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Remarks on the Report on Commerce in Firearms and an Exchange With Reporters

February 04, 2000

The President. Good morning. Before I leave to go up to the Hill, I'd like to say a few words about an important new report I've just received on how guns flow from the legal firearms market to criminals and to talk about the unprecedented new actions that we're taking to block that flow.

Keeping guns out of the wrong hands has been a priority for 7 years for us, and we have made some real progress with the Brady law, with the ban on assault weapons, cracking down on illegal gun dealing to young people, with increased Federal prosecutions of gun crimes, and beginning with the directive I issued in 1993, we have nearly quadrupled the number of traces that the ATF performs on guns used in crimes.

With the help of these and other efforts, we've cut gun crime by 35 percent since 1993, and homicide is at its lowest rate in over 30 years. But as I said last week in The State of the Union, no one believes America is safe enough, and it's time we set the proper goal to make our Nation the safest big country in the world.

We can do that by building on our progress and applying lessons learned. Some crucial lessons are captured in this ground breaking new report by ATF, the most comprehensive look at the firearm industry ever done by the National Government. Thanks to its increased tracing of crime guns, the ATF has been able to uncover an astonishing fact: Only one percent of the gun dealers in America sell over 57 percent of the guns used in crime. These findings confirm a pattern that Senator Chuck Schumer has talked about for several months, and I want to thank him for his leadership on this issue.

In response to the findings in this report, I'm pleased to announce today that we're beginning the most aggressive effort ever undertaken to ensure responsible behavior by gun dealers. Dealers whose guns most frequently wind up in criminals' hands will now be subject to intense scrutiny by ATF. All dealers will be required to do a more thorough job of reporting gun thefts. In a moment, Secretary Summers, in a briefing, will explain to you how these and other actions will work in more detail.

The tragic shooting last year in Columbine High School showed us what happens when guns fall into the wrong hands. The actions I've announced today will enable the Federal Government to do a better job in fulfilling our responsibility to reduce gun violence.

Others have responsibilities, too. The gun industry must do its part. As I've said before, there are responsible citizens in that industry, manufacturers and dealers. They can help us to keep the guns out of the wrong hands. And Congress must fulfill its responsibility as well.

As its first order of business this year, I've asked Congress to pass commonsense gun safety legislation to close the gun show loophole, to require safety locks with all new handguns, to ban the importation of large capacity ammunition clips. And again, I repeat my call from the State of the Union that all new handgun buyers be required to have photo licenses from their States showing they passed the Brady background check and a gun safety course.

Congress has a responsibility, too, to provide law enforcement agencies, including the ATF, with the authority and resources they need to do their jobs. Under current law, ATF can only inspect a gun dealer, no matter how flagrant the problems are—and as I said, one percent of the dealers provide 57 percent of the guns used in crime—under current law, ATF is only permitted to inspect such dealerships once a year.

Today I ask Congress, as I did last year, to remove this restriction, allow ATF to make up to three unannounced visits per year. I also ask Congress to fund my plan to hire 1,000 more Federal and local gun prosecutors, more ATF agents and inspectors to crack down on these illegal gun traffickers and violent gun criminals. And finally, I ask Congress to provide law enforcement with the tools to trace every gun and every bullet used in every crime in America.

When 12 children are dying every day in America because of gun violence, however, we can't wait for congressional action. That's why I'm taking the actions that I have announced today. We've seen the progress we can make when Americans at every level, from neighborhoods to local police departments, to State and Federal Government, take responsibility for fighting crime. Working together, we've brought crime down for 7 straight years. We can keep going until America is the safest big country in the world.

I want to again say how grateful I am to the people who are here: Secretary Summers; Treasury Under Secretary for Enforcement Jim Johnson; our ATF Director, Brad Buckles. And as I said, Secretary Summers will talk in the briefing room in more detail after I leave.

Unemployment Rate

Let me just say one final thing before I go. I want to comment on the fact that we have just learned that unemployment last month fell to 4.0 percent, the lowest in three decades. Since 1993, our economy has now created nearly 21 million jobs. Today, strong employment numbers confirm, once and for all, that this is the longest economic expansion in our history.

The milestone is a credit to the American people, to their hard work. It also clearly highlights the need for us to stay on the path of fiscal discipline, overseas markets, investment in our people, that got us to this point. And I thank you very much.


Q. [Inaudible]—call the U.S. Ambassador from Austria or take any other specific measures, now that the government includes the Freedom Party?

The President. I have to go up to the Hill. Secretary Albright is going to have an announcement on that today, in just a couple of hours.

Northern Ireland Peace Process

Q. [Inaudible]—Northern Ireland, sir? Any updates on the situation there?

Q. The process is once again in a crisis.

The President. Let me just say again—I may have more to say about that in the next couple of days—it is at a very pivotal moment, as all of you have reported. We are working very hard on that. I have spent a lot of time on it; our whole team has.

I think that right now, the less we say publicly, the better. We are working intensely on this. It is imperative that everybody live up to the requirements of the Good Friday accord, which was overwhelmingly adopted by the people of Northern Ireland in both communities. And everybody that's an actor here needs to follow the will of the people. We're working on it.

Q. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. on the South Grounds at the White House, prior to his departure for the Senate Democratic caucus issues conference at the Library of Congress.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Report on Commerce in Firearms and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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