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The President's Radio Address

March 04, 2000

Good morning. Today I want to speak with you about the senseless and heartbreaking gun violence that has shaken our Nation once again.

Yesterday, the community of Mount Morris Township, Michigan, held memorial services for a beautiful little girl who was shot to death in her first-grade classroom on Tuesday. Kayla Rolland was only 6 years old. When she walked to school with her older brother and sister, her backpack looked almost as big as she was, but she loved to carry books and read. In the words of her grandmother, she was a bright light who lit up everything wherever she went.

The community of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, was also devastated this week. On Wednesday, a gunman unloaded his fury and a .22 caliber revolver in a busy commercial center. Five men were killed or grievously wounded, including a young college student and a man who served his community as a priest for 23 years.

These tragedies were not isolated events. From Littleton to Fort Worth, Paducah to Pearl, gun violence has stolen the lives of young and old alike. It has desecrated churches and classrooms and day-care centers. It's kept parents up at night and made schoolchildren afraid to get on the bus in the morning.

Every day, gunfire takes the lives of a dozen children in America. One University of New Hampshire survey showed that 60 percent of 15-year-olds said they could get hold of an unlocked gun. If you look just at the accidental gun deaths among children under 15, the rate in the United States is 9 times higher than in the other 25 industrial countries combined. This is intolerable, and we must act, because we can do something about it.

Last year, with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Gore, the Senate passed a juvenile crime bill that would go a long way toward strengthening our gun laws, requiring child safety locks, banning large ammunition clips, and closing the gun show background check loophole. The House passed a much weaker bill. And for the past 8 months, the leaders in Congress have simply failed to get together to complete a final bill for me to sign.

I've called on congressional leaders to join me at the White House on Tuesday to break that logjam. In that meeting I'll insist that they get the job done. I want Congress to send me a final bill that closes the loophole that allows criminals to buy firearms at gun shows, bans the importation of high capacity ammunition clips, holds adults accountable when they allow young people to get their hands on deadly guns, and requires child safety locks for all new handguns, the kind of locks that would have prevented a first grader from taking Kayla Rolland's life.

I'll also ask for support on three other vital measures: to develop smart guns that can only be fired by the adults who own them; to require that new handgun buyers first get a photo license showing they passed the Brady background check and a gun safety course; and to hire 1,000 new gun prosecutors. Gun crime prosecutions already are up 16 percent since I took office, but we should do more.

In a country of 270 million people, no law can stop every act of gun violence. But we can't just throw up our hands as if gun safety laws don't make a difference. We all have a responsibility to do our part, parents, community leaders, members of the gun industry, and yes, Members of Congress, too.

When we passed the Brady bill, people argued it wouldn't make any difference because criminals don't buy guns at gun stores, they said. But it turned out a lot of them did. Brady background checks have now blocked gun purchases by 500,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers. And gun crime is down by more than 35 percent since 1993.

The only reason Congress hasn't already sent me a bill with comprehensive gun safety provisions is because of the pressure tactics and the threats of the NRA. In fact, the NRA now is launching a $20 million campaign to target and to defeat Members of Congress who support responsible gun safety laws. But when first graders shoot first graders, it's time for Congress to be guided by their hearts and their heads, not by a fear or the pressure tactics of the NRA.

It's time for all of us to make our voices heard in the Halls of Congress. The very least we can do to honor the memory of little Kayla Rolland and all the other tragic victims of gun violence is to pass sensible gun safety legislation right now.

Thanks for listening.

NOTE: The address was recorded at 1:05 p.m. on March 3 in the Los Gatos Room at the Silicon Valley Conference Center at Novell Headquarters, San Jose, CA, for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on March 4. The transcript was made available by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 3 but was embargoed for release until the broadcast.

William J. Clinton, The President's Radio Address Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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