View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 10, 1999

The East Room

10:43 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Before I make my opening remarks, I would like to begin by saying a word about the tragic bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. I have already expressed our apology and our condolences to President Jiang and to the Chinese people. And I have reaffirmed my commitment to strengthen our relationship with China.

But I think it's very important to remember that this was an isolated, tragic event, while the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, which has led to the killing of thousands of people and the relocation of hundreds of thousands, is a deliberate and systematic crime. Until NATO's simple conditions are met, therefore, the military campaign will continue.

But again, I want to say to the Chinese people and to the leaders of China, I apologize; I regret this. But I think it is very important to draw a clear distinction between a tragic mistake and a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing. And the United States will continue to make that distinction.

Now, let me say, as I look around this room today, I want to say on behalf of the Vice President and Mrs. Gore, and Hillary and myself, first, we appreciate all of you coming. This is a very diverse and distinguished group of Americans. We have leaders of Congress from both parties here; leaders of the faith community; we have activists among parents and students, and educators and people in music, and people in the entertainment communities; people who represent the gun manufacturers of our country. This is a truly impressive and diverse array of Americans.

Obviously, we have asked you to come here to see what we can do together to give our children safer childhoods. The four of us, both individually and together, have worked on many of the matters that will be discussed here today for years. We have made particular efforts to give our children safe streets and safe schools.

But I think that we, and the members of the Cabinet and the administration who are here -- like all Americans -- were profoundly affected by the events in Littleton, Colorado, coming as they did after so many tragic incidents in our schools last year. And we were determined to see what we could do to bring the American people together, to get beyond the divisions that often attend many of the subjects here -- which is not to say that we shouldn't have a serious discussion today -- and to try to move forward on something really big that can make a difference.

Last Friday I announced, therefore, that we would launch a national campaign to prevent youth violence, a grass-roots effort that would involve all Americans, from every community and all walks of life. I expect the ideas and recommendations generated here today in our discussion to lay the groundwork, the common groundwork, for that campaign. We are not here to place blame, but to shoulder responsibility.

In the weeks to come, I will work with Congress to pass legislation that makes our schools and streets safer, and keeps guns out of the wrong hands, because that's part of our responsibility. And again I want to say how very much I appreciate the representatives of the gun manufacturers for being here today, and supporting some of the specific legislative proposals that have already been publicized.

Today, I'm also directing the Surgeon General to prepare the first report in more than a decade on youth violence and its causes. This report will infuse our efforts with new understanding and new urgency.

Let me just briefly say that, with representatives of the manufacturers of guns today, I want to say to the press and to the public that we have found common ground on some common sense measures -- banning violent juveniles from buying guns, raising the age for handgun ownership from 18 to 21, closing the gun show loophole, holding reckless parents responsible for giving children access to guns, reducing illegal gun trafficking by helping law enforcement trace weapons used in crimes. Again, I commend the gun manufacturers here today for taking that kind of responsibility. Others have agreed to do their part.

A few years ago, through the Vice President's leadership, we were able to put in place a voluntary rating system for television. Les Moonves, the head of CBS, and Bob Iger, the head of ABC, have led the way by putting their networks behind this effort. They are here today and they went to some considerable trouble to change their schedules to do so, and I appreciate their presence.

This year, half the new TV sets sold in America will contain the V-chip, which parents can use to protect their children from violent programming. Today, the FCC is announcing a V-chip task force to make sure that next year every new set contains the V-chip. And the Kaiser Family Foundation is announcing a massive new public education campaign to make sure parents know about it and know how to use it. Also, following this meeting, Kaiser and the Ad Council, also represented here, will produce a campaign of antiviolent ads called "Talking With Kids About Tough Issues."

Last week, the Vice President also announced a voluntary agreement by 95 percent of the Internet service providers to offer parents a new tool to assure that they are only one click away from the resources they need to protect their children. And I thank the representatives of the Internet for being here today.

Let me also say that we know that profoundly important efforts are being made in our schools and our communities in efforts to involve parents in increasing their capacity to prevent their children from drifting into violence, to engage the early warning signs, to get the necessary counseling and mental health services. I know that Mrs. Gore and Hillary have both been heavily involved in a lot of these issues for a long time.

And I want to say a special word of appreciation to the

parents who are here, to the teachers who are here, and to the students who are here, because I believe that they may have more to say to us about what the rest of us should do than we can imagine.

So to all of you, thank you for coming. Let's leave here today resolved to be, all of us, a part of this national campaign, and I want us to have a good conversation about where we go from here.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 10:50 A.M. EDT