THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO S.A.F.E. COLORADO STUDENTS South Lawn
12:25 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I want to welcome the groups of young people from Colorado S.A.F.E. here to the White House, as well as those who brought them here from Colorado; the co-leaders, David Winkler and Ben Gelt. David will speak in a moment. And I want to say again how grateful I am that these young people have come. Secretary Summers and Attorney General Reno and I have just had a remarkable session.
It has now been three months since the horrible day in Littleton, since the crack of gunfire and the cries and the funerals. And now as the shock and grieve subside, as the cameras and satellite trucks move on to different events, it might be easy to forget and to have the nation weaken its resolve to keep our children safe from gun violence. But America must not forget that event, or those which occurred in schools last year, or the fact that 13 of our children die every single day from gun violence.
These young people represent millions of Americans who have come together at the grass roots to take action. They have come to Washington to hold our feet to the fire and to make their voices heard. And I thank them for coming.
I have just had, as I said, a fascinating question and answer session with these young people. They have asked good questions and they have given good suggestions. And they are plainly impatient with the lack of action on the important legislation before Congress.
This afternoon they will carry that same message to Capitol Hill. I hope the Congress will listen very, very carefully to them. For the past three months the gun lobby has been calling the shots on Capitol Hill; now it's time for Congress to listen to the lobbyists who truly matter -- our children, the people who will be most affected by what is or is -- not done by the Congress.
This is not a partisan issue out there in America; indeed, not a partisan issue anywhere but Washington. Americans of all ages, all backgrounds, all political philosophies support strong legislation to close dangerous loopholes in our gun laws. The vast majority of Americans believe passionately that no criminal who has failed a Brady background check and been refused a gun by an honest dealer should be able to turn around and buy a gun at a gun show. Florida, hardly one of our most liberal states, voted 72 percent in a referendum last November to do just that.
We believe that every handgun should be made child-proof, with a safety lock. We know that high-capacity ammunition gun clips are designed for war, not hunting, and they have no place in the American market. We believe any juvenile convicted of a violent crime should be banned as an adult would from owning a handgun.
But three months after Colombine, Congress has yet to send me a bill to make these common-sense gun reforms the law of the land. The Senate has passed them, and though they died in the House, we still -- we still -- have an opportunity to make them the law this year. I ask, as the young people ask here today, don't forget Littleton; don't allow the victims at Colombine to have died in vain; don't forget the 13 children who die every day from gun violence. Many, many, many of them can be saved.
We must not lose the urgency of our mission. It is not too late. How many more children must become victims of an illegal or poorly secured weapon? How many more parents must be robbed of the opportunity to see their children grow up into the fine young people we see standing behind me today?
I asked Congress to end this delay, and to send me a strong bill like the one passed by the Senate. I ask Congress to reaffirm these young people's faith in America, in our system of democracy. I ask Congress to listen to the young lobbyists who will be on Capitol Hill today. Send them home with the knowledge that Washington can hear their voices, too; that men and women who serve in democracy's house, the U.S. Capitol, truly serve the American people.
There are less than two months now before the start of a new school year. Let's show all our children that when it comes to making their classrooms and communities safe from gun violence, America did not take a summer vacation. Let's show them that politics can stop at the schoolhouse door; that this summer can be a season of progress and a season of safety.
I again say, I wish every American could have seen and heard these young people as the Attorney General, the Secretary of Treasury and I have just done. I was impressed, amazed, and heartened. I ask the members of Congress to open their eyes, their hearts, their minds to what they have to say.
Now I'd like to introduce one of the people who is most responsible for all these fine young people being here today, the co-leader of this S.A.F.E. trip, David Winkler.
MR. WINKLER: Thank you, Mr. President. First of all, I'd like to speak for all of us in the group in saying that we really enjoyed our conversation on the inside, and we'd like to present you with a tee-shirt that we're all wearing today that recognizes this S.A.F.E. trip.
We're here from a group called S.A.F.E. Colorado. S.A.F.E. Colorado stands for the "Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic." We hope it will branch out into other states and be joined by other reasonable people. We call for reasonable gun control measures, while recognizing the right of American citizens to use and own firearms for responsible, legitimate purposes.
