|FIGHTING FOR CONTROL|
April 27, 1999
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton chose today, one week after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, to propose a new series of gun control measures. Backed up by more than a dozen Democratic and Republican members of Congress, the President began by talking about the political effect of the cultural status of guns in America.
|A new series of gun laws.|
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have a huge hunting and sport shooting culture in America, and unlike many of you, I grew up in it. I was 12 years old the first time I took a .22 and shot it at a can on a fence post in the country. I know about this. We always talk about the NRA. The NRA has been powerful not only because they have a lot of money, but because they can influence people who vote. And in that culture, people believe everybody should be personally responsible for their actions; if you just punish people who do wrong more harshly, fewer people will do wrong; and everybody tells me I've got a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, so don't fool with me; and every reasonable restriction is just the camel's nose in the tent; and pretty soon they'll come after my shotgun, and I'll miss the next duck. And I want to make a plea to everybody who is waiting for the next deer season in my home state to think about this in terms of what our reasonable obligations to the larger community of America are.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President proposed that Congress require all purchasers of handguns to be at least 21 years old, up from the current 18; require background checks for the purchase of explosives; ban possession by juveniles of semi-automatic assault rifles; hold parents liable in some cases when their children commit crimes with guns; and require background checks before guns may be purchased at gun shows. The President said such measures can't guarantee an end to schoolhouse gun violence, but would lead to fewer such incidents. On Capitol Hill, Republicans showed little enthusiasm for similar gun control measures last year. Today Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott responded to the President this way.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: To do the typical knee-jerk reaction, oh, goodness, we've had crime and therefore what we need is gun control -- that's what you get in Washington. But that alone is not the answer.
KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, House Speaker Dennis Hastert this morning cited a newly enacted education law that can help schools address violence.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: And one of the things we can do too and this bill wasn't designed to do this, but it does do it, is to allow local schools and local police departments and local education authorities today to look at discipline policies to make sure that you can take the kids with discipline problems over and over again and treat them accordingly, and not according to some federal law that comes out of Washington.
|A culture problem, a gun problem.|
JIM LEHRER: Now, the views of two Senators: Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois, co-sponsor of legislation similar to that proposed today by President Clinton, and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Hatch, what do you think of the President's gun proposals?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): Well, actually, you know, I think that we could solve a lot of these problems if we would pass the Hatch sessions juvenile justice bill that has been languishing up here for two years basically because the President thinks it's too tough on teenagers. I also believe that everything has got to be on the table. We have got to look at everything and see what we can do to resolve these problems because we have a cultural war going on in our country where a lot of these young kids are permitted to do almost anything that's wrong, walk around in trench coats, with painted faces and threaten other kids in school. But, yet if you, as Bill Bennett - the former Secretary of Education -- said last Sunday, yet if they carried a Bible and started to talk about the king of kings and the importance of living the rules laid out by him, they'd be immediately taken into the principal's office. So, we've got to look at everything, we've got to do what's right here. Actually, we should pass the juvenile justice bill, which does contain the juvenile Brady provision, the President called for today. And we have to look at everything else as well. But it isn't simple. I tend to agree with Senator Daschle, the Minority Leader, that we can't just in haste knee jerk this thing. We have to rook at all the options and all the problems, look at it as carefully as we can. I think that's what the juvenile justice bill does do, and go from there.
JIM LEHRER: But generally do you not support what the President suggested today?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, like I say, the juvenile Brady bill is part of the Juvenile Justice Bill. With regard to most of the other matters, we already have laws, federal laws, if you will, that prevent juveniles from having handguns, laws that prevent guns from being carried to school, laws to prevent juveniles from having semi-automatic guns and rifles, laws that basically prevent everything that happened out there in Littleton, Colorado. So, passing more laws is not going to be the answer. It seems to me, that in a culture that's awash in has public immorality, in violence, in Internet pornography, immorality, and violence, we have got to start looking at this culture and see what we can do to make it a better culture for our young people to be raised in.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, it's a culture problem not a gun problem.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: It's both.
