Presidential Radio Address - 13 June 1998
Good morning. Later today I will meet with families in Springfield, Oregon, families whose lives just a few weeks ago were irreparably changed by a 15-year-old boy with semiautomatic weapons.
We will speak, no doubt, of pain and loss and of the tragic, senseless nature of such acts. I'm sure we'll reflect, as Americans often have in recent months, on similar shocking incidents in Jonesboro, Arkansas; Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; Edinboro, Pennsylvania. This litany of loss is familiar to every American and has tragically grown longer. Now we must think as a nation long and hard about what we can do to stop this violence and save more of our children.
Around our kitchen tables, on our public airwaves, in our private thoughts, we all are asking ourselves, what are the root causes of such youth violence? This is an important and healthy discussion, but it must lead us to take action and take the responsibility that belongs to us all.
We're long past the question of whether culture makes an impact. Of course, it does. School shootings don't occur in a vacuum; they are, in part, symptoms of a culture that toooften glorifies violence. It is no wonder, as scores of studies show, that our children are increasingly numb to violence. They see and hear it everywhere, from TV screens to movie screens to computer screens, and in popular music.
When mindless killing becomes a staple of family entertainment, when over and over children see cinematic conflicts resolved not with words but with weapons, we shouldn't be surprised when children, from impulse or design, follow suit.
Those who create and profit from the culture of violence must step up to their responsibility. So too, must the rest of us remember our responsibility to monitor the content of what is seen by young eyes and heard by young ears and to constantly counsel young people that, though too much violence exists in our society, it is wrong and ultimately self-destructive to those who do it.
We have another important responsibility, to remember that unsupervised children and guns are a deadly combination. Parents cannot permit easy access to weapons that kill. We must get serious about gun safety. We must, every one of us, get serious about prevention.
That's why, for 5 years now, our administration has worked so hard to protect our children. School security is tighter. Prevention is better. Penalties are tougher. We've promoted discipline with curfews, school uniforms, and antitruancy policies. We have worked with gun manufacturers to promote child safety locks on guns, and we will continue to show zero tolerance toward guns in schools. During the 1996-97 school year, our policy led to the expulsion of nearly 6,100 law-breaking students and the prevention of countless acts of violence.
This year Congress has an opportunity to further protect America's children by passing the juvenile crime bill I proposed. It will ban violent juveniles from buying guns for life and take other important steps. Congress can also give communities much needed support. I've proposed that in our balanced budget, $95 million be allocated to the prevention of juvenile crime, including the promotion of after-school programs which provide positive alternatives and ways in which young people can fulfill themselves and learn more and be with other good people doing good things in the very hours when so much juvenile crime occurs.
I urge Congress to step up to its responsibilities, to listen to law enforcement professionals and reject special interest groups who are trying to defeat this bill, to invest in prevention so that we can stop more violent outbursts before they start.
In Springfield, and in far too many recent cases, troubled children announced their intentions before turning guns on their classmates. We've learned that terrible threats and rage in the face of rejection can be more than idle talk. To help adults understand the signs and respond to them before it's too late, today I'm directing the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General to work with school officials and law enforcement to develop an early warning guide. It will be available to every school in America when classes start this fall and will help adults reach out to troubled children quickly and effectively. School children, too, should be taught how to recognize danger signals when they're sent.
All across America, communities are taking responsibility for making our schools and streets safer for our children. Over all, juvenile crime is going down. But we can and must do better at preventing these terrible tragedies. As individuals and as a nation, we must do more to teach our children right from wrong and to teach them how to resolve conflicts peacefully. In this way, we'll build a better, safer future for our children, freer of fear, and full of promise.
Thanks for listening.