pleased that the Congress passed this legislation. We say to inmates, if you stay on drugs, you have to stay in jail. We say to parolees, if you go back on drugs, then you have to go back to jail. If you want to stay on the street, stay off drugs.

I have asked the Attorney General to issue preliminary guidelines for the States to help them comply with this new law by the end of this year. I am pleased we are not wasting any time.

And again let me thank the Congress for their prompt action on this problem. This has the potential to make a huge difference in the crime problem in America, as well as to liberate a lot of people from a drug abuse habit and enable them to go back to being responsible citizens instead of just being in a revolving door, in and out of prison all their lives.

Finally, I'm pleased that Congress has passed important antidrug legislation that I submitted last spring to deal with methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is a deadly drug that unfortunately is gaining popularity. In 2 years, deaths from this drug have doubled. Currently isolated in geographic pockets, its use now threatens to spread nationwide.

With this legislation we increase penalties for trafficking in meth, toughen the penalties for trafficking in those chemicals used to produce meth, and give the Justice Department authority to regulate and seize those chemicals. I am particularly pleased that we are acting before this epidemic spreads. And I thank General McCaffrey and Attorney General Reno for their urgency in this matter. We have to stop meth before it becomes the crack of the 1990's, and this legislation gives us a chance to do it.

Again, let me say to General McCaffrey a thank-you for your work and for holding two national forums on methamphetamine, one with Senator Feinstein in southern California and one with Senator Kerrey in Nebraska, over the next few months.

All of these new laws will help us fight crime, but we must recognize that more police and tougher penalties cannot fight crime alone. Parents have to teach their children to stay away from drugs and out of gangs and violence. Clergy, business people, educators, all must do their part. We need more citizens out there patrolling the streets, and we are trying to generate another million volunteers to help because we know that these citizen patrols have dramatically reduced crime when they are working with police officers. And all of our young people must decide to assume more personal responsibility to stay off drugs, out of gangs, and away from jail and within the law.

As of today, if you commit an act of violence against your spouse or child, you can't purchase a gun. If you violate your parole and use drugs, you must go back to jail. If you traffic in meth, you must pay a stiff penalty. We are safer because of these actions.

Again, I thank the Congress. And I'm pleased to sign the legislation, and I'd like to ask the Members who are here and the law enforcement officers to come up and be with me.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:23 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Bonnie Campbell, Director, Office of Violence Against Women, Department of Justice; Robert T. Scully, executive director, National Association of Police Organizations; and anticrime legislation advocates Richard Hagerman, Donna Whitson, Joseph Alu, Jr., Jim O'Hara, and Karen Degan. S. 1965, approved October 3, was assigned Public Law No. 104-237. Earlier in the day, the President signed the following additional anticrime legislation: the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments of 1996 (S. 919, Public Law No. 104-235); the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 (S. 1675, Public Law No. 104-236); and the Federal Law Enforcement Dependents Assistance Act of 1996 (S. 2101, Public Law No. 104- 238). The National Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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