Clinton: National gun laws needed
NBC’s Tom Brokaw discusses gun control with the president  
Tom Brokaw and President Bill Clinton discuss the Colorado gun-show loophole.
April 12 —  President Bill Clinton plans to target “loopholes” in current gun laws and to require even more safety measures for firearms. “We really can’t do what we need to do until there is national legislation passed by the Congress,” Clinton told NBC’s Tom Brokaw as part of a town meeting at the University of Denver as the one-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre approaches. Brokaw interviewed the president and several notable Colorado residents and politicians on the issue of guns and safety.

‘You have to understand, the NRA, if they can make a demon out of me, then they can raise more money.’
       TOM BROKAW: Mr. President, what message do you bring on gun control, not only to the citizens of Colorado, but to the rest of the nation as well with these appearances?
       President Bill Clinton:
Well, first of all, I wanted to come to express my support for the people of Colorado who are trying to put this initiative on the ballot to close the gun show loophole. A bipartisan effort lead by Governor Owens and Attorney General Salizar (phonetic spelling) failed to get the legislation through the legislature so the people are trying to put it on the ballot and I wanted to support it.
       And secondly, I wanted to highlight the fact that even though Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, California and other states are moving to increase gun safety, we really can’t do what we need to do until there is national legislation passed by the Congress to close the gun show loophole, require child safety locks, promote safe gun technology and stop importing the large capacity ammunition clips that make a mockery of our assault weapons ban.
       But you think that this issue has become so highly politicized, especially in a presidential election year, Governor Bill Owens, for example, didn’t want to appear in this hour with you — he’ll be appearing later tonight on MSNBC — that it’s become so politicized that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll achieve any consensus in this year?
Actually, I think the fact that it’s an election year increases the chances that we can get something done. If it weren’t an election year, there’d be no way because the — in Washington at least — the influence of the NRA is so great that even though some people are afraid of them at election time, they know the public is for our common sense prevention measures overwhelmingly.
       So I think in a funny way the fact that it’s an election year might help us to pass it, especially since, you know, I’m not running for anything, so I’m just out here trying to do what I think is right.
       It seems that one of the real hang-ups is this whole question of how long the waiting period should be at a gun show for a background check. The NRA and other people who are critical of your position say they would be willing to take the 24-hour waiting period. You’ve been holding out for 72 hours.
Here’s the problem, and there may be a way to split the difference, but 70 percent of these checks can be done in minutes. Over 90 percent can be done in 24 hours.
        The problem is that the less than 10 percent that can’t be done within 24 hours, where you need three days, they have a rejection rate of 20 times the rejection rate of the other 90 something percent. So their position puts them in I think a totally untenable position. They’re basically arguing for the group that is most likely to have criminals in it.
       So there’s got to be a way to do the checks, clear them, let the people have their guns and clear, and still hold those that can’t be cleared.
       And you know, in rural areas, for example, I’ve actually been to very rural gun shows, because that’s the kind we mostly had in my state. There’s got to be a way to find a common place to deposit the gun and the check, if it’s over the weekend. And then do the background check and send the gun to the gun owner and the check to the seller.
       So there may be some room for compromise in the 24 versus 72 hours, if you can find — if in effect, what we would call an escrow for the gun?
Sure. There are practical problems in these rural gun shows, but they don’t approach the costs to society of not doing the background checks. And the problem is, you know, again I don’t have
       — once the background check is done, people ought to be able to get their guns, but the problem is, if you don’t have the provision for three days, for the small percentage of buyers that can’t be checked in a day, then you’re giving up a huge percentage of the people that have a criminal background.
       Let’s talk about the larger picture when it comes to safety checks and gun controls and the question of gun control versus gun safety. If you put all of that on the table, and then you look at what happened in Columbine High School — and we know what was in the minds of Harris and Klebold. We’ve heard the tapes — there are no laws in the world that would have kept them from carrying out that act.
