Remarks to United States Attorneys on the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994
Thank you very much, General Reno, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House, and I want to begin by just thanking you, all of you, for the work you did to help us pass the crime bill. It was one of the more interesting and rigorous legislative exercises we've had around here in a long time. I believe that you fought for this crime bill because you knew that there was so much in it that would actually work for this country.
And I'm encouraged as I saw some of the coverage on the crime bill last night that people are finally beginning to look at a lot of the provisions that weren't so hotly debated during the campaign for and against the crime bill that are really going to help us to make a difference to lower the crime rate and make the American people safer. We know that some of these things will work. We have example after example in America that more police, properly deployed in community policing settings, will actually lower the crime rate. We have example after example that if you can figure out how to lock up the repeat offenders and give the first-time folks a chance to build a better life, you can lower the crime rate. We know that if you can keep guns out of the hands of schoolchildren, you can make the schools and the streets safer, you can save a lot of victims, and you can save a lot of potential criminals, too, for a more constructive life.
But the hard work of passing the crime bill, as I said yesterday when I signed it, was only the beginning. It's up to those of us who are charged with executing the laws to roll up our sleeves and put the crime bill to work as quickly as we possibly can.
One of the most important provisions of this crime bill is one which has been largely overlooked, I think, in this debate. I want to discuss it with you today because I think it can make a huge difference. And that is the ban on juvenile possession of handguns. Except when hunting or target shooting with a parent or other responsible adult, young people simply shouldn't be carrying guns. Period. This provision is critical to our ability to make our schools and neighborhoods safer. It is so critical that I am directing you today, each of you, to prepare a plan in your districts for enforcing this law over the next 100 days. We need to work with local law enforcement officials and other local officials as you have been doing.
And I want to compliment all of you and compliment the Attorney General for bringing this group in on a repeated, disciplined basis and working closely with you on policy. And then I want to thank you for the work you've done with State and local officials.
But we have to make this work. If this law turns out to be just a law on the books that is widely ignored and never enforced, it will be a terrible shame, because this law can save our children's lives. This law can make a huge difference, but we obviously have to have a strategy to enforce it, and the means by which it is enforced may not be the same, as a practical matter, in every district in the country. So I want to urge you to do that. By January the 1st, we should have a strategy in every community to get guns out of the hands of violent teens and away from young criminals. Anybody can talk tough on crime; this law gives you a chance to be both tough on criminals and successful in making your community safer. We must—we must—implement it vigorously and promptly.
I also want to discuss the penalties which are in the laws, which are now available to you, to make sure that people who do commit serious crimes are punished, people who commit violent crimes are punished severely, people who repeat their offenses are punished even more severely.
This crime bill gives you the ultimate punishment, capital punishment, for most heinous crimes, including murdering a police officer. It makes it possible to keep repeat violent offenders off the street for good with the so-called "three strikes and you're out" law. It stiffens the penalty for criminals who lure children into the drug trade. And from now on, if you use a child to sell drugs, the penalty will automatically be tripled.
It tells young people that if you commit a serious crime or belong to a gang, you can get more time in jail automatically. It not only helps to protect communities by notifying them of people who have committed crimes which qualify them as sexual predators, but from now on, the penalty for these offenses has doubled. The bill has some remarkable provisions in the violence against women section, which I urge all of you to read, become familiar with, and use. Violence in and around the home is still a terrible problem in this country, and it gives us the tools to do something about it. It has some innovative provisions for boot camps and drug courts, and other innovations which we know have worked to lower the crime rate and to give people the chance to live a safer and more secure life.
These are just some of the examples of what is in the crime bill. Much of America does not know everything that's in the crime bill yet, but many people in the law enforcement community don't know everything that's in the crime bill yet. The penalties for selling drugs to residents of public housing are doubled. There are increased penalties for felons who commit crimes with guns, for criminals who use assault weapons, for those who sell guns to minors.
All of these things have to be implemented in order to work. The most important thing I want to emphasize today is the sweeping ban on handgun possession by minors. If we can enforce this, it will make a massive difference in the problem of youth violence. So let's come back here in 100 days with a plan to do it, and let's start the next year, 1995, with a system in place that will prove that the confidence of the people in this crime bill is not misplaced, and that we are going to lower crime, reduce violence, and increase security in the United States with your leadership.
Thank you very much.
Now I would like to introduce Mary Jo White and Michael Stiles, and they're going to speak, and maybe they'll ask me to do something, since I asked you to do something.
The Attorney General said that's dangerous; they'll ask for money. I've gotten good at saying no to that. [Laughter]
Let me also say, just as I introduce Mary Jo and Michael, because I know they are the leaders of this task force representing you in working with the Attorney General, we have worked very hard here at the White House and in the Justice Department in the appointment of United States Attorneys, in the appointment of Federal judges, and we are proud of the job that we have done because of the job that you are doing and the job you will do. And I want you to know that that is also, to me, a very important part of the President's job, and I spend a great deal of time on it.
So I want to emphasize again, as I ask Mary Jo and Michael to come up here, that one of the things that I have been so pleased about the Attorney General's performance in doing is bringing you here on a regular basis and involving you in a regular way in making the policy of the Justice Department. Because for most Americans, the policy of the Justice Department is not the decisions we make about what appeals to enter into or what position to take on appeals; for most Americans, the policy of the Justice Department is what you do all day every day, and we thank you for that.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:40 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to United States Attorneys on the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/218707