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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 21, 2000


April 21, 2000

The Honorable Henry Hyde
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Hyde:

As you know, yesterday marked the anniversary of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School -- and the date by which I had called on Congress to enact common sense gun safety legislation. The passing of this deadline is a deep disappointment. When nearly 12 of our nation's children are killed by gunfire every day, we have an urgent responsibility to do all we can to reduce gun violence. That is why I am grateful for your good-faith efforts to seek agreement, despite tremendous pressure on Congress from the gun lobby. I was also glad to see that you joined Representative Conyers last week in urging Chairman Hatch to promptly convene the juvenile justice conference and to move forward at last on this legislation. And I appreciated receiving your most recent proposal to reach a compromise.

I still have serious concerns about aspects of your latest proposal that I fear would create new loopholes for criminals to buy guns. But I am confident that if we can keep working together in good faith, we can reach agreement on a strong, common-sense bill that I can sign into law.

I was especially encouraged by your recent commitment on "Meet the Press" and in your letter to Mr. Conyers to ensure that persons under felony indictments remain subject to full, three-day background checks. It is critical that we make the same effort to stop criminals from buying guns at gun shows that we already make at gun stores.

In order to prevent fraud, protect privacy, and fully enforce the nation's gun laws "goals we both share" I believe we must make National Instant Criminal Background Check System records available for a sufficient period of time rather than immediately destroy them. However, as a gesture of good faith, I am willing to meet you halfway on this important issue, by requiring records to be destroyed within 90 days, instead of 180 days as provided under current law. With this compromise, we can address your concerns while preserving this significant law enforcement tool. I hope this step will help break the current logjam, and bring your colleagues back to the conference table.

We still have other important issues to resolve. I remain concerned about aspects of your proposal that would leave open the gun show loophole by letting criminals buy guns at flea markets and by cutting short existing background checks on persons with certain mental health histories and domestic violence restraining orders; undermine the ban on importation of high-capacity ammunition clips; weaken longstanding controls on interstate firearms sales; and fail to require vital recordkeeping provisions needed by law enforcement to trace guns sold at gun shows that later turn up in crimes.

Despite these significant outstanding issues, I believe we can reach an agreement. It is my sincere hope that in the coming weeks, we can work together to address our common goal of closing the gun show loophole and ensuring that our nation's gun laws are fully enforced without weakening current gun laws in the process. Neither of us is interested in a compromise that would serve only to compromise public safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement. I look forward to working with you to pass this common sense legislation, and encourage you to continue urging Chairman Hatch to allow the conferees to meet and consider this legislation. As you have stated, our efforts will come to nothing until that happens. Only by allowing an open and honest debate in conference and by working out our differences can we do right by the American people on this vital issue. We owe it to the families of Littleton, and the thousands more who lose their lives in gunfire each year in America, to get this done now.


William J. Clinton