       Well, you may be right. The young woman who provided one of the guns said that if she had been subject to a background check, she wouldn’t have purchased the gun at the gun show. But you may be right about that. There’s been a recent study showing that a lot of these terrible instances don’t necessarily fit a profile; that young people nearly always give some heads up to some peer, and never do it to their own families.
       But one of the things we do know is, since we passed the Brady bill and increased gun enforcement at the same time, a half million people who are felons, fugitives and stalkers, haven’t gotten their handguns.
       Gun crime is down 35 percent since I took office and we got the lowest homicide rate in 31 years, so we know we can do better. You can’t — there is no society that can prevent every tragedy, every outrage, but you do if you have sensible prevention measures, you save more lives. That’s what this is about. It’s not being perfect, it’s about not making the perfect, the enemy and the good.
‘There’s no one answer and there’s no easy answer. What we’ve been addressing is how do we keep kids connected.’
Littleton Community Task Force
       You have a big deal on the table at Congress, you want to get additional money for enforcement of gun laws, 1,100 new prosecutors, 500 new ATF agents, $10 million for smart-gun research. This comes at the end of your eight years in office and the NRA has been after you for a long time about enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books.
Well, they say that, but they haven’t endorsed this measure yet.
       And look at the facts, since I’ve been president we’ve increased federal prosecutions by 16 percent. We’ve started operations like the one in Richmond and here in Colorado. We have increased by two years the average sentence of a violator of the gun laws. We’ve increased enforcement. That is not an argument not to have prevention.
       My argument with the NRA is not on enforcement. My argument is that guns can’t be the only area of our national life where we don’t have a balanced approach. I agree with them, we should do more to educate young people about gun safety. I agree that the media and parents and communities and schools have responsibilities. But this shouldn’t be the only area of our national life where we don’t have sensible prevention measures.
       We would never think of applying this principle to airport metal detectors, to taking all the seat belts out of cars or, you know — that’s what my problem is.
       Prevention ought to be a part of our strategy and the evidence of the Brady Bill is it works, it drives down crime and it saves lives, and we ought to close the loophole. That’s what I believe.
       One of the interested observers we have here is Gerry Whitman, who’s the police chief — or the acting police chief of the city of Denver. Mr. Whitman, one of the claims that the NRA makes is that around the country law enforcement officers are unhappy with the federal government for not doing enough to enforce the federal gun laws. Is that your judgment?
GERRY WHITMAN, DENVER POLICE CHIEF: Most recently in Colorado, we partnered with the U.S. attorney’s office in Project Exile, and I’d like to thank the president for making that happen.
       I want to see it go further though. This year, we’ve taken 18 gun cases to the U.S. attorney, and they’re prosecuting 14 of those cases, and we anticipate long sentences.
       I think the consistency we want to see nationally in the police community is exactly that. We have a patchwork of different ordinances in the city, and nationally the same thing. To protect the officers on the street, we need to know what to expect; we need consistency in the laws. What happens when you have a gun show here in the Denver area? In a number of other communities, they say the crime rate goes up — crimes committed with guns. Does that happen in Denver?
WHITMAN: Well, in 1989 the city council and city government put into law an assault weapons ban in the city, so we don’t have gun shows in the city itself.
       I haven’t noticed any increase as a result of the gun shows outside the city limits with the crime rate in the city of Denver.
       And we also have in the audience Doug Dean, who is the majority leader in the Colorado state house of representatives. You are among those who defeated your own governor’s gun control bills that he put before the house. Why did you do that?
DOUG DEAN, COLORADO STATE HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, Tom, we just didn’t believe that it would have had any effect on the tragedy at Columbine. The president referred to — a few minutes ago — to Robyn Anderson, the young woman who purchased those guns.
       Well, Robin Anderson would have passed the very background check that the president is supporting, so it really wouldn’t have had any impact. This young woman was forced to show her ID before she purchased a gun, but in our legislative responsibility is to pass legislation that actually will go to the root of the problem.
       Most Americans don’t believe it’s gun control; they believe it is parents being actively involved in their children’s upbringing.
