THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, THE VICE PRESIDENT, ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO SARAH BRADY, MELANIE MUSICK, AND JIM BRADY DURING SIGNING CEREMONY OF THE BRADY BILL The East Room
1:00 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us on this happy occasion. Our apologies for the slight delay in the program. Seven Central American presidents were here, and the room had to be rearranged.
In addition to acknowledging the President and the First Lady and my wife Tipper, I want to acknowledge the members of Congress who are present -- Senator George Mitchell, the Majority Leader; Senator Joe Biden, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Senator Howard Metzenbaum, the longtime sponsor of the bill in the Senate right here. (Applause.) From the House of Representatives, the longtime sponsor of the bill in the House, Representative Charles Schumer. (Applause.) Representative Don Edwards, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Representative James Sensenbrenner, Representative Rom Mazzoli, Representative Bill Hughes, Representative John Conyers, Representative Craig Washington, Representative David Mann, Representative Pat Schroeder, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, former Congressman Beryl Anthony. and from the administration -- I will introduce Attorney General Janet Reno in a moment -- Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, and Director Lee Brown. and enforcement officials who are present, if I may. Ron Noble, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement in the Treasury Department; Guy Caputo, Director of the Secret Service; John Magaw, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and George Weise, Director of Customs.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great moment, an incident which started as a tragedy for Jim Brady, galvanized Americans so we could accomplish something new in American history. It has been a long, hard battle. So many here have been an important part of this struggle.
It is my honor to introduce someone who helped to fight this battle as a local law enforcement official, working with the Bradys before she joined the administration and someone who has worked as a vigorous advocate for law enforcement in this administration. Attorney General Janet Reno. (Applause.)
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Since that grim day in 1981, the Bradys have been an inspiration to all Americans. Since that day, the tremendous physical courage of Jim Brady has been an example for us all. Never to give up.
Together, Jim and Sarah have raised a wonderful son, Scott, who will celebrate his 15th birthday in December. Together, they have fought back and they have never given up. But not just content with that, since 1987, they have tried to bring reason to guns in America in a way that should be an example for us now and for the future. There were bleak days. There were days when Sarah had to go it alone -- when she would appear on courthouse steps by herself with no entourage fighting for the Brady Bill. And together they never gave up.
They're an example for all Americans that we can make a difference -- that one person, that one family can make a difference in violence in America. And this day is a culmination of just remarkable example of American heroism. But the most important thing on the day the Brady Bill passed, Sarah was asked, "What are you going to do now?" And Sarah said, "I'm going to keep fighting, and we're going to get the ban on assault weapons passed." And then Jim chimed in -- (applause).
Jim and Sarah and Scott are an example to all Americans that we can end the violence that is tearing us apart; that as a family, that as individuals, each of us can and will make a difference.
Sarah Brady. (Applause.)
MRS. BRADY: Thank you, General Reno. She didn't tell you that on that courthouse step alone, fighting for the Brady Bill, there was one other woman -- the Attorney General herself. And right along the way this year since we've been fortunate enough to have her in Washington, she's been right along with us.
It's a special day for us all. I don't think it every occurred to me that I would be this emotional. And I walked in and looked at the faces here and the memories that come back over these past seven years -- every face I look at brings back a different memory.
And I want to thank a lot of people here, and I'm going to try to do it as quickly as possible. Everybody here has helped. And each of you in your own way reflects many others across the country. First of all, I want to say to have an administration, an Attorney General, a Vice President, and a President who we knew would sign this bill is of the utmost importance.
I'd like to draw attention also to another President, who we feel very close to, President Ronald Reagan, who supported it and came out for the Brady Bill, and who made it a badge of honor for Republicans -- (applause) -- and brought this bill into the arena where it was not a partisan issue.
I would like to thank the men and women in blue who have by the hundreds of thousands come to Washington to fight for this over the years, marched for us, been in press conferences, and more than anything else who day in and day out give their lives for all of us. (Applause.)
