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Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Vice President Al Gore
Fighting Crime for America's Families

Al Gore delivering a speech on Fighting Crime to protect American Families in Boston, MA—July 12, 1999

Monday, July 12, 1999

It is wonderful to be here in Boston this morning—a city that is winning an extraordinary victory against violence and fear. I know that is due in large part to the remarkable leadership of Mayor Menino, together with Boston's outstanding police.

Your success here is an inspiration: for eighteen months here in Boston, not a single precious child was killed. Youth homicide is down by 75 percent. So far, in all of 1999, not a single parent has lost a child to handgun violence. This summer could be the safest in Boston's recent history. And I applaud you.

I want to build an America in the 21st Century where that kind of progress is not astonishing, but expected. Where even one act of violence or cruelty on the evening news is a shock to the American spirit.

In the past several weeks, I have spoken a great deal about the crisis facing families in America today—about the growing forces that make it harder, not easier, to raise a strong family. From the erosion of discipline in our schools, to a culture that glorifies mayhem and cruelty, to the time deficit too many working parents face—our families face challenges that economic abundance alone cannot overcome.

And nothing does more to tear families apart than guns, gangs, drugs, and the fear that walks alongside those terrors. Our children cannot reach for their dreams if they are ducking for cover. We cannot restore a sense of community and decency if people are afraid to walk in any neighborhood—if they feel they have lost the public spaces that are rightfully theirs. A parent struggles to pass on the right values in a culture that practically screams out that chaos and cruelty are cool. And a good parent is undermined in trying to teach the great, simple lessons of right and wrong, of the rule of law and responsibility, when a burdened justice system lets criminals off too easy.

In the past six and a half years, we have made dramatic progress in the war against crime. Remember the chronic fear that used to be part of the way things just were in America's cities? That fear has lifted. In many communities, we have reversed a decades-long rise in crime. And we, together with men and women in local law enforcement, did it by breaking out of the rigid and rusted debates that had stalled action for too long.

When I served the people of Tennessee in the Senate, fighting for the Brady Bill and for stronger anti-drug laws, we were still caught between those who thought the sole answer was to be tougher on criminals, and those who thought the sole answer was to be tougher on the causes of crime. President Clinton and I believed we needed a new way, and we found it. Together with the law enforcement community, we created a new crime-fighting strategy that not only took on the gun lobby, it fought crime on every single front: we targeted smarter prevention to save decent kids; we put more police on the streets; and we made certain that truly savage criminals knew they would face tougher punishments—punishments that could include the death penalty—if they dared to terrorize the innocent any longer.

We lived up to every promise to you and your loved ones: we're funding 100,000 new community police, and fighting for up to 50,000 more—and I believe that should be just the beginning. We funded 100,000 new prison cells, and expanded the death penalty. Criminals don't laugh at the legal system any more. And we stood up to the powerful gun lobby, and did the right thing for our kids, by passing the Brady Bill and banning deadly assault weapons at last.

Now crime is at its lowest level in 25 years. Murder is at a 30-year low. We're breaking up violent teen gangs and turning the good kids' lives around.

The statistics are significant—and they are gratifying. But we must be honest: too many families, and too many communities, still live in fear. And that is because parents share a growing sense that the line between right and wrong is being blurred—a sense that too many children don't even know when they have crossed it.

To truly win the war against crime and drugs, we must redraw the fundamental line between right and wrong in our own minds and hearts. And then we must write it in ink in our lawbooks and etch it in stone in our criminal justice system and in our institutions.

And so I make you this pledge today: if the people of this country entrust me with the Presidency, I will fight to protect America's families by launching the most effective and comprehensive anti-crime strategy our nation has seen.

I will change a political culture in Washington that puts the interests of the gun lobby ahead of the needs of American families, too many of whom now feel they have to draw the curtains at midday because they fear their children's becoming living targets.

I will reform a justice system that spills half a million prisoners back onto our streets each year—many of them addicted to drugs and alcohol, unrehabilitated and unrepentant, walking timebombs of violence.

I will revolutionize a court system that is overloaded and understaffed, and that often seems less like Law and Order and more like Let's Make a Deal. It's time to put the rights of victims and families first again.

I will work with our communities to restore the sense of order that says to children as well as to criminals: don't even think about committing a crime here.

