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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 4, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                     DIRECTOR OF ATF BRAD BUCKLES,

                           The Briefing Room

9:46 A.M. EST

MR. KENNEDY: We have with us Secretary Summers; Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Bruce Reed. Also with us is Jim Johnson, Under Secretary for Enforcement; and Brad Buckles of the ATF. Thank you.

MR. REED: Today's announcement is further proof that we will do everything in our power this year to keep guns out of the wrong hands. We're fighting a two-front war on gun crime, first with the most aggressive enforcement efforts in history and, second, by pressing Congress to strengthen our gun laws.

On enforcement, we announced earlier this year that federal gun prosecutions are up 16 percent since we took office, up 25 percent in the last year alone, and that the average sentence of those convicted of federal gun crimes is two years longer than it was when we took office. It has gone from six years to eight years. Overall, gun prosecutions, federal, state and local, are up by an even greater percentage, at a time when gun crime has dropped by a third.

Today's report, which the Secretary will talk about, shows that the number of licensed gun dealers has dropped from 284,000 in '92 to just 104,000 today. Today's action, which the President announced, is the most aggressive regulatory effort on suspect dealers in history. It builds on the findings of the Commerce in Firearms Report that the Secretary will talk about and as the President mentioned, on the work of Chuck Schumer from New York. And, finally, we asked Congress for a $280 million increase for gun crime enforcement to hire 500 new agents and inspectors at ATF; to hire 1,000 new federal, state and local gun prosecutors, and take other measures. If Congress is serious about enforcing gun laws, our budget gives them the chance to put their money where their mouth is.

As the President said, we also need to strengthen our gun laws this year. Our top priority is passing the gun bill to close the gun show loophole. The President called in the State of the Union on Congress to make that the first order of business. We've also proposed other measures to make it easier for ATF to do its job, by allowing three unannounced inspections a year, for example, instead of one, which is current law. And the President has called for photo licensing, requiring all new handgun buyers to have a photo license that demonstrates they passed a Brady background check and a gun safety course.

We will continue to take executive actions all year long to keep guns out of the wrong hands, and to press Congress to do its part. So, now, let me turn it over to Secretary Summers, who has made fighting gun crime a top priority at Treasury, and who has assembled a very impressive team with Deputy Secretary Eizenstat, Under Secretary Jim Johnson and the new Director of ATF, Brad Buckles.

SECRETARY SUMMERS: I want to acknowledge the hard work of Jim Johnson, Brad Buckles, Susan Ginsberg, Wally Nelson, Neal Wolin, on the report that is being announced today. This is the first Annual Report on Commerce and Firearms in the United States. It represents new analysis leading to new measures. Let me highlight six measures.

First, the ATF will conduct intensive inspections of the one percent of dealers that account for over half of all crime guns traced last year. If violations of law are found, we will take action against these dealers.

Second, ATF will require a subset of those dealers, those whose guns fall especially quickly into criminal hands, to provide it with information on all used guns taken into inventory. This will allow us, for the first time, to trace used guns sold by those dealers when they're recovered in crime.

Third, ATF will require dealers who fail to cooperate with crime gun trace requests, to produce all their firearms transaction records for the past year and on an ongoing basis. This will enable us to make sure that those uncooperative dealers follow the law and revoke their licenses when appropriate.

Fourth, based on our finding that large numbers of guns are lost or stolen in transit each year, the ATF will require -- is proposing to require all firearms dealers to maintain close tabs on their firearms by conducting inventories and notifying ATF within 48 hours of losses or thefts.

Fifth, ATF will tell manufacturers which of their guns are used in crimes, information that responsible manufacturers can use to make sure that they do not sell their guns to problem dealers.

And, sixth, we are proposing -- reiterating our proposal to hire 500 more ATF agents, agents and inspectors, and to increase the budget for gun tracing.

This represents an aggressive set of measures directed at enforcing more fully and effectively the laws on the books so as to reduce gun crime.

Let me just say on a separate note that today's economic statistics confirm that the expansion is healthy, that the momentum of expansion is continuing, and that the strategy of deficit reduction for investment-led, capacity-creating growth is working.

Q What do you think of an interest rate hike?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: Helen, we don't comment on the independence of the Fed. That's one of the respects in which our macroeconomic policies have been sound. But what I think is most important is that the fundamentals of the economy are sound -- that even eight years into a period of economic expansion, capacity utilization is at relatively normal historical levels. And the reason capacity utilization is at normal levels, even after prolonged expansion, is that the expansion has been investment-led, with a record share of our total GNP going to new equipment, new equipment investment. We've seen rapid growth in demand, but we've seen supply keep pace. And that is why it has been a non-inflationary, prolonged expansion.

