[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1994, Book II)]
[September 13, 1994]
[Pages 1539-1541]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 
September 13, 1994

    I think we ought to give the Vice President a hand for all the work 
that he has done. [Applause] Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your 
introduction and for your labors on this bill.
    Most of the introductions have been made, but I want to join what 
has been said. I want to thank the members of my Cabinet, General Reno 
and Secretary Bentsen and all the others who worked so hard on this. I 
want to thank all these mayors here, Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Webb, Mayor 
Rice, Mayor Daley, Mayor James, Mayor Rendell, all the other mayors. I'd 
like to ask--and there are some county officials here--I'd like to ask 
all the local leaders who are here to please stand up; they didn't all 
stand--I'd like to ask them all to stand and be recognized. Mayor 
Golding, Susan, good to see you. Mayor Schmoke, Mayor Helmke, Mayor 
Abramson who got cauliflower ear from making his phone calls. [Laughter] 
I'd also like to ask, even though many of them have been introduced, I 
would like to ask the people without whom we would not be here today, 
all the Members of the Congress who are here, Republicans and Democrats, 
to please stand and be acknowledged; every one of them, I'd like for 
them to stand up. Thank you.
    And let me say to all the representatives of the victims groups and 
the citizens groups how grateful we are to you; to all the leaders of 
the law enforcement groups; to all the rank-and-file folks who worked so 
hard; to all the leaders of the community groups of people who wanted to 
give our kids something to say yes to and to prevent crime before it 
occurs; to all the ministers--to all of you, I thank you for being here 
and for making this day possible.
    The American people have been waiting a long time for this day. In 
the last 25 years, half a million Americans have been killed by other 
Americans. For 25 years, crime has been a hot political issue, used too 
often to divide us while the system makes excuses for not punishing 
criminals and doing the job, instead of being used to unite us to 
prevent crime, punish criminals, and restore a sense of safety and 
security to the American people.
    For the last 6 years, children have become the most likely victims 
of violent crime and its most likely perpetrators. And for 6 years, 
Washington debated a crime bill without action while more and more 
children died and more and more children became criminals and foreclosed 
a productive life for themselves.
    In the last 2 years, Meghan Sposato lost a mother she had only begun 
to know; Polly Klaas lost her life to a felon who should never have been 
back on the streets; and James Darby wrote his President a letter 
because he was so afraid, only to lose his life walking home before 
anybody could erase his fears. And still, some people in this town tried 
to keep this day from happening. But today, at last, the waiting ends.
    Today the bickering stops, the era of excuses is over, the law-
abiding citizens of our country have made their voices heard. Never 
again should Washington put politics and party above law and order.
    From this day forward, let us put partisanship behind us, and let us 
go forward--Democrats, Republicans and independents, law enforcement, 
community leaders, ordinary citizens--let us roll up our sleeves to roll 
back this awful tide of violence and reduce crime in our country. We 
have the tools now. Let us get about the business of using them.
    One of the reasons that I sought this office is to get this bill, 
because if the American people do not feel safe on their streets, in 
their schools, in their homes, in their places of work and worship, then 
it is difficult to say that the American people are free.
    Not so long ago, kids grew up knowing they'd have to pay if they 
broke a neighbor's window playing ball. I know; I did it once. 
[Laughter] They knew they'd be in trouble if they lied

[[Page 1540]]