To our bill sponsors, Senator Metzenbaum, Congressman Schumer, Congressman Sensenbrenner, and our very first Ed Feighan, and all the rest of the members of Congress who had the guts to speak out early and support us all along the way when sometimes it wasn't easy. And I know one of the earliest ones was a Senator from Texas - - and in Texas that wasn't so easy in those days; and he now, of course, sits on the President's Cabinet. So for all the Congress who have supported us, my thanks.
Our friends, Handgun Control, board and staff, are phenomenal. Over the years, they've worked their heart out. And I want to talk a little bit about the victims around the country who have suffered and suffered terribly, and who've gotten involved in this movement. And I know today for them is a very special day, and we thank them for what they've done.
For everyone who's gotten involved, I can't -- I don't know how to say that this is all part of everything a team, a large team, did together.
There's one man in particular now I want to talk about, and that is a gentleman by the name of Pete Shields, who was my predecessor. And it was Pete Shields who made this movement what it is. Before anyone else got involved or thought, he, after losing his son to gunfire, quit his job, came to Washington and decided to work for this noble cause. Pete Shields was Chairman of Handgun Control when I joined; and he was until the year before his death, until he passed away last winter. And we owe a great debt of -- a great debt of gratitude to Pete and to Pete's family -- (applause).
And I only have one or two other words I want to say. Our critics have said that the Brady Bill was only symbolic. Well, I think there is some symbolism in the Brady Bill -- it's symbolic of teamwork, of people from all over this nation working together to pass something that the people wanted. I think it's symbolic that members of Congress could stand up to a large lobby. I think it's symbolic of a lot of things. But I don't want anyone to feel that that's all it is. The Brady Bill is not just symbolism. It will begin to make a difference. It will begin to save lives. We read in The Post this morning that in four states alone, over 50,000 people were stopped in the last four years from getting weapons illegally -- or over the counter. It will help.
And to tell you a little bit on a personal level of how it would have helped her, I want to introduce a very special young woman. Her name is Melanie Musick. I met her several years ago when she came, like so many of the victims have come to Washington to help us, she came to tell her story and to plead. And her story is one of many in the past, and one of many in the future who we hope will be saved by the Brady Bill.
And now I'd like to introduce to you a very special young woman, Melanie Musick. (Applause.)
MS. MUSICK: I would like to start by thanking Jim and Sarah Brady for the many years that they have taken out of their lives for such a worthy cause. And they have done it because it is something that they believe so strongly in and that they know will save lives.
I'd also like to thank President Clinton for his leadership role and taking a stand and urging the Congress, "if you'll send it to me, I'll sign it." And I thank him for his leadership in that.
I'm an ordinary citizen. I'm not an activist and I'm not in the political arena. But I decided I had to get involved because of something that happened in my life. On April 24th, 1990, two police officers came to where I was working and informed me that my husband had been shot and killed while eating lunch in a food court in a mall in Atlanta. The man who killed my husband had just been released from a mental institution the day before. A waiting period deterred him from buying a gun in the city of Atlanta. However, he went to a neighboring county and bought the gun that killed by husband. The Brady Bill could have saved my husband's life if there had just been a waiting period and a background check.
I think the waiting period is important for two reasons. It allows people to cool off from anger and from whatever is disturbing them at the time and it also allows for information to get into the system so when they do a background check, it is accurate. The release papers on the man who killed my husband was not even written up until after the shooting -- a day-and-a-half later after he was released. That's why I feel a waiting period is still so important in part of the Brady Bill.
I can't bring my husband back, but I do know that the Brady Bill is going to save other people's lives -- the lives of people that I love and care for, my friends, my family. It could save their lives. I know from my own experience that the Brady Bill will help stop people from losing members of their families to senseless violence. It will work.
But the fight isn't over. There's people in Congress who want to weaken the Brady Bill, to have the -- provision lowered from five to three years regardless if there's an instant background check or not. We need to stay involved. We need to stay active. We need to keep the pressure on our members of Congress and let them know how important an issue that this is.