And I will take on those who deliberately peddle degradation and violence to our children and work for self-restraint in TV and on the Internet, along with the V-Chip and related tools, to guarantee that parents finally get real choices—and real control.

Good values are the best anti-crime insurance to begin with.

And what I am proposing today puts that idea into action: a criminal justice system with real consequences for those who choose crime—and new respect for the rights of victims; communities and schools that make it easier to raise a strong family; gun laws that are written for families, not for gun lobbyists and their apologists; and a shared commitment by each one of us—to teach our children right from wrong, so we can stop crime and drug abuse before they even start—that's how we etch that line in stone once more.

Let us build a criminal justice system that reflects our values—through fundamental changes in the way we administer justice and enforce our laws.

We cannot keep our families safe if our criminal justice system is too often a revolving door, where even violent criminals get a slap on the wrist. Though the Bible says that justice without mercy is cold-hearted, it also reminds us that mercy at the expense of justice is a desecration of our humanity. Crime must have serious consequences—and the rights of victims should be at the center of all justice. How can we expect children to choose the good if our very system of justice too often fails to side with the good guys?

I am not satisfied. I am not satisfied with a criminal justice system in which the average time between arrest and sentencing is nearly seven months. I will lead a major overhaul of our court system to make it faster and better. I want to hire more prosecutors and public defenders, and use new management techniques to make it more efficient. It's time to apply the reforms that are working in the private sector, and at many levels of government, to revolutionize our justice system.

I am not satisfied with empty benches. I agree with Chief Justice Rehnquist: "[federal court] vacancies cannot remain at such high levels indefinitely without eroding the quality of justice." There are now 72 empty seats on the federal bench. Yet instead of confirming highly qualified nominees, the Republican Senate continues to hold our justice system hostage. So I say to the Senate: if you are really serious about protecting America's families, then stop playing politics with our federal courts.

I am not satisfied with outdated laws: our newest threats must be met with the most trusted weapon we have: swift and certain punishment.

I am not satisfied as long as even one child remains at the mercy of predators. We need tougher penalties against sex offenders; we need to make it a federal crime if anyone dares to stalk our children on the Internet.

I am not satisfied as long as even one criminal traumatizes a child through violence: if you commit any violent crime in front of a child, you should pay an even higher price for it: more time in jail.

And it astonishes me that, just two weeks after the terrible crimes of hate in Illinois and Indiana, some still deny that hate crimes merit stiffer punishment. When a killer on the rampage picks Jews, Blacks, and Asian Americans as his victims, I don't understand how some can still argue that hate crimes are no different than all other crimes. Hate crimes are often among the most vicious, and the most violent of crimes. But more serious still is the fact that their very purpose is to dehumanize and to stigmatize—not only to wound the victim, but also to distort the American conscience. We will not have it. It's time for Congress to stop stalling, and pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Let's punish crimes of hate with the full force of our laws.

The revolving door or recidivism pivots on drug abuse—and access to drugs even in prison. I believe there is a way to shut the revolving door of drug-related crime—with mandatory drug testing, drug treatment, and more prison time for those who don't break the habit. Let's make prisoners a simple deal: before you get out of jail, you have to get clean. And if you want to stay out, then you'd better stay clean.

We must crack down on drugs in every corner of our society. Drugs cause 16,000 deaths each year in America—and more than a million crimes that lead to arrest. One recent study showed that nearly one-fifth of all state prisoners committed their crimes just to feed their drug habits.

As President, I will send a strong message to every American child: drugs are wrong, and drugs can kill you.

I will lead a national crusade to dry up drug demand, hold up drugs at the border, and break up the drug rings that are spreading poison on our streets.

I'll expand drug treatment for at-risk youth. I'll fund more drug courts, to speed justice for drug-related crime. I will double the number of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas—drug hot-spots where we aggressively target our enforcement efforts. I will place a special emphasis on the fast-growing problem of methamphetimines. And I will make sure that our anti-drug strategy does not neglect the problem of alcohol abuse, an underlying cause of far too many crimes.

And I will never be satisfied so long as one victim is forgotten. Too often, we bend over backward to protect the right of criminals, but pay no attention to those who are hurt the most. Victims should have a voice in trial and other proceedings. Their safety should be a factor in the sentencing and release of their attackers. They should be notified when an offender is released back into their community. And they should have a right to compensation from their attacker. That is why I will lead the fight to pass a Victims' Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution—so our justice system puts victims and their families first again.