JIM LEHRER: No. I was just saying to Senator Durbin what does he thinks about what you just said, Senator Hatch.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN(D-IL): I don't disagree with Senator Hatch about the need to address some of these elements of culture. But, let's face, from time immemorial there have always been bullies and kids that didn't fit in in school and they might start a fight on the playground. The difference today is that bully and misfit occasionally can get his hands on a gun and turn it loose on a lot of innocent classmates; it's the guns that make the difference. And unfortunately, we don't address gun issues on Capitol Hill. There are 14 different gun bills now pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I hope we can report one soon. And, frankly, I think the President's on the right track. How do kids get their hands on these guns? Well, basically they take them from their parents' homes, if their parents aren't responsible in storing them away safely, or they order through the Internet or they get them through a gun show or through another person who buys it and recklessly gives it to a child. The President's proposals and those I support address each one of these elements and says let's make it more difficult for kids to get their hands on guns and use them irresponsibly.
JIM LEHRER: But how do you respond to what Senator Hatch said? You go down that list, a lot of things are already against the law, federal law.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: A lot of them are, but we can toughen the laws to make sure the dealers know that they're going to face tough penalties if they sell illegally to a minor, make certain that parents understand their responsibility to store guns safely. Sixteen states have that law and as a result of those state laws, we've seen a decline in the gun-related shootings and deaths involving children. Each of these is a step forward to say let's not give up on this; let's not say this is something normal in the United States to have a gun shooting every few months.
|On the books now?|
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I can't save because I don't know exactly how these kids got their hands on the guns in Littleton, Colorado. But we know it had to be from one of the sources that I mentioned earlier. But keep in mind -
JIM LEHRER: You mean somebody -- I mean their parents either gave them to them, or some friend bought them or something like that, to circumvent a law -
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Or an Internet sale or gun show sale that avoids the Brady Law. Bu the bottom line is, we understand these kids are getting easier and easier access to guns and as a result, we should do something. I frankly think the President's proposal that puts a responsibility on gun owners to store their guns safely is the right way to go. Now, the President makes it a felony. My bill calls for a misdemeanor. But the 16 states that have passed that law say yes, you have a legal right to own a gun but you have a responsibility to your children, their playmates, and other kids to store it safely with a trigger lock under lock and key.
JIM LEHRER: Now Senator Hatch, on that specific issue alone, would you support that, the idea that a gun owner has a right to have the a gun but has an additional responsibility to keep the gun secure - as Senator Durbin said -- and away from children.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: We already have laws in virtually every state that provide for that. Now, what they want to do is federalize this issue, and they want to bring the almighty federal government down on people. Now, let me just make a couple of points here: I see the President very piously today calling for all of these new federal rules when everything that happened in the Littleton case we've already covered with federal laws that are already on the book. But let me tell you about this administration -- in the trigger lock cases they have dropped prosecutions under this Justice Department -- have dropped from 7,045 down to 3750, virtually in half. It is already a federal crime to possess a firearm on school grounds. In 1997, there were only five prosecutions, even though 6,000 kids that we know of have had guns on school grounds. In 1998, there were only eight prosecutions. It's a federal crime to transfer a firearm to a juvenile. The Clinton Justice Department prosecuted only six cases under this law in 1998 and only five in 1997. Now we know there are a lot are cases than that. It's a federal crime to transfer or possess a semiautomatic weapon. The Clinton Justice Department prosecuted only four cases under the law in 1998 and four in 1997. Now, look, it's one thing to get up there and piously say we have got to stop guns and we have got to do this, we have got to do that. Let's enforce the laws that already exist. They were being enforced before this administration and they haven't been enforced since this administration. And now we got this pious statement today that it's all the fault of the parents and it's all the fault of people who manufacture guns. Look, there's plenty of fault to go around here. We've got to get to the bottom of it. But there are plenty of laws on the books that if we enforce those laws we can resolve at least some of these problems but it's a far deeper problem than that. It's not just owning guns. It's the whole culture.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator, we'll get to that in a moment. Senator Durbin, what about Senator Hatch's point - that - well, you heard what he said. He went through these statistics that the Justice Department isn't enforcing the laws that are on the books now.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think they should forcefully prosecute. And I don't know what resources are at their disposal. Frankly, I think they're overtaxed in terms of the responsibility we've given them when you consider that we want them to go after the drug kingpins; we want them to go after a lot of white collar crime, other things as well. They may need more prosecutors and I'd support that. But let's not lose sight of the fact that more and more kids are getting their hands on guns. We're seeing more and more gun deaths despite the laws. If the laws are weak or inadequate, let us be honest about this. And to suggest that federalizing, for example, the parental responsibility law is something we shouldn't do, only 16 states have passed it and the 16 that have passed it frankly have seen fewer gun deaths and injuries involving children.
