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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 27, 1999
                     REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT

                               The Capitol
                             Washington, D.C.

11:57 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Byrl. What courage you show, in turning the grief and pain you and your family experienced into such bold and effective advocacy for other families all over this country. I know all of us here have been very moved by your statement, and more than that, by the determination in your voice and in your life. Thank you so much.

And Leader Dick Gephardt, thank you for doing such a tremendous job on this, and on so many other issues -- but especially on this issue, because you brought together a group of leaders that represent every part of our country, every facet of the Congress, and you forged in them a shared determination to see action on this issue. And I want to thank each of them as individuals; some of them have suffered loss as well. Many of them have talked with their constituents and come to understand this issue in a very deeply personal way.

I recently, just a few days ago, visited with the families of Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia, where the latest of these gun violence incidents occurred. And, a few weeks back, Dick Gephardt joined my wife Tipper and me, and Colin Powell and some others, in our small group that went out to the memorial service for the ones that were killed at Columbine High School.

And we embraced each of the family members, and tried to comfort them. One of the dads, who had lost a child, said right into my ear in the midst of the embrace, these children cannot have died in vain. We must make changes. Promise me we'll make changes.

And after a short pause, with more intensity and urgency in his voice, he repeated, promise me.

And I think that the entire country has been wrestling with how to keep that promise for the weeks since the Columbine tragedy brought together all of the feelings that we've had for so many years, now. And many have begun to say, why didn't we listen to what parents like Byrl were saying many years ago? Now everybody realizes -- most everybody realizes -- enough is enough. It is time to act.

And yes, we understand that new legislation related to guns is not the only answer -- and please, don't anybody misinterpret that. We know the entertainment industry and the media have to show more self-restraint, and we know we need parts of the solution to come there. We know we need better parenting. We know that there are all kinds of parts of this issue that have to be addressed.

But the gun issue is one thing that all these tragedies have in common. Last year, there were 6,000 American students expelled from elementary school or high school because they brought a gun into the school building. Now, it's ridiculous for guns to be as available as they are to children, to criminals, to those who are unstable, to those who absolutely should not have them.

And the loophole that allows people to go to gun shows -- even if they've been turned down for a background check at a licensed gun dealer, then they go to a gun show and everything goes there. That loophole must be closed. There need to be trigger locks. There need to be other changes.

The Senate did act. Frankly, I think that for all the praise that's been heaped on the Senate action -- and I welcome that, and I appreciate it -- I think that even more needs to be done than what was done in the Senate. And what should be done here, in the House, is a tougher bill, with tougher restrictions related to guns.

Now, why is the House not moving? Dick Gephardt, and all of these members of Congress gathered here, are ready to go, and they're saying, why is there any delay whatsoever?

You know, it's interesting that the Senate would move more swiftly than the House, because that doesn't happen very often. In our Constitution, the design was for the House to be the body that responds to a sense of urgency on the part of the American people, and move swiftly. And then, if there are matters that need more reflective, lengthy deliberation, the Senate's perfectly prepared to do that.

But in this case, the Senate, having deliberated, said, this is not that complicated. Even though it was by the narrowest of margins, the decision came swiftly, because the conclusions are obvious. The need is obvious.

And now, the House has gone into this -- what they used to call, years ago, the four corners approach, where they just slow down the action and not let anything happen. Why is that?

Is it because they are genuinely troubled over the details of the legislative language? Of course not. It is because some within the Republican caucus are so responsive to the NRA, they are hoping against hope that if they can slow-walk this whole measure, then the American people will lose the sense of urgency that is now so obvious and so palpable.

Well, they're wrong about that. The American people want to see action, and they want it now. And the reason we're here is to say to the leadership of the House of Representatives on the other side, the ones who are in charge of it: now is the time to act. Don't slow this down any more.

And right now, I'm pleased that Speaker Hastert and Chairman Hyde have pledged to pass the gun provisions that are in the Senate bill, and hopefully even raise the handgun ownership age to 21. But I'm very disappointed that they have put off consideration of the bill, because there would be no better memorial to those who have died as the result of gun violence than to pass this bill into law by Memorial Day. That should be our goal. (Applause.)

Nobody should be under any illusions what's going on here. At this very moment, there are some on the other side meeting behind closed doors, plotting to have more delays in order to preserve loopholes, and hoping that the delay will pay off for them.

Well, the reason we're here is to say, that's not going to work this time. We are determined.

For all those who were surprised that there was a tie in the Senate, and a tie-breaking victory that many thought could not take place in the Senate, that was a reflection of the newly strengthened will of the American people -- especially after the tragedy at Columbine -- to take decisive action on this issue.

And the will of the American people will be done in this House of Representatives. We demand it; we call upon the leadership to schedule this bill, and let the members vote up or down so the American people can see who's with them and who's not.

Let's pass this legislation before Memorial Day. Thank you. (Applause.)

END 12:06 P.M. EDT