       CLINTON: I agree with that. She would have passed the background check. What she said was, if she’d been subject to one, she probably wouldn’t have bought the gun.
       But let me point out — again I say, you can’t solve — you can’t refuse to vote for a law because it’s not perfect and it won’t solve every problem.
       Last year we had a study done by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury involving over 300 sellers at gun shows and without background checks. Thirty-four percent of them resulted in sales of guns that were later used in serious crimes, a total of fifty-plus thousand gun crimes committed. Now, if there had been background checks, those would not have occurred.
       So just to say, “Well, they wouldn’t have solved every problem, therefore we won’t do it,” I don’ think that’s a good answer.
       If the Brady bill works, if you believe in the Brady Bill, if you accept the fact that it’s kept a half a million felons, fugitives and stalkers from getting handguns, then it would by definition work to have the same background check at the gun shows.
       And let me just say one other thing. Everybody says enforce the law, enforce the law, enforce the law. The more we prosecute violations of the Brady Bill, the more we enforce the law, the more illegal people will turn to the gun shows to buy their guns unless we close the loophole.
       Mr. Deane, a question that I have for you, 80 percent of the Coloradans in a survey about gun laws in this state said they really did want to crack down on gun shows, they wanted to crack down on sales to 18-year-olds. All of this is possible. And they wanted background checks for gun shows. So are you representing the people of Colorado when you defeat those very measures?
       DEANE: Well, I’m certainly representing my district and the vast majority of the people in my district don’t support that.
       And, Mr. President, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m skeptical about a young woman, whatever she’s going to say when she’s trying to get herself out of trouble. I don’t buy her claim.
       But the people of Colorado, I think once we — going back to your question, Mr. Brokaw — once they understand what all is involved in this, and if they are — we’re going to talk to the people. And talk to them, “Are you giving up some of your fundamental Second Amendment rights by agreeing to this?” I don’t think it’s going to end up passing with an 80 percent margin, if it passes at all.
       But, well, let me just ask you, so I understand perfectly well your position personally. You think that there can be unlicensed dealers at gun shows and that background checks should not be required at gun shows and that guns can be sold to 18-year-olds at gun shows. You’re in favor of all three of those points.
DEANE: Eighteen-year-olds are adults who are allowed to serve this country in the military, and President Clinton can send them off to war, so I believe that they are adults and I don’t believe in creating two classes of adults. I believe that if we go down the road toward regulating every private transaction of a firearm, then we’re going to have government registry basically of firearms owners and that concerns me.

       BROKAW: Mr. President ... [pointing to large stack of documents] these are just some of the federal firearms regulations that we already have on the books. If you could add just one or two that you think would change the current climate in this country, what are the two priorities that you have at the end of your term?
CLINTON: I would close the gun show loophole, because the Brady bill has worked superbly. It’s given us a 35 percent drop in gun crime and a 31 year low in the homicide rate, and kept a half a million people — felons, fugitives, stalkers, from getting handguns. That’s the first thing I’d do. And then, the second thing I would do is to require safety provisions for children. I also believe that the loophole in the assault weapons ban should be closed. We banned assault weapons and then we still allow the import of these large capacity ammunition clips.
       But I think that child safety and keeping — doing more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals through preventive measures that haven’t delayed by a day or an hour 100 going to the deer woods, anybody going to a sport shooting contest, any law abiding person buying a handgun for safety at home, hasn’t done any of that. I think it is a tiny burden to pay to give lots of people their lives back. That’s what I’d do.
       But do we have to get beyond the laws and get to a dialogue as well about the place of violence in our culture?
CLINTON: No, no, that should all be a part of it. I mean, I think that the media has a responsibility here. I’ll say again, community schools and families have heavy responsibility. I think when we’ve got a lot of guns out there, we should do more to teach young people how to use them safely. But you can’t say that guns are the only area in our life because of the Second Amendment where we’re not going to do prevention.
