THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION
The Oval Office
10:06 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Last year I waged a campaign for President on a commitment to change our economic course in Washington -- to change economic policy and put the American people first. After a long struggle we are finally seeing signs of hope in our economy. We have moved to significantly lower our federal deficit, and now we have the lowest interest rates in 30 years. That's bringing back business investment, housing starts, purchases of expensive capital equipment. And now in the past eight months, our economy has created more jobs in the private sector than were created in the previous four years.
We've still got a long way to go. We need more investment, more jobs that pay living wages, more opportunity for our students and workers to train and retrain themselves for a changing global economy. We'll never make America what it ought to be until we provide real health security for all our people -- health care that's always there, that can never be taken away, that controls costs and maintains quality and coverage.
But we can't do any of those things until the American people really feel secure enough to make the changes we need to make. I see evidence of that uncertainty, that insecurity, as I struggle to expand trade opportunities for our people through passing the North American Free Trade Agreement; as I struggle to convince people we should open our markets to others and force other markets open so that we can sell more of our high-tech equipment around the world; as we try to get people to accept the fact that most folks will change jobs seven or eight times in a lifetime, and therefore we can't have job security, but we can have employment security if we have a real lifetime system of education and training.
All these changes require a level of confidence in our institutions and in ourselves, a belief that America can still compete and win, and that the American Dream can still be alive.
One of the problems in inspiring that confidence in America is that we've become the most dangerous big country in the world. We have a higher percentage of our people behind bars than any other nation in the world. We've had 90,000 murders in this country in the last four years. The American people increasingly feel that they're not secure in their homes, on their streets, or even in their schools. This explosion of crime and violence is changing the way our people live, making too many of us hesitant, often paralyzed with fear at a time when we need to be bold. When our children are dying, often at the hands of other children with guns, it's pretty tough to talk about anything else. Today, there are more than 200 million guns on our streets, and we have more federally licensed gun dealers who, believe it or not, can get a license from your federal government for only $10, than we have gas stations.
It's prompted the corner grocer to shut down because he feels threatened. It's made the shopper afraid to enter a parking garage at night. It's made children think twice about going to school because classmates have been shot there. It's made parents order their children inside in broad daylight because of gunfire.
Nothing we aspire to in our nation can finally be achieved unless first we do something about children who are no longer capable of distinguishing right from wrong; about people who are strangely unaffected by the violence they do to others; about the easy availability of handguns or assault weapons that are made solely for the purpose of killing or maiming others; about the mindless temptations of easy drugs.
This issue should be above politics. That's why I'm working closely with the leaders of Congress in urging them to pass our comprehensive anti-crime legislation when it comes up in the Senate next week. The bill is based on a simple philosophy and a simple message: We need more police, fewer guns, and different alternatives for people who get in trouble.
We ask Congress to honor the struggle of Jim and Sarah Brady by passing the Brady bill, a five-day waiting period for background checks before a person can purchase a handgun. We want to take assault weapons off the street. And we want to take all guns out of the hands of teenagers. We want more police officers on the street -- at least 50,000 more. And we want them working in community policing networks so that they'll know their neighbors and they'll work with people not simply to catch criminals, but to prevent crime in the first place. We want to put more power in the hands of local communities and give them options so that first time offenders can be sent to boot camps and to other programs that we know work to rehabilitate people who use drugs and to give our children a way out of a life of crime and jail.
We also are recharting the way we fight the drug problem. Under the leadership of Dr. Lee Brown, our father of community policing in this country and now the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we are increasing our focus on the hard core user, those who make up the worst part of the drug problem, who fuel crime and violence, who are helping a whole new generation of children to grow up in chaos, who are driving up our health care costs because of the violence and the drug use.
Our program will reach out to young people who can be saved from living a life of crime and being a burden on society, the ones who have taken a wrong turn but can still turn around. They'll have access to boot camps to learn skills and the kind of responsibility that they have to adopt if they want to turn their lives around.
Every time we feel the need to view strangers with suspicion or to bar our homes and cars against intrusion or we worry about the well-being of the child we send off to grade school, we lose a little part of what America should mean. Some of these problems were decades in the making. And we know we can't solve them overnight, but within adversity there is some hope today.
In our administration, with the Attorney General Janet Reno, our outstanding FBI Director Louis Freeh, and the Drug Policy Coordinator Lee Brown, we have a dedicated team of people used to fighting crime, determined to restore security for our people, determined to give our young people another chance.
We are dedicated to restoring and expanding personal security for people who work hard and play by the rules. We're dedicated to insisting on more responsibility from those who should exercise it. We have a comprehensive crime bill that says we need more police, fewer guns, tougher laws, and new alternatives for first offenders. We're asking for a new direction in the control of illegal drugs to make our streets safer. We're asking all our people to take more personal responsibility for their health, their lives and the well-being of their children.
I believe the American people have decided simply and finally they are sick and tired of living in fear. They are prepared to reach beyond the slogans and the easy answers to support what works, to experiment with new ideas, and to finally, finally do something about this crime and violence. If we do it together, we'll make America more prosperous and more secure. We'll have the courage, the self-confidence, the openness to make the other changes we need to make to put the American people first in the months and years to come.
Thanks for listening.
END10:12 A.M. EDT