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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                            The Oval Office

2:37 P.M. EST


Q Hello, Mr. President.

Q Hello, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for joining us. I'd like to start by asking everyone here on the phone to say their names and the city and the state they represent.

We have with us here in the Oval Office Attorney General Spitzer of New York, Attorney General Blumental of Connecticut, Mayor Panelas of Miami, and Mayor Bill Campbell of Atlanta was here; he just walked out. So we're all here. But why don't we -- everybody else who is on the phone say something about it, who you are?

Q Mr. President, I'm Marc Morial of New Orleans.

Q Mr. President, I'm Mayor Jimmy Yee, City of Sacramento.

Q Mr. President Jim Hunt, City Attorney in Los Angeles.

Q I'm City Attorney from San Francisco, Louise Renne.

Q I'm City Attorney from St. Louis, Carl Yates.

Q Mayor Dennis Archer of Detroit, with my Corporation Counsel, Phyllis James.

Q Mr. President, Jane Williams, City Attorney of Oakland, California.

Q Mr. President, Mayor Shirley Dean from Berkeley, California.

Q Manuela Albequerque, Berkeley City Attorney.

Q Terrence Lavey, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Camden, Mr. President.

Q Mr. President, Roosevelt Dorn from Inglewood, California with Attorney Charles Dickerson.

Q Mr. President, Jim Meyer, the Attorney for the Mayor Scott King and the City of Gary.

THE PRESIDENT: We're delighted -- can you hear me?

Q Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: We're delighted to have you on the phone call, and I want to say on behalf of not only the White House, but Attorney General Reno and Deputy Attorney General Holder, Secretary Summers and Deputy Secretary Eizenstat and Secretary Cuomo, we very much appreciate what you've done and we congratulate you. I think that this agreement will fundamentally change the way the gun industry does business and all of you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your leadership and involvement have helped to make all American communities safer. We couldn't be here without you, and I thank you.

Now, we've got to build on what we've accomplished today and continue to reduce gun violence. The long roster of leaders with us here today is proof that the whole nation supports what we're doing, and we just need you to go out there and keep working with responsible mentors of the gun industry to keep this momentum going. And I hope we can get some other manufacturers to join us.

I wonder if anybody who is here wants to say anything and anybody on the phone would like to say anything now.

Q Mr. President, this is Dennis Archer in Detroit, Michigan with my corporation counsel, Phyllis James. I got a call late last night to advise me of the settlement. They briefed me on it, but it was not as expansive as the opportunity to read the settlement document, which I think is nothing short of outstanding.

I am prepared, when the document is sent to me, to sign dismissing Smith & Wesson from our lawsuit here in the City of Detroit, and I will visit with my Chief of Police, Benny Napoleon, to share with him why I think we ought to look at Smith & Wesson when we make our next handgun purchases for our police department.

The outside counsel that is working with us, Sam Simpson, from the law firm of Sharfos and Christenson (phonetic) here in Detroit, they just thought it was outstanding, the work that everybody did on behalf of the federal government in negotiating with Smith & Wesson, and we congratulate all parties involved.

Q Mr. President, this is Mayor Yee from the City of Sacramento. I'd like to just say, to begin with, on behalf of our late Mayor Joe Serna, Jr., if he were here, that he would have been ecstatic over the agreement between the lawsuit of the mayors and Smith & Wesson. I certainly will bring this back to our counsel. I'm very optimistic. In fact, I'm confident that our city counsel will approve the agreement to eliminate Smith & Wesson from those lawsuits.

Q Mr. President, this is Mayor Shirley Dean* of Berkeley, California. I will also recommend this to our counsel and I am sure that they will approve. You are to be congratulated for what you have done, because this is an historic first step, and we're very, very much in agreement with Mayor Archer's suggestion that we should favor Smith & Wesson in our purchases.

Q Mr. President, this is San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne. I'm joining my Northern California colleagues not only in thanking you for your leadership effort and commending all involved, but pledging that we will continue to work with the federal government, the states and the other cities as we have in building upon this agreement so that the future of America is safer. Again, we thank you very much for the outstanding leadership you have provided on this issue.

Q Mr. President, Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, Connecticut. I'll be brief, but I just want to thank you for your leadership in bringing this to this historic point with us, and for continuing to battle and hopefully get the other gun manufacturers on board as well.


Q Mr. President, this is Roosevelt Dorn from Inglewood, California. Having served as the Superior Court Judge in the juvenile court for a substantial number of years, let me say, Mr. President, this is the first great step in saving our children and giving our children an opportunity to recognize the significance of staying away from guns.

