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The President's Radio Address

November 07, 1998

Good morning. This week the American people sent a clear message to Washington that we must put politics aside and take real action on the real challenges facing our Nation: saving Social Security for the 21st century, passing a Patients' Bill of Rights, strengthening our schools by finishing the job of hiring 100,000 teachers, and passing my plan to build or modernize 5,000 schools across our country.

Over the past 6 years, we have taken real action to address another important challenge, making our communities safe for our families.

For too long it seemed that rising crime was a frightening fact of life in America. In too many communities, children could not play on the street or walk to school in safety, older Americans locked themselves in their homes with fear, and gangs armed with illegal guns boldly roamed our streets and schools. I took office determined to change this, committed to a comprehensive anticrime strategy based on more community policing, tougher penalties, and better prevention.

Today our strategy is showing remarkable results. We're ahead of schedule and under budget in meeting our goal of putting 100,000 police on the street. And all across America, crime rates have fallen to a 25-year low, respect for the law is on the rise, families are beginning to feel safe in their communities again.

Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals has been at the center of our strategy and an essential part of our success. Since I signed the Brady law, after a big debate in Congress which was led in the House of Representatives by now Senator-elect Charles Schumer of New York, background checks have put a stop to nearly a quarter of a million handgun purchases by fugitives or felons. Law enforcement officers from around the country have told us that fewer guns on the street have made a huge difference in the lives of families they serve.

At the end of this month, we will make the Brady law even stronger. For the first time ever, we will require background checks for the purchase of any firearm, whether purchased from a licensed gun dealer or a pawnshop. But under this new insta-check system, as it's called, we'll be able to run nearly twice as many background checks, and most of them in just a matter of minutes.

We've spent 5 years working with State and local law enforcement to put this system in place, but when it comes to our families' safety, we must take another important step. Every year, an untold number of firearms are bought and sold at an estimated 5,000 gun shows around our country. I come from a State where these shows are very popular. I have visited and enjoyed them over the years. They're often the first place parents teach their children how to handle firearms safely. I know most gun dealers and owners are dedicated to promoting safe and legal gun use. But at too many gun shows, a different, dangerous trend is emerging. Because the law permits some firearms to be sold without background checks, some of these gun shows have become illegal arms bazaars for criminals and gun traffickers looking to buy and sell guns on a cash-and-carry, no-questions-asked basis.

On Tuesday the people of Florida voted overwhelmingly to put a stop to these tainted transactions and make it harder for criminals to buy firearms. Under the new Florida law, communities now can take action to require background checks for the public sale of all guns. I believe this should be the law of the land: No background check, no gun, no exceptions.

Therefore, I am directing Secretary Rubin and Attorney General Reno to report back to me in 60 days with a plan to close the loophole in the law and prohibit any gun sale without a background check. We didn't fight as hard as we did to pass the Brady law only to let a handful of unscrupulous gun dealers disrespect the law, undermine our progress, put the safety of our families at risk. With this action, we are one step closer to shutting them down.

I look forward to working together with members of both parties in the new Congress to meet this challenge and all our challenges to build a safer and stronger America for the 21st century.

Thanks for listening.

NOTE: The address was recorded at approximately 9:30 a.m. on November 6 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on November 7. The transcript was made available by the Office of the Press Secretary on November 6 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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