THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION The Roosevelt Room
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. America has been through a lot in the last week. But if anything good can come out of something as horrible as the Oklahoma City tragedy, it is that the American people have reaffirmed our commitment to putting our children, their well-being and their future first in our lives.
In that light, I was terribly disappointed that, this week, the Supreme Court struck down a law passed by Congress under President Bush and sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, to keep guns away from schools. The law was a bipartisan approach to school safety based on common sense. Simply said, it was illegal to have a gun within 1,000 feet of a school.
We all know that guns simply don't belong in school. So members of Congress of both parties passed the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck down the specific law. They said the federal government couldn't regulate that activity because it didn't have enough to do with interstate commerce.
Well, this Supreme Court decision could condemn more of our children to going to schools where there are guns. And our job is to help our children learn everything they need to get ahead in safety, not to send them to school and put them in harm's way. I am determined to keep guns out of our schools. That's what the American people want, and it's the right thing to do.
Last year, I persuaded Congress to require states to pass a law that any student who brought a gun to school would be expelled for a year -- no excuses, zero tolerance for guns in schools. But after Congress passed the law, I was worried that it would be hard to enforce. So I directed the Secretary of Education, Dick Riley, to withhold federal aid from any state that did not comply with the law.
The Supreme Court has now ruled we can't directly ban guns around the school. Therefore, today, I am directing the Attorney General to come back to me within a week with what action I can take to keep guns away from schools. I want the action to be constitutional, but I am determined to keep guns away from schools.
For example, Congress could encourage states to ban guns from school zones by linking federal funds to enactment of school zone gun bans. At least we could tie the money we have for safe schools to such a ban. At any rate, I am confident that the Attorney General will give me advice about what action I can take. We must reverse the practical impact of the Court's decision. If young people can't learn in safety they can't learn at all.
Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, violence threatens schools in communities of all shapes and sizes. They've identified 105 violent school-related deaths in just the last two years. And we know there are common elements to violent deaths among young people. Usually, the victim and the assailant know each other, the incident starts as an argument, and usually there is a firearm present.
Schoolyard fights have been around as long as schoolyards. But it used to be that when kids got in fights, they fought with their fists, adults broke them up, and the kids got punished. Today, there are guns on the playground, guns in the classroom, guns on the bus.
In 1990, the CDC found that one in 24 students carried a gun in a 30-day period. By 1993, it was down to one in 12. The number of high school students carrying a gun doubled in only three years. This is certainly a national crisis, and we must have a national effort to fight it. We need a seamless web of safety that keeps guns out of the hands of our children and out of our school. That's why we fought for the provision in last year's Crime Bill which now makes it a federal crime for a young person to carry a handgun, except when supervised by an adult. And that's why we must make sure that anyone who does bring a gun to school is severely disciplined. And that's why we're going to find a way to ban guns inside or near our schools.
I'm committed to doing everything in my power to make schools places where young people can be safe, where they can learn, where parents can be confident that discipline is enforced.
We all know that we have to work together to get this done. Principals and teachers must take the lead for safe schools and teaching good citizenship and good values. And parents have to recognize that discipline begins at home. The responsibility to raise children and to make them good citizens rests first on the shoulders of their parents, who must teach the children right from wrong, and must get involved and stay involved in their children's education.
I pledge that we'll do our part to help make our schools safe and the neighborhoods around them safe. But in the end, we'll only succeed if we all work together.
Thanks for listening.