or stole because their parents and teachers and neighbors cared enough 
to set them straight. And everybody knew that anybody who committed a 
serious crime would be caught and convicted and would serve their time 
in jail. The rules were simple, the results were predictable, and we 
lived better because of it. Punishment was swift and certain for people 
who didn't follow the rules, and the rewards of America were 
considerable for those who did.
    Now, too many kids don't have parents who care. Gangs and drugs have 
taken over our streets and undermined our schools. Every day we read 
about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder. But the 
American people haven't forgotten the difference between right and 
wrong. The system has. The American people haven't stopped wanting to 
raise their children in lives of safety and dignity, but they've got a 
lot of obstacles in their way.
    When I sign this crime bill, we together are taking a big step 
toward bringing the laws of our land back into line with the values of 
our people and beginning to restore the line between right and wrong. 
There must be no doubt about whose side we're on. People who commit 
crimes should be caught, convicted, and punished. This bill puts 
Government on the side of those who abide by the law, not those who 
break it; on the side of the victims, not their attackers; on the side 
of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every 
day, not the criminals or those who would turn away from law 
enforcement. That's why police and prosecutors and preachers fought so 
hard for this bill and why I am so proud to sign it into law today.
    When this bill is law, ``three strikes and you're out'' will be the 
law of the land; the penalty for killing a law enforcement officer will 
be death; we will have a significant--[applause]--we will have the means 
by which we can say punishment will be more certain. We will cut the 
Federal work force over a period of years by 270,000 positions to its 
lowest level in 30 years and take all that money to pay for this crime 
bill. The savings will be used to put 100,000 police officers on the 
street, a 20 percent increase. It will be used to build prisons to keep 
100,000 violent criminals off the street. It will be used to give our 
young people something to say yes to, places where they can go after 
school where they are safe, where they can do constructive things that 
will help them to build their lives, where teachers replace gang leaders 
as role models. All of these things should be done and will be done.
    This bill makes it illegal for juveniles to own handguns and, yes, 
without eroding the rights of sports men and women in this country, we 
will finally ban these assault weapons from our street that have no 
purpose other than to kill.
    But my friends, let us be frank with each other: Even this great 
law, the toughest and smartest crime bill in our history, cannot do the 
job alone. By its own words, it is still a law. It must be implemented 
by you, and it must be supplemented by you. Even when we put a new 
police officer on your block, the officer can't make you safe unless you 
come out of your home and help the officer do his or her job. Even when 
we keep our schools open late and give our children an alternative to 
drugs and gangs, your children won't learn the difference between right 
and wrong unless you teach them and they're in those schools when 
they're open. Our country will not truly be safe again until all 
Americans take personal responsibility for themselves, their families, 
and their communities. This day is the beginning, not the end, of our 
effort to restore safety and security to the people of this country.
    Here in Washington there is more that we can do. Today I am naming 
Vice President Gore, whose reinventing Government report first proposed 
the cuts in the bureaucracy that will pay for this bill, to head the 
President's Prevention Council. I want him to work with every Department 
to make this a coherent and cost-effective effort to give communities 
the tools they need to prevent crime from occurring in the first place. 
In a few weeks I will name the head of our program to put 100,000 new 
police on the street. And early next month, the Justice Department will 
award grants to put new police on the street in 150 more cities and 
towns that applied last year.
    Last Sunday, I was in Maryland, and Senator Sarbanes told me that 
already one of our community policing grants had resulted in the capture 
of a serious felon in a community in his State. This will make a 
difference. And I want to commend the Attorney General and the Justice 
Department for being determined to do this right, to get this money out 
to the grassroots so that we can hire the police and get on with the 

[[Page 1541]]

    Thirdly, in the coming months the Vice President and I will hold 
forums on crime and violence all across our country, with all kinds of 
people from all walks of life, leading up here to a meeting at the White 
House next year to launch a national effort at the grassroots level in 
each and every community to implement the crime bill properly, to 
enshrine the values and common sense the crime bill represents, and to 
do something about this terrible scourge of violence that is especially 
gripping our children and robbing them of their future. We intend to 
continue the fight, and we want you to keep working with us.
    Today we remember the thousands of officers who gave their lives to 
make our Nation safer, whose names are inscribed in a stone memorial 
just a mile away from here. We remember the innocent victims whose lives 
were lost and whose families were shattered by the scourge of violent 
crime. We remember three, James Darby, Polly Klaas, and Jody Sposato, 
whose deaths literally galvanized this Nation and shamed our political 
system into action. It is in their memories that I dedicate this bill. I 
hope this law will always be remembered in their names. And I hope, too, 
that we will remember what the Vice President said, ``The ultimate 
victory of this law will be in the salvation of the children whose names 
we will never know.''
    Early in 1992, I was walking through one of the countless kitchens 
of a hotel lobby in New York on my way to a dinner when a waiter working 
there came up to me and grabbed me, and he said, ``Mr. President''--he 
didn't call me Governor then--he said, ``My 10-year-old boy is studying 
this election in school, and he says I should vote for you.'' But he 
said, ``I want to tell you something first. I came here as an immigrant, 
and the place where I lived was very poor, and we were very poor. But at 
least we were free. Now we live here, and we have more money, but we are 
not free. We are not free because my boy can't walk across the street 
and play in the park unless I am with him. We are not free because my 
boy cannot walk to school unless I am with him. Make my boy free.''
    On the day after the crime bill was signed, I received a letter 
carefully typed from a very young man who is the son of a member of our 
administration. It was so eloquent. He said, ``I live in a good 
neighborhood. I go to a nice school. You wouldn't think people like me 
would care about this crime bill, but I have been keeping up with it 
every day because every time I go out with my friends at night to a 
movie or to a game, I think someone might shoot me before I get home. 
Now I feel so much better.''
    My fellow Americans, this is about freedom. Without responsibility, 
without order, without lawfulness, there is no freedom. Today the will 
of the American people has triumphed over a generation of division and 
paralysis. We've won a chance to work together.
    So in that spirit, let us rededicate ourselves today to making this 
law become the life of our country, to restoring the sense of right and 
wrong that built our country, and to make it safe, not in words but in 
fact, in the lifeblood of every child and every citizen of this country 
who believes in the promise of America. Let us make it real.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:48 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Mayors Rudolph Giuliani of New 
York City; Wellington E. Webb of Denver, CO; Norman Rice of Seattle, WA; 
Richard M. Daley of Chicago, IL; Sharpe James of Newark, NJ; Edward 
Rendell of Philadelphia, PA; Susan Golding of San Diego, CA; Kurt 
Schmoke of Baltimore, MD; Paul Helmke of Fort Wayne, IN; and Jerry 
Abramson of Louisville, KY. H.R. 3355, approved September 13, was 
assigned Public Law No. 103-322.