Q Mr. Secretary, on that point, what do you think, or who do you think, deserves the most credit for the state of the economy? The President and fiscal policies, Fed Chairman Greenspan and his policy on interest rates, or perhaps the folks in Silicon Valley, who helped fuel the growth of this new industry -- or none of the above?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: I feel like I'm taking an exam question. And my answer would be E, all of the above. And I say that because I think that it's a little bit like asking which blade of a scissors gets credit for cutting the paper.

Without the progress we have seen in bringing down budget deficits and removing $2 trillion of sterile government debt, and making room for that $2 trillion of sterile government debt to be instead invested in new plant and equipment investment, there wouldn't have been the resources for the information technology investment. There wouldn't have been the capacity creation that would have permitted the Fed to allow this expansion to continue so strongly.

So I believe that credit goes to workers and businesses. But the economic energy that they had was unlocked by our progress in bringing down the budget deficit, and that the prudent and appropriate monetary policies that we've had during this period have allowed us to reap the full benefits of deficit reduction, and the information technology revolution.

Q Mr. Secretary, going back to the unemployment numbers, though, is there concern about -- I mean, how low can the unemployment number go? And will this downward pressure on the unemployment number create other pressures in a tight labor market?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: Let me say that an economy where jobs are looking for people, as well as people looking for jobs, is one of the best social programs that we have. An economy where employers are looking hard for workers is an economy where they will invest more in training. It is an economy where they will invest more in those who have traditionally been disadvantaged, it is an economy where they will invest more in being family friendly, in creating an environment that can keep workers. It is empowering of workers and it is a great advantage for our country.

What we have to do with a tight economy is work to make sure that we are bringing all the capacity on line that we can. That's why the President is working so hard to stimulate investment in traditionally depressed areas through the New Markets Initiative. That's why the President's proposals for reductions in the -- for increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit to encourage more lower income people to work are so important. That is why measures like the Disability Act that the President signed that will remove barriers to people with disabilities going back to work are so important.

What's crucial now is that we increase the supply of labor. And what we've seen is, with the right kinds of programs, there are millions of Americans who want to work, who can work and who can make a great contribution and that's our strategy with respect to the low unemployment rate.

Q A question on the ATF report. One percent of the gun dealers account for 57 percent of gun crime traces. How many -- what percentage of gun sales do those dealers account for?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: We don't have that number. We will get it for you. I think it's considerably less.

Q And another question. You said you were going to give gun manufacturers information on which of their weapons and maybe which of their dealers are being used in crimes. Are you going to make that information public as well so that the press and the public can have access to it?


Q Mr. Secretary, would you care to comment on the weakness of the Euro against the dollar? Just reiterate your dollar policy?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: I don't have anything new to add on that. On that topic, I would offer the observation that a strong dollar is in the national interest.

Q Mr. Secretary, at least initial comments from the National Rifle Association regarding these new initiatives reported in The New York Times today, basically NRA is saying, nothing new here, the administration is making a lot of show about stuff that it already is able to do, I believe. What's your response to that?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: We welcome the NRA's agreement that we are acting within our legal authorities. But this is something new. This is an intensified focus and allocation of enforcement resources in the most effective way.

This is a kind of approach with which all Americans ought to agree, because the steps are steps that are specifically targeted at gun crime and at a more effective strategy for tracing guns that are used in crime, and preventing violations of law with respect to the sale to criminals. So this is not an approach that is in any way punitive with respect to guns in general, but it is an approach of assuring that our resources are targeted as effectively as possible at reducing the incidents of gun crime. And so I would hope that it would be widely supported.

Q To follow up on that, one of the criticisms of the NRA has also been that we don't need new gun laws, we need better enforcement of the ones on the books. What you're doing is better enforcing gun laws, using the ATF. Why, if that's so important, hasn't it already been done?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: Well, we have worked in recent years to expand substantially our capacities in gun tracing. And as -- I began my statement by saying that new analysis is leading to new measures. For the first time, we've had the most comprehensive gun tracing data available, and that's what has led us to the conclusion that a large part of the problem comes from a small part of the population of dealers, and to the focus that's been announced today.

Q I'm wondering what the administration is doing about the problem of completing background checks within the three business days, as required. We're finding that guns are going to criminals because the background checks just weren't completed in a timely fashion.


MR. BUCKLES: The background checks, of course, are conducted through the national Insta-Check system. And that system is very successful in completing the overwhelming majority of cases. But there are cases where they're not being completed in time.

