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CNN Live Event/Special

President Bush Delivers Remarks on Gun Violence

Aired May 14, 2001 - 11:32   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to Philadelphia -- President Bush making an appearance, talking today on gun violence.

Let's listen in.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... and it would have been a pretty good one, too.


I'm honored to be traveling with the attorney general, who I'll introduce in a minute. It's a great honor to be with the senior senator from the state of Pennsylvania -- that's Arlen Specter -- as well as the junior senator, Rick Santorum. Thank you both for being here.


And we have got members of the congressional delegation as well. Weldon, Hoeffel and Toomey. I want to thank you guys for coming. We're flying back on Air Force One. I look forward to listening to what you need to tell me. I probably won't do it. But, nevertheless, I look forward to listening.


I'm honored to be here with the lieutenant governor and the attorney general of the great state of Pennsylvania. I'm sorry my close friend, the governor, is not here. But I understand he's trying to drum up some business for the state of Pennsylvania, so he's got an excused absence.

It's such an honor to be here with the leaders of the national law organization, such as my friend, Gil Giayos from the state of New Mexico, who's the president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Thank you for being here, Gil -- as well as the other leaders.

And most importantly, it's an honor be here with the men and women who wear the blue. And I want to thank you for your service to your community and to your nation.

(APPLAUSE) And like the mayor, I congratulate those officers who were promoted to corporal. It's a well-deserved honor, and it's fitting that it come on National Police Week. I want to express my appreciation to all in this city who are involved with law enforcement and thank you for your skill and your dedication and, most importantly, your bravery on behalf of your fellow citizens.

During the last several years, violent crime in America has been decreasing, and all Americans are grateful. Between 1989 and 1999, the violent crime rate dropped 20 percent. And that's a huge accomplishment. It really is.

But unfortunately, American society is still far too violent. The violent crime rate in the United States remains among the highest in the industrialized world. Nationally, there were 12,658 murders in 1999, two-thirds of which were shooting deaths.

And for every fatal shooting, there were roughly three nonfatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable, and we're going to do something about it.

Like most major urban centers -- cities in America, Philadelphia suffered from a stunning rise in violent crime. However, Philadelphia, as the mayor mentioned, has made great progress. For example, in 1990, there were 500 murders. Last year, there were 319, and the mayor deserves a lot of credit. So does the police commissioner and the policemen and women of Philadelphia.

And for that, we're incredibly grateful, and we're grateful for programs such as Operation Sunrise and Safe and Sound and Youth Violence Reduction Project, which, Mr. Mayor, is making your city more safe and more secure for all the citizens.

But gun violence is still a serious problem. Three out of four murder victims in this city are shot to death with handguns. Among young victims, that figure rises to almost nine out of 10.

In America today, a teenager is more likely to die from a gunshot than from all natural causes of death combined.

These details have caused too many families to bury the next generation. And for all our children's sake, this nation must reclaim our neighborhoods and our streets.

We need a national strategy to assure that every community is attacking gun violence with focus and intensity. I'm here today to announce a national initiative to help cities like Philadelphia fight gun violence. The program I propose we call "Project Safe Neighborhoods." We'll establish a network of law enforcement and community initiatives targeted at gun violence.

It will involve an unprecedented partnership between all levels of government. It will increase accountability within our systems. And it will send an unmistakable message: If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time. This nation must enforce the gun laws which exist on the books. Project Safe Neighborhoods incorporates and builds upon the success of existing programs. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, during the first year of what's called Project Exile, homicides were reduced by 40 percent, and armed robberies were reduced by 30 percent in the first year alone.

And thanks to Boston's Operation Cease-Fire, in almost two years, no one under the age of 17 was shot. These are tremendous success stories and ones that are worth duplicating around our nation.

My administration is proposing to devote more than $550 million on Project Safe Neighborhoods over the next two years.


The funding will be used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, to support investigators, to provide training and develop and promote community outreach efforts.

All newly appointed United States attorneys will be directed to certify to the attorney general that the new comprehensive gun violence program has been implemented in their districts.