Your leadership in this matter is just outstanding and we thank you. I thank you on behalf of the children of this country for this first great step.

Q Mr. President, this is Jim Hunt, City Attorney in Los Angeles. I'm with my City Counselman, Mike Fuer. We want to commend you and the administration for your leadership, especially the hard work of Bruce Reed and Secretary Andrew Cuomo, the mayors who began this suit, the attorney generals and the city attorneys. We are all saluting your leadership. We've got one down, we've got many more to go. Congratulations.

Q This is Carl Yates from the City of St. Louis, Assistant City Counselor. And on behalf of Mayor Harmon, who has been in this fight for close to three years, he would like to thank you and all of the attorneys and federal government leaders in guiding this process, and is the father of a brand-new 17-day-old girl. She thanks you as well.

THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations.

Q Thank you, sir.

Q Mr. President, on behalf of the City of Camden, Mayor Milano has asked me to express that he thinks this is a fantastic beginning in terms of the prosecution of our suit and certainly the other suits going on, and that he does note, though, that there are 17 more gun manufacturers, at least in our suit, that we're out to take care of in this, and we do appreciate the efforts in terms of putting together a substantial settlement for the first -- hopefully the first of many.

Q Mr. President, this is Marc Morial of New Orleans, and I want to join everyone in -- (applause) --

THE PRESIDENT: Are you celebrating Mardi Gras down there? (Laughter.)

Q Mr. President, I want you here next year. Mardi Gras is February 28th. We've just finished Mardi Gras, and it was great. Thank you and thank Secretary Cuomo, but thank you for having, really, the courage to push this issue with us. It's an excellent concept, a great first step, and I know that it will save the lives of many children in this nation. Thank you so much.

THE PRESIDENT: Anyone else?

Q Well, I would like to thank the mayors who really have led the way -- this is Dick Blumenthal from Connecticut. It really has been a combined effort, and we couldn't have done it without Secretary Cuomo and his staff, your staff, Mr. President -- Bruce Reed and Secretary Summers and his very, very excellent -- really shows that there's no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit for it. That's been really the story of this very, very combined effort. And as one of the mayors very rightly said, we still have a lot of work to do.

I was kind of reminded, Mr. President of the Liggett settlement. I don't know whether you remember -- in tobacco --


Q -- which kind of opened the way for the rest of the industry and force them to the table. And I think we may see the same here.

Q I would just add, in addition to all the compliments that everybody's received, I'd reiterate those. But the notion that I think that can get us forward, that can bring more manufacturers to the table is the notion of using our procurement power. I think we in government buy all the guns and as -- I sound like a broken record, but I think if we say to the other manufacturers we will not buy guns from you unless and until you sign on to this agreement, then I think we can bring them to the table and get them where it hurts most, which is the bottom line.

I think the figure that we constitute at least 45 percent handgun purchases, federal, state and local, and they will not survive without us. The Glocks and the Rugers and the other primary suppliers simply will need to cave if we say to them no government contracts unless and until you sign this deal. I think that is the next step we should take, and I hope we can all cooperate in that endeavor.


Q Mr. President, it's Alex Panelas from Miami-Dade. I reflect back to when we filed these lawsuits last year, and mayors were ridiculed across America, NRA was just saying that we were just doing this for photo opportunities, that we just wanted to get our names in the newspapers, that it was politics as usual, and that we wanted to enrich trial lawyers. That was the claim.

We said all along that this wasn't about money, that this was about making our communities a little safer, it was about compelling the industry to manufacture safer guns, especially when they dealt with children, and I think our persistence has paid off.

I want to commend you and all of the Secretaries and everyone involved. I think it is an historic day, and you can never measure how many lives you've saved. That's difficult to measure. But I think today's action would undoubtedly -- will make America a little bit safer, and only God knows how many lives we've saved as a result of this settlement. Congratulations.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. If I could just echo two of the points that were made. First of all, I agree with the last point Mayor Panelas made. This proves, this agreement, that nobody was in it for the money. Everybody said all along -- the states, the municipalities and the federal government -- nobody wanted any money damages, we just wanted a change in the way America lives to make it a safer place.

The second thing I'd like to say, to echo what Mayor Archer and Attorney General Spitzer said is, Smith & Wesson stuck their neck out here, and I think that all of us, including the federal government, in our procurement policies, if we really are serious about making America safer, ought to send a clear signal that we appreciate what they did. I think that that will accelerate the day in which the other manufacturers will follow suit.

I thank you all very much, this is a happy day, and I'm glad to talk to you all, and thanks for joining the phone call, and thanks for agreeing with the settlement. Thank you all. Good-bye.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)

END 2:49 P.M. EST