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Remarks on the Shooting Death at Theo J. Buell Elementary School in Michigan and an Exchange With Reporters in West Palm Beach

February 29, 2000

The President. I would just like to say how very sorry I am about the shooting death of the first grade student at Buell Elementary School in the Mount Morris community near Flint, Michigan. I know the prayers of America are with the child's family and fellow classmates and all the people of that small community.

I think it is important that today our thoughts be with them. And I don't know, obviously, all the facts; I may not even have as many as you do. But I think this is once again a call to us to do whatever we can to protect our children from this sort of violence and this tragedy. And I'm just very, very sorry, and I wanted to say that.

Gun Safety Legislation

Q. Mr. President, is there anything that can be done to stop tragedies like this?

The President. Well, what I'd like to do, Mark [Mark Knoller, CBS Radio], is make sure I have all the facts before I say that, you know, if we had had one of the laws that we're proposing, it would make a difference. I don't want to—I think today is a day for grieving and regret, sympathy and support for the family and the community and the other kids and the people in that school. This must be an agony for all of them.

But I think that—I do think just generally that we should be really pushing for the child safety locks and even more for the investment in safe gun technology so we can complete this research and see if we can't develop guns that can only be fired by their adult owners.

I think that I'm very troubled. I don't want to comment too much on the facts of this case, but if you get away from this case, as I said when I was inside, just the accidental death rate of our young people from guns is so much higher than any other country that it's clear that we need to keep working on this, and I hope that we will.

Q. You said inside it has been a year since Columbine. Is there anything you can do, a stick you can use to get Congress to move? Are you willing to say, for example, that you would veto Commerce-Justice if it doesn't have the protections you're looking for?

The President. Well, I believe that we will get some action this year, and I wouldn't rule anything in or out. But I don't want to get into the tactics now, except to say that—keep in mind there is a budget—there is a bill in conference, and one of them is pretty good, and one of them is not. We've got to try to get the best bill we can out of conference. And I just hope that everyone will weigh in and try to get this done. It's very important to the future.

Q. You did seem to indicate in your speech inside that this should be an election issue.

The President. Oh, I do believe that. I think the issue of—not this terrible tragedy but the issue of gun safety, I think, definitely should be. We ought to make a decision as a people. That's why we have these elections. And we can do that, you see, without any name-calling or anything. People can just state what their positions are and why, and the American people can make their judgments. But I do think, to me, it ought to be one of the big goals of our country to make America the safest big country in the world, and therefore, is a proper subject of debate in this election. It's nothing but an issue, so there's no need for name-calling or anger or anything else. People should just state what they feel should be done, and the American people can make up their mind who is right.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:48 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to 6year-old Kayla Rolland, who died after she was shot by 6-year-old classmate Dedrick Owens in Mount Morris Township, MI. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Shooting Death at Theo J. Buell Elementary School in Michigan and an Exchange With Reporters in West Palm Beach Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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