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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 5, 1998
                            TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In 1993, I took office determined to get our country moving again -- to provide opportunity for all responsible, hard-working citizens, and to create the conditions of a genuine community in our country.

First we had to get the economy going. Yesterday we got the good news that unemployment is down to 4.4 percent, the lowest in 28 years, with 17.3 million new jobs. But America needs more than jobs to really work. Our country also has to be safer. And we've worked very hard to make our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods safer places to live, work and raise families. We've put in place a comprehensive strategy of more prevention, strong enforcement, tougher punishment. We've taken more guns and criminals off the street and put more police on the beat. Crime has dropped for six years in a row now, to a 25-year low.

This week, America launched a new effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and make our streets safer. For the first time ever, the Justice Department, working with the states, conducted computerized background checks on all firearm purchases. In its first four days, the new national Instant Check System reviewed more than 100,000 prospective gun sales to make sure only law-abiding citizens took home new guns. And in just four days, we stopped more than 400 felons, fugitives, stalkers and other prohibited purchasers from walking away with new guns. That's more than 100 illegal gun sales blocked each day. Who knows how many lives were saved.

But within just 24 hours after the instant checks went into effect, the National Rifle Association went to court to stop the new system. The gun lobby's goal is plain: As the NRA's executive director himself put it this week, they want to "scale back" the Brady law.

Five years ago, as the Brady Bill was nearing passage in Congress, the gun lobby spent more than a million dollars in a desperate effort to kill it. Fortunately, the good sense of Congress and the will of the American people prevailed. The gun lobby lost. But the American people won. Unfortunately, as we saw this week, they'll stop at nothing to gut the Brady law and undermine our efforts to keep more guns from falling into the wrong hands, even though we now have five years of evidence that it works.

We can't turn back. In these last five years Brady background checks have stopped nearly a quarter of a million illegal handgun sales. We can't go back to the days when dangerous criminals walked away from stores with new guns, no questions asked.

Police, prosecutors and the American people they protect have made it clear they want to strengthen, not weaken the Brady law. That's why, when the new Congress goes into session next month, one of my top priorities will be to pass legislation to require a minimum waiting period before a handgun sale becomes final. This "cooling off" period will help prevent rash acts of violence and give authorities more time to stop illegal gun purchases.

I also call on Congress to ban juveniles convicted of violent crimes from owning guns for life. There's no reason why young people convicted of violent crimes should be allowed to buy guns on their 21st birthday. And I want to thank Senator Bob Dole for his recent strong public support of this idea.

Finally, we must make sure that firearms sold at gun shows are not exempt from background checks -- that gun shows do not circumvent our gun laws. Last month, I asked Treasury Secretary Rubin and Attorney General Reno to find ways to close this loophole.

Reducing crime has been one of the American people's greatest achievements in recent years. A decade ago, no one thought we could do it. But we did. We must not retreat on this hard-won progress. Instead we must do even more to support the people and the laws that protect our children and families.

Thanks for listening.