The difficulty in the federal government fixing that problem is the fact that it generally involves limitations on state and local authorities to be able to produce the records that are necessary in time, because not all state and local systems are computerized. And there has been additional monies, as part of the overall Brady law, that were made available to upgrade those state systems, and those actions are continuing to take place.

Q How serious is that statutory constraint that there can only be one inspection per year -- or one unannounced, random inspection per year? And how will you conduct these focused inspections if you have to operate within that constraint?

MR. BUCKLES: The statute permits one standard regulatory inspection a year. There are circumstances under which we can gain access to dealer records that require some sort of -- depending on what it's for -- some level of suspicion of something that's going on. We can go in anytime if we need a record for purposes of completing a criminal investigation. We can go in at other times if we have reason to believe that there's some violation going on. But for purposes of checking up on people to make sure that the routine records are being kept, that is the situation where we're limited to one inspection a year.

Q And you could do these focused inspections as part of that?

MR. BUCKLES: These will be using our one inspection a year. Now, what we will see out of this is that, with the 1,000, some small number of those, or some percentage of those, will be people we've done recently, already, because of our previous inspection. They weren't picked out because of this process. But we'll find that when we look at it, some of those will already have undergone intensive inspections. So with those people, we're not going to be able to go back and do a second inspection within the calendar year.

Q Mr. Secretary, if I could ask on another subject -- would the administration be willing to accept a marriage penalty tax cut of any kind as a stand-alone measure, or is it your view that tax cuts such as these have to be linked in a package, as the President talked about?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: As my letter to Chairman Archer indicated, the President's budget provides a framework in which marriage penalty relief represents a significant element and so it is something we could support as part of a process where we were sure we were doing it in the right way, and where we were sure we were going to be making progress on what are the key national priorities of paying down debt, strengthening Social Security and Medicare and assuring that core government functions could continue in a fiscally responsible way.

Q That sounds like a no.

SECRETARY SUMMERS: I think it sounds like what it sounds like.

Q One more question on guns for Bruce. Bruce, I wonder if you can tell us what the status is of the administration's potential negotiations with the gun industry over this national class action lawsuit, and whether the administration talked with the gun industry about this new proposal it's announcing today, and if the gun industry is supportive of this crackdown on rogue gun dealers?

MR. REED: Well, to the first question, as the President said today, we continue to believe that there are responsible voices within the gun industry who will want to join with us to make progress. We had planned to meet in Las Vegas two weeks ago to have those discussions and, under pressure from the gun lobby, some of the gun manufacturers refused to go forward. But we continue to believe that we will be able to make progress on it this year, however we are prepared to go forward with the lawsuit if we need to.

As to today's announcement, I think these steps should be welcomed by the gun industry. They have long sought the information that ATF is now going to make available to them about gun traces and I think that, as Secretary Summers said, there should be no debate about the need to intensify our efforts to enforce gun crime laws.

Q Do you think they are two separate entities, the NRA and the gun industry?

MR. REED: I do.

Q And one isn't supported by the other?

MR. REED: I think there are a number of responsible manufacturers who have not been well-served by the gun lobby. The gun lobby has consistently tried to shoot down every legislative effort to make progress and we have had a good working relationship with many gun manufacturers who have supported legislative efforts. So I think that they are two distinct entities.

SECRETARY SUMMERS: Can I just add that in this area, there are, obviously, a range of views and there is, obviously, room for substantial controversy over some aspects of this agenda. But I would hope that the idea that we should be trying to design and market firearms in a way that reduces the likelihood that children will be killed in accidents, that we should be trying to design and market firearms in a way that reduces the risk that they will come into the hands of felons is something that we can all agree on. This is not about politics, and we in the Treasury and at the ATF are committed to working with responsible manufacturers of firearms towards the achievement of those important objectives.

Q Why isn't the figure of 12 children killed every day more publicized by the government?

SECRETARY SUMMERS: Helen, I think the President -- neither the President, nor Bruce, nor I, nor Brad has been -- nor the Attorney General have been reticent in the use of that figure in any way. We believe that if one child is killed on one day, that is one too many. And we are very committed to an agenda of strengthening the available resources, strengthening the targeting under existing law, and strengthening the legislative framework. And each of those three things can make an independent contribution, and that's our approach to something that I think the President in the State of the Union made very clear was one of his major priorities.

MR. REED: And, Helen, if I could just say, the American people are not the problem here. The American people overwhelmingly support what we're trying to do. They were shaken by the tragedy in Columbine 10 months ago. The problem here is that Congress has failed to act on the American people's concerns.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 10:10 A.M. EST