We're going to reduce gun violence in America, and those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration. Domestic tranquility is a phrase made famous in this city. Project Safe Neighborhoods is one step and an important step to making that a reality.

And now to explain the program is a fine American, a great attorney general, John Ashcroft.


KAGAN: We've been listening to President Bush as he addresses a crowd in Philadelphia, talking about gun violence, saying that the level of gun violence across the U.S. is unacceptable. And many people would agree with that. What do you about it is where the controversy steps in -- the president making the point that -- stressing that we need the enforcement of gun laws already on the books in this country.

With more perspective on this, let's bring in our CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who is in Washington.

Bill, we should note -- well, first of all, good morning.


KAGAN: We should note that Philadelphia is the city where President Bush accepted his nomination to become the president -- for the Republican Party, to become the candidate -- but this also a state where he did not win.

SCHNEIDER: He did not win, although I remember that John Street -- the mayor of Philadelphia, who he just was -- who he followed on the podium -- was at the president's budget message before Congress. So he appears to be a favorite of President Bush.

KAGAN: Interesting -- also interesting to even hear the topic of gun control. This is something that you didn't hear a lot of during the campaign.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Republicans usually didn't talk too much about gun control, gun violence. Generally, there was a kind of predictable response. Whenever there was a shocking incidence of gun violence, the Democrats would come out and they would call for new gun control laws. And the Republicans would sort of resist.

And then the Democrats discovered something. They would pay for it at the polls. After they passed the Brady Bill and the assault- weapons ban in 1993, gun owners came out in huge numbers and helped defeat the Democratic Congress in 1994. So Democrats have become, shall we say, gun-control shy. Now what's happening is, the Republicans see an opening. And President Bush is taking it.

He is coming out and saying: We have an answer to gun violence.

And the answer is: tough enforcement -- as you just said -- of laws that are already on the books. The message is: We don't need new laws; we just have to have tougher enforcement of the laws we already have there.

KAGAN: A message we have heard from the NRA for many years.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

And, of course, it's echoed now by Republicans, who, I think, with this appearance by President Bush, feel a lot more confident that when there is an instance of gun violence, they can come out and have an ambitious program and say to the American people: We're going to do something. We are going to have tougher enforcement.

Democrats have been very conspicuously absent in recent instances of gun violence: absent in proposing the new gun laws, because they realize that a lot of people don't want new gun laws. And that just sets off the gun owners.

KAGAN: Not a winning issue for them.

All right, looking ahead, later this week, President Bush is going to release his plans for tackling the energy situation in this country. It is going to have some proposals in there that a lot of people don't like.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It's an emphasis on production over conservation. The most blatant statement of that philosophy was given by the vice president in Toronto about 10 days ago. And that was very controversial because it didn't seem to be sensitive to people's environmental concerns.

This administration came out of the box, just like the Republican Congress did in 1995, without a lot of sensitivity to environmental issues: public safety, public health. Remember arsenic in the drinking water, which was a shocking lapse of political judgment. So, for the past two weeks, they have kind of been backtracking and saying: Oh, no, no, no, we are concerned about conservation. We intend to give it some emphasis.

But, clearly, in this report, the primary emphasis is on increasing production. That's a long-range solution to the nation's energy problems. What a lot of voters want to know right now is: What are you going to do about gas prices right now?

KAGAN: People care about their pocketbook, especially in California. where they're looking at electricity rates going through the roof -- the governor coming out this weekend and asking flat out to the administration, saying: Come and help us and give us price caps -- and the administration saying absolutely no way; that's not going to help. It's only going to hurt.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. They say price caps in the long run are not going to do any good. They are going to create shortages. But, you know, the problem is, the administration doesn't seem to have a short-run answer. In politics, the rule is: Everything is short run.

You know, five, six years from now, sure, increasing energy supply will make a big difference. But what does the administration have to say to automobile owners who are paying $2 and more per gallon at the pump now?

Well, the president had one answer. He said: Pass the tax cut and that will put more money in your pocket.

I am not sure that that's a satisfactory answer to a lot of drivers.

KAGAN: We will see -- especially watch later this week as the administration's plan for the energy crunch does come out.

Bill Schneider in Washington, thank you.