The Brady bill is not the solution to the problem. But it is the first step in a multiple problem-oriented society that we have. We need rational, practical legislation to reduce the violence in our country.
This is an important day for me and for all Americans. Not only because the President is signing the Brady Bill, but because it shows that the system work. It shows that average people can make a difference.
Thank you. (Applause.)
MRS. BRADY: Thank you, Melanie. And now, someone who's been my inspiration for 12 years -- well, a lot longer, really. (Laughter.) Jim Brady.
MR. BRADY: This is a very important day for me and for Sarah and for all of those that worked so hard to see the Brady bill become law. But it is even a more important day for America and for America's children.
Twelve years ago, my life was changed forever by a disturbed young man with a gun. Until that time, I hadn't thoughT much about gun control or the need for gun control. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't be stuck with these damn wheels. (Laughter.)
But Sarah led the charge and I followed in her footsteps because I know firsthand the damage that guns can do. It is that knowledge that I have tried to share with lawmakers, with voters and with children. Too many young people believe that a gun is the answer to their problems. I can tell them it is not. I can tell them about the pain and the frustration. I hope that they will listen.
Today, we know that someone was listening. After nearly seven years, the Brady Bill is about to become the Brady Law.
Thank you, President Clinton, for your commitment to seeing this day realized. What we are witnessing today is more than a bill-signing, it is the end of unchecked madness and the commencement of a heartfelt crusade for a safer and saner country. (Applause.)
MRS. BRADY: You know, I think I've heard these words said before, but I never thought I, in my entire life, would have the opportunity to say them. But I have the distinct honor to introduce the President of the United States. (Applause.)
And I just want to say again to him, thank you for making this possible. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Sarah and Jim, and General Reno, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Musick, thank you for your wonderful remarks.
There were two members of Congress who inadvertently were not introduced. I want to recognize them because they've played a major role in this. One of our Democratic leaders in the House, Steny Hoyer, and Senator Herb Kohl from Wisconsin, who also sponsored the bill to make it illegal for minors to possess handguns, and I thank you for that, sir.
Senator Metzenbaum, Congressman Schumer, Senator Mitchell and others who gave birth to this great effort. To all the law enforcement representatives, the governors, the mayors, the folks from Handgun Control who are here. To the families whose lives would have been changed for the better if the Brady Bill had been law. Mrs. Musick, and my friend, Cathy Gould and her children, Lindsey and Christopher who lost a husband and father who would be here today if the Brady Bill had been law. I am honored to have all of you here in the White House.
I also want to say a special word of thanks to the members of Congress who were out there early on this, when there was some considerable political risk either attached to it, or thought to be attached. The Brady Bill was first introduced almost seven years ago by Congressman Ed Feighan of Ohio on February the 4th, 1987.
I can't resist saying a special word of thanks to the members who come from difficult districts who voted for this bill. My good friend, and Congressman Beryl Anthony from Arkansas lost a tough race in 1992, and part of the reason was that he voted for the Brady Bill. And the NRA came after him in an unusual election. He said to me on the way in here, he said if it cost my seat, it was worth it. (Applause.)
Everything that has been -- that should be said about this has already been said by people whose lives are more profoundly imbued with this issue than mine. But there are some things I think we need to think about that we learned from this endeavor as we look ahead to what still needs to be done.
Since Jim and Sarah began this crusade, more than 150,000 Americans -- men, women, teenagers, children, even infants -- have been killed with handguns. And many more have been wounded. One hundred and fifty thousand people from all walks of life who should have been here to share Christmas with us. This couple saw through a fight that really never should have had to occur; because still, when people are confronted with issues of clear common sense and overwhelming evidence, too often we are prevented from doing what we know we ought to do by our collective fears, whatever they may be.