And in our vigilance to crack down on criminals, we must do more to make sure we never unfairly target those who are innocent. No one believes more strongly in tough, vigorous law enforcement than I do. But we need to end the hateful practice of racial profiling in America—and I will ensure that we do. If I am elected President, that will be the first civil rights action of the new century.

For law enforcement to fully understand and protect a community, they must better reflect the community. That is why I will support scholarships for communities that have been historically underrepresented in our criminal justice system, in a manner that is consistent with recent Supreme Court decisions. I want to see the day when America's police, prosecutors, and public defenders reflect the full diversity of our nation.

And we need to increase assistance for professional development and re-training through our nation's police academies. That is the best way to ensure that police catch every criminal—and also respect every law-abiding citizen.

We need a criminal justice system that reflects our values. But we also need to build communities that are safer and stronger, and make it easier for parents to instill the right values.

We cannot have strong families without strong, safe, livable communities. And as President, I will work to give communities unprecedented new tools to instill order and safety.

We can begin by making it easier for local law enforcement to track the latest crime trends—block by block, crime by crime. I will work to give police new computerized crime mapping software—so they know which hotspots to target, and which places still need to be made safe. Earlier today, I announced with Attorney-General Janet Reno that our Justice Department and our National Partnership for Reinventing Government are releasing a new plan to make crime mapping technology available to every community in America.

Once communities are fully able to track and analyze crime, they need more help stopping it. I will fight for a federal law that helps communities establish "gang-free zones"—with curfews on specific gang members, a ban on gang-related clothing, and the specific legal authority to break up gangs once and for all. When this approach was pioneered in parts of Los Angeles, it dramatically cut juvenile crime. Let's take our streets back from the gangs, once and for all.

As we forge new coalitions in an all-out effort to prevent crime, let us also raise up our nation's faith-based organizations. I have seen the difference that Reverend Eugene Rivers and other faith leaders have made here in Boston. They have found that overcoming problems such as youth violence and drug addiction often requires something more than new cops and tough laws—it requires discipline and courage, deep within the individual. Faith is often the missing ingredient, the leaven that rises the bread. That is why I want to build a New Partnership with our nation's churches, mosques, and synagogues. Through carefully-tailored efforts, we can unleash the power of faith to stop crime at the grassroots.

And I want the heart of our crime prevention efforts to be safe, strong, disciplined schools—places where children can learn in safety, and where parents know their children are secure. I will insist on a policy of zero tolerance toward guns and drugs 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 call for the creation of second-chance schools—where kids headed for trouble, and those caught with guns, can receive the strict discipline and intensive services they need. As President, I will quadruple America's commitment to after school programs, to keep children out of harm's way in the afternoon hours when most juvenile crime takes place.

We need more discipline and character education, to reinforce the values parents teach at home. And we need more parental involvement in our schools. I recently visited Arlington Technical High School in Indianapolis, where fathers actually walk the halls to make their children's schools safer. They call themselves "security dads." I want to support similar efforts all across the nation.

A safe community is a place where all women are safe from domestic violence. I will make sure all battered women have the legal protection and support they need to be safe in their communities, and keep their attackers away.

A safe community is a place where seniors are safe from fraud, abuse, and every kind of elder-crime. I believe we should raise the penalties for those who commit crimes against the elderly. We should give federal prosecutors new tools to fight fraud and abuse. And we should take dramatic new steps to shut down fraudulent telemarketers who prey on the elderly.

For all the challenges we face in the fight against crime, there is one that looms over the rest: it is too easy for a child or a criminal to get a gun in America. And there are too many political leaders who take their marching orders from the gun lobby. I call upon you to join with me, to create a family lobby that is greater and more powerful than the gun lobby—so we can get the guns away from children and criminals, once and for all.

We're working now to raise the age for handgun possession from 18 to 21. To pass strict background checks for those who buy guns at gun shows. To enact stiff, new penalties for adults who sell guns to minors. And to require child-safety locks on guns. I recently saw a billboard here in Boston posted by the Newton, Massachusetts group Stop Handgun Violence. It said: "It's a lot easier to child-proof a gun than it is to bullet-proof a child." I agree.

