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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 5, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

The Oval Office

10:33 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to welcome here Senators Biden and Boxer, Durbin and Feinstein, Kohl; Congressman Conyers, Schumer and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy; along with Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, Treasury's Under Secretary for Enforcement Ray Kelly; our friends, Jim and Sarah Brady, and members of the law enforcement community. Did I leave anyone from Congress out? Did I get everybody? Good.

Four years ago we made a commitment to take our streets back from crime and violence with a comprehensive plan -- first, to put 100,000 community police officers on our streets, to put new, tough penalties on the books, to steer young people away from crime and gangs and drugs, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals with the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill. Last week I announced that the Brady Bill has already stopped 186,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers from purchasing handguns.

Repeatedly I have said that fighting the scourge of juvenile crime and violence will be my top law enforcement priority in the next four years. Two weeks ago I submitted to Congress my antigang and youth violence strategy. One of this bill's key provisions will require gun dealers to provide safety locks with every handgun they sell, to prevent unauthorized use by teenage criminals and to protect children too young to know what they're doing.

Today I announced a series of new steps we must take immediately to protect our children, our neighbors, and our police officers from tragedies caused by firearms in the wrong hands. First, we must keep guns out of the hands of children.

The Centers for Disease Control report that nearly 1.2 million children return from school to a home with no adult supervision, but with a loaded and unlocked firearm. Easy access means deadly consequences. Children and teenagers cause over 10,000 unintentional shootings every year. Guns cause one in every four deaths of teenagers age 15 to 19. Last month the Centers for Disease Control reported that the rate of children from birth to age 14 who are killed by firearms in America is nearly 12 times higher than in 25 other industrialized countries combined.

America cannot tolerate this. Until Congress makes child safety locks the law of the land, we must do everything we can to prevent unauthorized firearms use.

I want to make sure the federal government is doing its part. Each year the federal government issues thousands of hand guns to law enforcement agents. Unfortunately, we know all too well that even firearms issued to law enforcement are sometimes tragically misused. Today I am directing that every federal agency shall require child safety locking devices with every handgun issued. The directive I'm about to sign requires every department and every agency to develop a plan to accomplish this common sense safety measure and to implement it as soon as possible. And Congress should pass my proposal to require these locks with every handgun in the very near future. If it's good enough for law enforcement, it's good enough for all our citizens.

The second step we're taking today will make it harder for people to come to America, purchase weapons and commit crimes against Americans. We were all shocked to learn of the foreign gunman who shot seven people on top of the Empire State Building, killing one of them and then killing himself. He apparently bought this gun after living in a Florida motel for just three weeks. Federal law requires legal aliens to live at least 90 days in a state before they are allowed to purchase a handgun. But the application to buy a gun does not even ask how long an applicant has lived at his or her current address.

As a first step to reduce illegal handgun purchases by foreigners, today I'm announcing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will immediately require applicants to certify that they have been residents for at least 90 days in the state where they are trying to buy a gun. But this is not enough. I call on Congress to pass the bill sponsored by Senators Kennedy and Durbin and Congressman Schumer that will prohibit all foreign visitors from buying or carrying guns in the United States.

Finally, as we work to make all our people safer, we must never forget our special obligation to police officers, like those who are with me today, who risk their lives to protect us all. It is long past time for Congress to listen to America's law enforcement officers and ban cop-killer bullets once and for all.

I have sent this legislation to Congress twice before and they failed to act. They should not delay this effort again. We don't need to study this issue anymore to determine what specific materials can be used to make armor-piercing bullets. We need a simple test and a straightforward ban. If a bullet can tear through a bulletproof vest like a hot knife through butter, it should be against the law and that is the bottom line. These bullets are designed for one purpose only -- to kill police officers. They have no place on our streets.

Three simple steps to make our children, our streets and our law enforcement officers safer: child safety locks on handguns, new rules to prevent foreign criminals from buying guns in the United States, a straightforward ban on cop-killer bullets. I will do my part. I thank the members of Congress who are here, especially for their leadership; and I ask the Congress to act on this important legislation.

Now, let me sign this order here and then I'll answer any questions you have.

(The bill is signed.)

Thank you.

Q The police were outgunned in Los Angeles. Do you think there's also a problem with police departments not have enough firepower?

THE PRESIDENT: There could be, but I think the real problem is -- the way we sought to deal with that is by dealing with the assault weapons ban. I think most police departments will be adequately armed if we can get the assault weapons out of the hands of the criminals, and if we have tougher enforcement of the Brady Bill. It's -- 186,000 blocked sales is no small number, even in a big country like ours -- 186,000. That's pretty impressive.

Q What do you think of the Republicans suggesting they'll vote tomorrow in the Senate on insisting there be an independent counsel on campaign financial fundraising?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there is a law on that. It's a legal question; it shouldn't be a political one.

Q Mr. President, why would you think now that things in the Congress would be any different this time around for cop-killer bullets or for some of these other measures than before?

THE PRESIDENT: Because of the clear demonstration of public support. Keep in mind, this Congress, which had originally come into office with a commitment to repeal the -- I mean, the last Congress, the Congress of '95-'96, which came to Congress with a commitment to repeal the assault weapons ban and weaken or repeal the Brady Bill, actually agreed with me to strengthen the Brady Bill at the end of the last session of Congress in late 1996.

So I think there has been a sea change in the shift of attitude in the Congress as the American people have crystallized their opinions on these issues and made it known.

Furthermore, I think there will be broad support -- even broader support for the child safety locks. I would be surprised if you don't have a lot of the gun owners groups, if they didn't support this it would surprise me. I mean, this is consistent with a lot of the things that they have said in the past, so I think we would have a good chance on that. And on the cop killer bullets, I think that -- you asked my hope; my hope is based on the action that this Congress took at the last session where they voted with us to extend the impact of the Brady Bill.

Q Mr. President, with the new subpoenas coming out on the Lippo connection to the White House, are you satisfied that there's been no undue influence by outside influence on -- by outside countries on either your White House or on your former -- your very good friend, Web Hubbell?

THE PRESIDENT: I have no reason to believe that there has been. But I think that everybody should comply with the information, and we have. And, you know, Mr. Burton asked us yesterday I think for some information relating to the allegation of an attempt by the Chinese to influence the American election. And when we have made that -- when -- we said in our letter to the Justice Department that we assumed anything that we got would be given to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees because we didn't want to raise any questions, we just want to get to the bottom of that. And so, they have it, and whatever is appropriate for them to share with Mr. Burton, they can.

I just think we --

Q Is Burton grandstanding?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into that. But I believe that the House and Senate committees -- Intelligence Committees -- have anything that we had. And so they can share it with them as is appropriate.

Q Do you have any reason to believe there was influence --


Q -- attempted influence?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not, but I think we have to get -- you know, there's an investigation. As I said, the charge is serious; we need to get to the bottom of it. But I have no reason to believe -- I have not personal evidence, but that's not the issue. The issue is this charge has been made, it's -- anytime you allege that another government attempted to influence an American election that's a serious thing and has to be looked into. But I have no personal evidence, but I want the investigation to proceed and I want the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it. And I expect that they will.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 10:43 A.M. EST