Presidential Radio Address - 15 May 1999
Good morning. In the past few weeks, ever since that terrible day in Littleton, people all across America have searched their souls and searched for solutions to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again and to reduce the level of violence to which our children are exposed.
Last Monday at our White House strategy session on children and violence, representatives of every sector of society agreed on one fundamental fact: Making progress requires taking responsibility by all of us. That begins at home. Parents have a duty to guide children as they grow and to stay involved in their lives as they grow older and more independent.
Educators have a responsibility to provide safe learning environments, to teach children how to handle conflicts without violence, and how to treat all young people, no matter how different, with respect. They also need to teach them how to get counseling or mental health services if they're needed.
Communities have a responsibility to make sure that there is a village, as the First Lady said, that supports all its children, especially those who don't get their needs met at home. And the community needs to do more to get our kids involved in working with each other and serving the community, not being isolated from it.
And here in Washington, we have a responsibility. We've got a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children. There's a broad national consensus on that point. At the White House conference, the gun manufacturers agreed that we need commonsense approaches. Everybody agrees except the U.S. Senate. For example, everyone knows we need a real law to close the deadly gun show loophole, through which thousands, indeed, tens of thousands of guns are sold each year without background checks—even though they'd have to have a background check to be sold in a gun store.
Now, the Senate declined to pass that bill. Even worse, the Senate's substitute bill is riddled with new loopholes permitting convicted felons to get guns at pawn shops, no questions asked, and making it harder, not easier, for law enforcement to trace guns used in crimes. If the Senate wants to fix the problem, it should fix the problem, not make it worse. The American people deserve better. They know law-abiding citizens don't need loopholes in our gun laws, only criminals do. I sure hope that in the coming weeks the Senate will step up to its responsibility and do the right thing by our children.
I've always said the entertainment industry must do its part, too. In 1993, shortly after I became President, I traveled to Hollywood and spoke there to members of the community about their responsibility. I said then, "You have the capacity to do good, to help change the way we behave, the way we think of ourselves. Examine what together you might do to help us rebuild the frayed bonds of community, to give children nonviolent ways to resolve their frustrations."
After 6 years of work, the entertainment industry is helping parents to limit children's exposure to violence, working with the administration on a voluntary rating system for television and the V-chip to enforce it, and on parental screening for the Internet and ratings for all Internet games sales. But there is still too much violence on our Nation's screens, large and small. Too many creators and purveyors of violence say there is nothing they can do about it. And there are still too many vulnerable children who are steeped in this culture of violence, becoming increasingly desensitized to it and to its consequences and, therefore, as studies show, hundreds of them more liable to commit violence themselves.
By the age of 18, the typical American will see 40,000 dramatized murders. There are those who say they can or should do nothing about this. But I believe they're wrong. Every one of us has a role to play in giving our kids a safe future. And those with greater influence have greater responsibility. We should see movies and music, TV programs, video games, and advertising for them made by people who made them as if their own children were watching. Members of the entertainment community can make a big difference.
Today I want to issue three specific challenges to them. First, the whole industry should stop showing guns in any ads or previews children might see. Second, I challenge theater and video store owners all across our country to enforce more strictly the rating systems on the movies they show, rent, and sell. You should check ID's, not turn the other way as a child walks unchaperoned into an R-rated movie. Third, I challenge the movie industry to reevaluate its entire ratings systems, especially the PG rating, to determine whether it is allowing too much gratuitous violence in movies approved for viewing by children.
Our administration is fighting to do all we can to protect children. The entertainment industry should do everything it can, too. Across America people are coming together, saying, "Yes, together we can change this culture of violence; together we can give our children a safer future and a culture of values we'll be proud to pass on to future generations." We can do it together.