Thank you, Mr. President. My name is David Winkler, and I'm from Denver, Colorado. I'm here today to speak on behalf of over 90 Colorado students who have come to Washington because we can no longer tolerate the level of gun violence in this country. We're a diverse group who do not agree on everything, but we do agree that our gun laws are not working and must be changed.
While Columbine was overwhelming, tragedies of a smaller scale take place every day. Thirteen of our children die each day from gunfire. That's a Columbine every day. From the inner cities to the suburbs to rural America, gun violence affects us all. The problem is that the wrong people -- criminals and children -- have easy access to firearms. The students of this S.A.F.E. Colorado trip call upon our nation's leaders to fix this problem as soon as possible, before school starts.
We do not call for the abolition of guns. We call for reasonable gun legislation. Guns are not toys; gun ownership must be conducted responsibly. We must allow law-abiding Americans to buy guns, while preventing those same guns from falling into the wrong hands. Our country needs simple laws that are easy to understand and easy to enforce. We cannot allow loopholes to invalidate the intent of the law.
Congress needs to act before the next school year. Most importantly, we must close the gun show loophole once and for all. The gun show loophole allows anyone to buy a gun with no questions asked. This loophole allows criminals to by-pass all of our other gun laws. The four guns used at Columbine were purchased at gun shows. In fact, only a month ago, an 18-year-old friend of mine and I were able to purchase a Tec-9 assault pistol at a Denver area gun show that he would not have been abler to buy at a gun store. Even though that particular gun was banned in 1994, he was able to get one without presenting identification or giving his name to the seller. It was just cash and carry, and it was legal. This must be stopped. We demand that we close this loophole.
We also want to limit handgun purchases to one per month. Too many people make their living by selling firearms on our streets. The guns used in the recent hate shootings in the Midwest were allegedly sold in a private sale after the shooter failed a background check at a gun store. Gun traffickers are legally arming the criminals and children of America. We must attack these unlicensed dealers and their ability to profit from selling guns.
Limiting handgun purchases to one a month would put many gun traffickers out of business, while allowing licensed dealers to operate legally. Besides, does anyone really need more than 12 handguns a year?
These reasonable measures will save lives, without infringing on the rights of responsible gun owners. We call upon our leaders to recognize that the American people have come to a conclusion and that now is the time to act.
Young people here are concerned about gun violence in America and we will make our voices heard. We will not go away. We will be back next year, in greater numbers and from other states. We want action, not excuses. And we call on the rest of America to join us.
Mr. President, thank you for your leadership on this important issue. Thank you for meeting with us and talking to us today. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Great job. That was terrific. Thank you.
MR. WINKLER: I want to thank all the students for coming on this trip, and all of our chaperons for making it possible. Thanks, guys. You all deserve a big hand. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I think if you all stayed a couple of weeks we would do very well. This is great. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, a little bit later on today you will be meeting with Prime Minister Barak, who has asked you to take a step back from the peace process -- I'm wondering, first of all, if you are considering to take the time and wait for him to do that? Conversely, do you think the time is right for you to get back into -- the Northern Ireland peace process?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, first of all, on all these other questions unrelated to this subject, as all of you know, I'm going to be making a public statement with Prime Minister Barak later and I will be happy to answer questions then. I'm not sure that the way you've characterized it is exactly what his request to me is going to be, so I think I ought to wait until we are out there together.
On Northern Ireland, let me say that this is a difficult day for those of us who have worked for years and who have worked over the last several weeks. It is a particularly difficult day for Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern, who have performed heroic service. And it is hard for most Americans, I'm sure, and most people throughout the world to understand how a peace process could be stalled when both sides agree on every element of the peace process, and both sides agree on exactly what they both have to do between now and next May. And the idea that this whole thing could fall apart, over an argument over who goes first sounds more reminiscent of something that might happen to these young people in their school careers six or seven years earlier in their lives.
I mean, that's basically what's going on here. And you all need to understand it. There is no difference of opinion here about what the Good Friday Accords require, what the communities of Ireland and Northern Ireland have voted for, what they are all committed to do. They are having a fight over who goes first, and acting today as if the whole thing could be abandoned over that.
That cannot be allowed to happen. I do not believe it will be allowed to happen. I believe there is too much invested in this. And I believe sooner rather than later we'll get this thing back on track.