JIM LEHRER: But what about the point that I'm sure Senator Hatch would make, Senator Durbin, is that if the current laws on the books can't be enforced, what does adding more laws on the book do to the problem?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Clearly the laws have to be effective and enforced, and if we're going after such things as sales of guns on the Internet -- that's something that wasn't envisioned very long ago. And now it's a reality. The fact that there's a gun show exception to the Brady Law is something the gun lobby fought for, and it's a loophole that we have to close. When the Brady Law expired last year and eliminated the waiting period across America, Congress did nothing, and frankly, we have a responsibility to do that.
|In the hands of a child.|
|JIM LEHRER: And do you think they would - they would have
an effect -
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think they would.
JIM LEHRER: -- in keeping guns out of children's hands?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think they would, because, frankly, you give law enforcement more tools to try to stop those who are passing guns along to children. And that makes sense for all of us. I've never met a gun owner who said to me that he was not worried about the fact that his hands might get in the hands of a child. They all say just the opposite. I don't want my gun to hurt anyone innocently. Storing that gun safely, making sure everybody stands their responsibility for a trigger lock and keeping that gun stored safely is a good step forward.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Senator Hatch, what's wrong with that?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Nothing at all. I don't see any problem with basically encouraging parents to be careful with guns. The question is-
JIM LEHRER: Making it against federal law to do it.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, you see every time we get a problem like this, instead of going to the root causes we have people around here start blaming the big issue of the day and that happens to be guns. I think it's far deeper than that. And if all we're going to talk about are more federal laws with regard to guns -- and we may have to go that route -- I don't know -- but if that's all we're talking about, we're not going to solve this problem. Look, I just got a Marilyn Manson CD. You ought to hear that. It's pure junk. And I'm telling you, that's the kind of stuff our kids are listening to. They're watching on the Internet. Where do these kids get the knowledge to build these bombs? That's all in violation of federal law but nevertheless they got it right off the Internet; 50 some pipe bombs they found in that thing. We now find a situation just this last weekend when a bunch of junior high kids are planning to murder other kids in their school and they were getting their pipe bombs and their knowledge about explosives off the Internet. We've got to look at this culture and we've got to start changing the culture, rather than just screaming about guns. That's never solved the problem.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, you agree with that?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think that's part of it. I wouldn't suggest merely enacting the President's gun legislation or anything I've suggested in this program is going to solve the problem. It think it's a bigger problem. How are kids troubled today, what can we do to discover problems earlier to avoid violent conduct? I'm in for that. I'm ready to sit down with Senator Hatch and anybody who wants to talk about that honestly, but it's naive to believe that we can't address the issue of guns. We understand as American families understand that unless you address the issue of guns, which turn these bullies and misfits into killers on the rampage in our schools, we're going to continue to see more and more of our schools desecrated by blood and bullets. Think about families who have to try to remember at the end of the day what's the last thing I said to my son as he went off for his last day in school, his last day on earth. When is this going to come to an end?
JIM LEHRER: Well, gentlemen, thank you both very much. We have to end this tonight.