The Brady Bill has finally become law, in a fundamental sense not because of any of us, but because grass roots America changed its mind and demanded that this Congress not leave here without doing something about this. And all the rest of us, even Jim and Sarah, did was to somehow light that spark that swept across the people of this country and proved once again that democracy can work. America won this battle. Americans are finally fed up with violence that cuts down another citizen with gunfire every 20 minutes.
And we know that this bill will make a difference. As Sarah said, The Washington Post pointed out that about 50,000 people have been denied the right to buy a handgun in just four states since 1989. Don't let anybody tell you that this won't work. I got a friend back home who sold a gun years ago to a guy who had escaped from a mental hospital that he hadn't seen in 10 years. And he pulled out that old form from the 1968 act, and said, have you ever been convicted of a crime? Have you ever been in a mental hospital? The guy said, no, no -- and put the form back in the drawer. And 12 hours later six people were dead and my friend is not over it to this day. Don't tell me this bill will not make a difference. That is not true. (Applause.) It is not true.
But we all know there is more to be done. The crime bill not only has 100,000 new police officers who, properly trained and deployed, will lower the crime rate by preventing crime, not just by catching criminals. It also has a ban on several assault weapons, long overdue -- (applause); a ban on handgun ownership and restrictions on possession of handguns by minors; the beginning of reform of our federal firearms licensing systems; and an effort to make our schools safer. This is a good beginning. And there will be more to be done after that.
But I ask you to think about what this means and what we can all do to keep this going. We cannot stop here. I'm so proud of what others are doing; I'm proud of the work that Reverend Jesse Jackson has been doing, going back now to the streets and talking to the kids and telling them to stop shooting each other and cutting each up, and to turn away from violence. I'm proud of people like David Plaza, not so well-known, a former gang member who has turned his life around and now coordinates a program called Gang Alternative Programs in Norwalk, California, telling gang members they have to take personal responsibility for their actions and turn away from violence. Reverend William Moore, who organized parents and educators and other clergy in North Philadelphia to provide safety corridors for kids going to and from school. One hundred and sixty thousand children stay home every day because they're scared to go to school in this country. And all the police officers on the street who have restored confidence in their neighborhoods, becoming involved in ways that often are way beyond the call of duty; people like Officer Anthony Fuedo of Boston, who took a tough section of East Boston and transformed it from a neighborhood full of fear to one which elderly people now feel safe sitting on benches again.
We can do this, but only if we do it together. And I ask you to think about this: I come from a state where half the folks have hunting and fishing licenses. I can still remember the first day when I was a little boy out in the country putting a can on top of a fencepost and shooting a .22 at it. I can still remember the first time I pulled a trigger on a .410 shotgun because I was too little to hold a .12 gauge. I can remember these things.
This is part of the culture of a big part of America. But people have taken that culture. We just started deer season -- I live in a place where we still close schools and plants on the first day of deer season -- nobody is going to show up anyway. (Laughter.) We just started deer season at home and a lot of other places. We have taken this important part of the life of millions of Americans and turned it into an instrument of maintaining madness. It is crazy.
Would I let anybody change that life in America? Not on your life. Has that got anything to do with the Brady Bill or assault weapons, or whether the police have to go out on the street confronting teenagers who are better armed than they are? Of course, not.
This is the beginning of something truly wonderful in this country if we have learned to separate out all this stuff we've been hearing all these years; trying to make the American people afraid that somehow their quality of life is going to be undermined by doing stuff that people of common sense and goodwill would clearly want to do. And every law enforcement official in American telling us to do it.
So, I plead with all of you today, when you leave here to be reinvigorated by this; to be exhilarated by the triumph of Jim and Sarah Brady and all these other folks who didn't let their personal losses defeat them but instead used it to come out here and push us to do better.
And each of you in turn, take your opportunity not to let people ever again in this country use a legitimate part of our American heritage in ways that blinds us to our obligation to the present and the future. If we have broken that, then there is nothing we cannot do. And when I go and sign this bill in a minute, it will be step one in taking our streets back, taking our children back, reclaiming our families and our future. Thank you. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)
END1:32 P.M. EST