We need to pass all these measures right away. But we need to do much, much more. I respect the rights of qualified gun owners. But we have lost too many children to have our safety held hostage by the gun lobby.

As President, I will do whatever it takes to get the guns away from children and criminals, and close every loophole in our lawbooks. And here is how I want to start. I will fight for a national requirement that every state issue photo licenses for anyone who wants to buy a handgun. States would have broad discretion in how to administer and implement this program. But one thing would be clear: unless you obtain a license, pass a background check, and pass a gun safety test, you could not buy a handgun. Not in a gun shop, not at a gun show, not on a street corner, not anywhere in America.

We know background checks work. Since we passed the Brady Law, gun crimes have dropped by 38 percent. The Brady Law has stopped nearly a quarter of a million felons and fugitives from buying guns, and saved countless lives. But today's patchwork of background checks just isn't good enough.

We require a license to drive a car in this nation, to keep unsafe drivers off the road. Now we should require a license to own a handgun—so people who shouldn't have them can't get them.

It's time. The gun lobby is sure to have a fit. But to me, it is worth it, and I am sure the decent people of America will agree: because too many illegal guns are flooding our communities—and too many precious lives are being lost.

And it is time to get tougher on dealers and sellers who violate our gun laws. We need to crack down on open air gun markets—where criminals are known to gather and buy guns—and all places where guns are sold illegally to kids and criminals.

We should say to every rogue gun dealer in America: the first time you willfully break our gun laws by selling guns to a felon or a child, we'll suspend your license. And if you do it again, we'll take away your license for good. No excuses.

We also have to improve a spotty system of record-keeping, to make it easier for law enforcement to catch gun-toting criminals. I believe all gun manufacturers and federally licensed dealers should have to report handgun sales to a state authority, so we can trace the guns used in violent crimes.

We need to ban so-called "junk guns"—cheap, easily concealed handguns that are causing havoc in too many communities.

I believe we need tougher penalties for gun trafficking, and all crimes committed with guns. And I will work with states that want to end the practice of plea bargaining for crimes committed with guns. Innocent defendants shouldn't feel pressured to plead guilty to get a lighter sentence. And those who are truly guilty shouldn't be able to bargain their way out of the full sentence they deserve.

Let me tell you what we must not do: we must not loosen the restrictions on concealed weapons. I will lead the fight against legislation that makes it easier to hide a handgun in America.

After all the gun tragedies in this nation—after Columbine, and Jonesboro, and Conyers, Georgia, and all the future massacres it is up to us to prevent—it is time for a new, bipartisan consensus on this issue. Some want to enact new protections for gun manufacturers. I want to pass new protections for families. Some want more concealed weapons—but they can't conceal the fact that they're just doing the NRA's bidding. Some want to overturn local gun control laws. I want to overturn the influence of the gun lobby. And I need your help to do it.

You know, we can do all this—put new cops on the street, fix the system, crack down on the guns—and yet the real solution will still elude us if we don't look deeper, all the way to how we teach the spirit of our children in this country.

Do we give our kids something to believe in? Then the lure of cheap sensation will not hold sway over them. Do we model decency and honor to them? Then they will remain untempted by theft and deceit.

Parents can become more involved in the lives of their children—they can spend time with them and talk with them. We can teach our children even greater responsibility—why drugs are deadly and wrong, and why crime and violence hurt us all—but even deeper than that, why their own purity of conscience is their most precious possession in a world of bright lights and brazen icons.

Together, one act of goodness following another, we must replace a culture of meanness with one of meaning.

Some of you may be familiar with the theory of crime prevention called "broken windows." It says that if there is a community with broken windows, and litter on the street, and graffiti on the walls, that sends a powerful unspoken message: if you want to commit a crime, then you've come to the right place. We tolerate disorder here.

As a nation, we need to send the opposite message: that we have more than just the right policies—we also have the right values. We need a culture that does not assault the innocent, a legal system that never rewards the guilty, and a shared moral universe of basic right and wrong. One act of goodness following another, we build that nation of order and support for the rule of law.

That is the nation I will work to build in the 21st Century. Then, one day, all cities can celebrate the kind of progress you have brought to the great City of Boston. And all Americans can come out from behind their locked doors; we can reclaim our lost communities; and we can raise the families we love—with safety, security, and the fullest faith in a peaceful future together. Thank you and God bless your work.


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