TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
April 28, 1999
When I first heard the news that students had opened fire on their classmates at a high school in Littleton, Colo., last week, I prayed, "Please, God, don't let this be happening again."
My heart breaks for every family that lost a son or daughter, for the family of Dave Sanders, the teacher who died saving the students he loved, for the entire Littleton community, where every life has been touched, and for our nation, which must find a way to say, "Enough."
We are neither helpless nor hopeless in the face of this tragedy. There are answers, but they are not easy.
First, we must acknowledge that too many of our children are growing up alone. Of course, parents have the primary responsibility for raising safe, healthy and happy children, but we all must be involved. Teachers and counselors, police officers and coaches, religious leaders and even elected officials all have a role to play.
Last October, the President and I hosted the first-ever White House Conference on School Safety, where we heard from parents, students, law-enforcement personnel, local community leaders and other experts that the most important way to keep our schools and communities safe is to make sure responsible adults are involved in the lives of our children. At the President's direction, the Departments of Education and Justice issued a guide to help school officials identify students who are feeling isolated and troubled and get them help. He also launched the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative to develop comprehensive community-wide responses to school and youth violence, with a particular focus on providing schools with appropriate mental health services.
In a world that can feel overwhelming and out of control, children need help managing their anger, resolving their conflicts and solving their problems with words instead of weapons. To this end, the President has also dramatically increased federal funding for children's mental health services and asked Tipper Gore to host a White House Conference on Mental Health in June.
We all need help coping with the culture of violence that has become so much a part of American life. Too many TV shows, movies, songs and Internet sites romanticize and glorify violence. There are even video games where the winner is the one who kills the most people. It is time we acknowledge that this violence is having a profound effect on our children and resolve to change it. The President has worked tirelessly to focus attention on this problem.
In 1996, he met with entertainment industry leaders, who agreed to air more educational children's programs and to establish a rating system to help parents make choices about what their children watch. Soon, parents will have more help in the form of the V-chip, technology that can actually block certain shows.
Finally, it is time for us to acknowledge that we must get guns out of the hands of children and criminals. The vast majority of gun owners in this country are law-abiding citizens. Defending the right of these citizens to keep and bear arms does not mean defending shooting sprees in our schoolyards or military-style assault weapons in our communities. Nor does it mean defending those who would fight against simple precautions like child safety locks and background checks.
This week, the President and I stood with over 40 members of Congress from both parties to announce the most comprehensive measure ever proposed for reducing the intolerable toll of gun violence in this country, including raising the legal age for handguns to 21 and limiting purchases to one a month. This proposal builds on the President's already strong record in this area. In 1994, he fought for and won passage of the Brady Law, which has kept handguns away from 250,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers. And he worked to ban the import and sale of 19 different types of assault weapons.
Every day in this country, 13 children die from gun-related violence. For every child killed by a gun, four are wounded. The rate of firearm deaths of children under 15 in the United States is nearly 12 times higher than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. Seven times in the last two years, children have been gunned down in cold blood by classmates.
How many more statistics like this do we have to hear? How many more children have to die? How many more funerals of students and teachers do we have to watch? It's time for our national leaders to act. It's time for each of us to say, "Enough."
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April 29, 1997