But I've done what I could, along with the people in the communities and the British and the Irish Prime Ministers -- they have been wonderful. I don't know what else they could have done. I don't know what else I could have done. But I just don't believe as far as we've come that this thing is going to come apart. This is not a good day for us, but I do not believe that it's going to come apart, and we'll keep working on it.
And I'll answer the other questions later.
Q On gun control, will you veto legislation from Capitol Hill on juvenile justice if it does not contain a gun control provision?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to talk to the Attorney General about what else is in the bill, and I'd like to get her advice on that before I make a final decision. But I tell you what I will do -- I will veto any legislation that appears to be gun control legislation that actually weakens the law. One of the things they were trying to do up there before was to actually go back and weaken the pawn shop part of the law, and say that if a criminal puts a gun in a pawn shop and goes to jail, when they come back there shouldn't be a background check if you're coming back to get your own gun at a pawn shop. That's been the law for years and years, and they're even trying to weaken that law.
So I will not, in any way, shape or form, countenance a weakening of the law. I will do whatever I think -- I'll tell you the answer to that -- I will do whatever I am convinced is best to increase the chances that we can pass responsible legislation to protect our children from guns, to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. That's what I will do.
But in terms of the details, I think the Attorney General will have to give me a briefing on it before I can make a final decision.
Thank you, and I'll see you in a couple of hours. Thank you.
Q Patients bill of rights?
THE PRESIDENT: It's still a good bill. I'm bewildered by that, actually. I mean, I don't see how the majority is going to explain -- we had 100 percent of our caucus and a couple from theirs, and I listened to the debate and it still doesn't make any sense to me. All they can say is -- either they can say we just don't want doctors to be able to refer their patients to specialists, or people to be able to stop at the first emergency room, or women to be able to keep their gynecologist throughout a pregnancy, or people with cancer to be able to keep their oncologist throughout a chemotherapy treatment -- or they have to say what the health insurers are saying, which is, oh, this is going to really raise premiums.
The problem with their argument and all these millions of dollars they're spending on their advertising is that the Congressional Budget Office which, as you know -- all of you know this now -- for more than four years, the Republican majority is held up as the sole authority on anything having to do with money in Washington, D.C. -- they have held it up as an icon, and the Congressional Budget Office tells them that, at most, this could raise premiums $2 a month.
Now, so the health insurers have paid advertisement that says something different from their own Congressional Budget Office, and so now, they're only too happy to abandon the Congressional Budget Office that they waved in front of us like a sacred body for four and a half years.
So I don't know what's going on there. I know one thing -- again, that's just like gun violence -- you go out into this country and you will find 70 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents who believe in the provisions of the Patients' Bill of Rights, and you tell them that Congress says it will cost two bucks a month, the federal government experience is it costs less than one dollar a month, and the numbers will stay solid.
So there's something else going on here. And all I can say is I'm going to keep working for a good one. And I just -- this is -- this one is truly beyond me. I figure when the Congressional Budget Office came up after they had nourished it as the end all and be all of financial wisdom for five years, or nearly five years, that we would be home free and we could pass this in a bipartisan fashion. And the health insurers won't let them do it -- that's really what's going on. They won't let them do it. And I think it's a sad day for health care in America. But we're not done yet, and this won't die.
Q Are you being overly protective of Mr. Gore's campaign, sir? You agreed to raise funds for him and you took a shot at Mr. Bush yesterday. How do you --
THE PRESIDENT: That's -- I have nothing to say about that. Everything I said yesterday was in complete good spirits, and everyone that was there knew that we were all having a very good time -- that we were all having a good time. And I think we ought to lighten up here on the politics, and focus on the work.
You know, we're going to have an election in November and then you'll have somebody else to chew on after 2001. But between now and then, everyone who is in Congress, and everyone who is in the Executive Branch is drawing a paycheck every two weeks -- from them, and their parents. They're paying us to go to work. And what we need to do is to be less obsessed with the politics, and more obsessed with substance, and deal with these issues.
And what I was trying to do yesterday, was basically cut the atmosphere a little bit, give us something to laugh about -- which they did -- and then talk for a good period of time, probably more than a half hour, about the issues that are before us. I want us to focus on the work to be done. There's plenty of time later to worry about that. All of us that are drawing a check ought to be doing the people's business now.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 12:45 P.M. EDT