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Remarks By Al Gore
Los Angeles School Safety Forum

Friday, June 18, 1999

It's great to be here in the City of Angels. Tipper and I are traveling across the country this week to talk about how we can strengthen America's families for the 21st Century. And we must begin by making our schools safer, and our children more secure.

Early in this decade, with President Clinton's strong leadership, we set out to put America back to work.

And today, the gifts that surround us are great. We have built a strong and growing economy. For many of our families, it is a time of firsts: first child to go to college, first mortgage for a first home, first regular paycheck.

I want to keep our prosperity going—and I know how to do it. I want to do it the right way—not by letting people fend for themselves, or hoping for crumbs of compassion, but by giving people the skills and knowledge to succeed in their own right in the next century.

And I want to extend our prosperity to every corner of our land—especially to the farmers and farm communities that are hurting right now.

But as important as prosperity is, we can go further.

Just visible within a generation's journey is a new horizon: a 21st Century America with stronger families, stronger communities, and a more vital democracy—in which we live and govern according to our highest American ideals.

I love this country with all my heart. I believe in its future. And I know that with our history as our rudder and our ideals as our compass, we can reach our new horizon.

And so today, I ask you to join with me, to keep our economy growing and to bring a new wave of fundamental change to this nation—starting with revolutionary improvements in our public schools.

I ask you to join with me, to build safe and livable communities, where we protect our environment, and restore the quality of life we deserve.

I ask for your help to strengthen family life in America. And I make you this pledge: if you entrust me with the Presidency, I will marshal its authority, its resources, and its moral leadership to fight for America's families.

With your help, I will take my own values of faith and family to the Presidency—to build an America that is not only better off, but better. And that is why today, here in Los Angeles, I announce that I am a candidate for President of the United States.

We have closed our budget deficit. But today, we find a deficit of even greater danger, one that only seems to deepen the harder we work, and the better we do.

These are our deficits now: the time deficit in family life; the decency deficit in our common culture; the care deficit for our little ones and our elderly parents. Our families are loving but over-stretched.

The crisis in the American family today knows no boundary of class or race. It is a challenge we share together, and it is one we must overcome together.

There are many ways we must meet this challenge. We must make America's public schools the finest in the world. And so, with your help, I will bring revolutionary improvement to our schools. And I'll start by making high quality pre-school available to every child, in every family, throughout the entire United States.

Parents deserve help balancing work and family. I want to bring after-school programs to every community in America.

And no parent should have to risk losing a job to go to a parent-teacher conference at school, or to drive a child or an aging parent to the doctor. I will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to ensure that.

Families deserve refuge from a culture of violence and mayhem. I will work to give parents the ability to protect their children from the marketing of cruelty and degradation.

But for all we do to help families, nothing is more important than making our communities safe, and protecting all of our children.

Last year alone, 2.8 million children were victims of violent crime. In an average year, up to 6,000 American students are expelled for bringing a gun to school.

We may never understand why some children choose evil over good. But this much we know: we need to take fear out of the hearts of parents who are sending their children to school—and put more fear into the hearts of those who abuse children, or sell guns to children. I will fight for greater protections for our children, and greater penalties for those who would prey on them.

Later this year, I'll be unveiling my comprehensive anti-crime agenda, but there are three important steps I want to propose right now.

First, we need safer schools. As President, I will double our nation's commitment to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act over the next five years. I will insist that we enforce a policy of zero tolerance toward guns in our schools. Parents have a right to know if a child has brought a gun to their children's school—and schools should be required to tell them. I want to make schools smaller, by creating "schools within schools" that allow teachers and principals to get to know students better, and spot problems earlier. And I want to increase after school programs five-fold, to keep children out of harm's way in the afternoon hours when most juvenile crime takes place.

Second, we need to do more to protect the young victims of crime. As President, I will increase penalties for child abusers—and require lifetime supervision for every child abuser. I support stiff punishments for violent crimes against children, including the death penalty in certain homicide cases. And I will increase funding for mental health and counseling services for children whose lives have been touched by violence.

Third, we need to take aggressive steps to keep guns out of the hands of children. I want to raise the age for handgun possession from 18 to 21—and a violent juvenile shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun just because they've become an adult. No juvenile should be allowed to have an assault weapon, or pack a large-capacity ammunition clip. I want stiff, new penalties for adults who sell guns to minors. And we must require child-safety locks on guns. As a billboard I saw recently said, "It's a lot easier to child-proof a gun than it is to bullet-proof a child."

Last night, the House of Representatives took a step in the wrong direction—refusing to pass strict background checks for those who buy guns at gun shows. I respect the rights of qualified gun owners. But we have seen too many families torn apart to allow this issue to divide us as a nation. We have lost too many children to leave a single gun loophole on our lawbooks. Every gun that is sold to a child or a criminal is a gun that could turn up in your child's school, or on the block where you live.

Let every parent send a clear message to Congress: we must do whatever it takes to close the loopholes and get the guns away from children and criminals.

The stakes are too high for any presidential candidate to stand on the sidelines. I make this vow today: if this Congress won't pass these sensible, sorely-needed protections, then I will personally lead the fight to pass them—as President of the United States.

America needs a President who will fight for the safety of our children. It will be one of my highest priorities. But let us be clear: there are many who have a different agenda. They want to weaken common-sense gun control, and even take cops off the streets. So we have to ask—are they working for the gun lobby, or for the American people?

While some want to pass new protections for gun manufacturers, I will fight for new protections for families, to get guns off the streets, out of the schools, and away from children and criminals.

While some want to roll back the progress we are making in the war on crime, I want to intensify it.

Of course, none of our efforts will work if parents do not take more responsibility. We need to teach children right from wrong—and why the right values transcend a moment's cheap sensation. And we need to spend time passing on those values. This is a battle that must be fought one family at a time—and we must all change our lives to protect and strengthen our families.

Let's move forward, not back. Our children face new threats; we need new force and resolve to protect them. That is what I want to bring.

Now I want to give you the chance to ask me questions about these ideas—and about the responsibility we share for making our communities as safe as they can be.


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