       You know, the same people that are arguing now we can’t close the gun show loophole said to me six years ago when I signed the Brady bill that it wouldn’t do any good. It would just burden people because all the law — all the criminals bought their guns at gun shows. They didn’t buy their guns at gun stores. It turned out it wasn’t right. Prevention makes sense in every area of our national life. That’s my message and my belief.
       One of the places in America where this dialogue has been going on with a very, very heavy price of course is Columbine, Colorado. And Lance Kirklin is with us today — he’s one of the students who was shot in Columbine. And Lance and his family also still like to use guns. Lance, what have you learned about guns in the last year having been a victim of a gun shot?
       LANCE KIRKLIN, COLUMBINE VICTIM: Well, I mean, it’s not guns who kill people, it’s people who kill people. You know, I mean, you don’t see a gun just jump off the table and start shooting people. It’s the people that have it, you know, in their possession and it’s their mind that does the crime.
       What would you change, however, in the teenage culture, if you will, or in the culture of young people, not just in Columbine but across the country in terms of their attitudes about violence and the use of guns?
       KIRKLAND: I don’t know.
       Do you think that they are open to change? Do you think that they learn — I mean, you go out hunting with your father, for example, right? And shoot guns with him and you’ve learned from him. But how many other young people only know about guns from video games or from some violent movie and don’t really know what the impact is?
       KIRKLAND: I think a lot of people my age know about guns from movies and video games and stuff, but they also know the other side of it, that, you know, they are dangerous and they also can be used for hunting and, I don’t know, good, I guess.
       Would you be uncomfortable if the gun-show loophole was closed?
       KIRKLAND: Kind of, yes.
       You would be uncomfortable with that.
‘My argument with the NRA is not on enforcement. My argument is that guns can’t be the only area of our national life where we don’t have a balanced approach.’
       Let’s ask Dave Thomas who came to be known nationally, as well, who is the district attorney for the county in which Littleton resides, about how his attitudes have changed toward guns in the last year in having to deal with the tragedy there?
DAVE THOMAS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, my attitudes have changed a little, but actually in a sense I agree with Lance, with one exception. The access to guns that people have certainly increases the lethality of the acts that they may commit, and that was extremely graphic in what happened at Columbine High School.
       I think, in agreeing with the president, I think the Brady bill has worked, I think it’s worked, in fact, better than we anticipated. We’re overwhelmed both federally and now at the state level with people who are attempting to buy weapons in violation of that law.
       My concern is having the resources available, both prosecutorial, investigative and in terms of our databases to fully implement that. But it certainly doesn’t make any sense to me that a person cannot go into a gun shop, a federally licensed gun shop and buy a weapon, but they can go down the street to a gun show and purchase one.
       And the president’s right, the more we publicize the issues the more people are going to do that. So we need to close that loophole and we need to provide resources so that they can be investigated, and as we’re going to do and have been doing in Colorado, prosecute aggressively those who violate the law.
       We also have, and in that very area is Diana Holland, who’s the co-chair of the Littleton Community Task Force. The task force is officially neutral on the whole question of gun control, but I wonder, Ms. Holland, has your work in effect been impeded some by the emotional divisions that gun- control debates bring to the table?
       DIANA HOLLAND, CO-CHAIR, LITTLETON COMMUNITY TASK FORCE: The work of our Littleton community task force hasn’t been impeded, because we all left our political and personal agendas at the back door. This group pulled together; it was elected officials, parents, business people, clergy, students, and decided we wanted to see what we could do to help really answer all the problems we saw. There’s no one answer and there’s no easy answer.
       What we’ve been addressing is how do we keep kids connected; what do we need to do to better coordinate and share information if somebody is in trouble; how do we reach out to those families to assist that individual, and then what do we do to just be vigilant to make sure that we prevent anything that could happen.
       Mr. President, I know it comes as no surprise to you that you have been a very large target for the National Rifle Association and its spokespeople in political arenas and on television. We’re going to share a couple of the ads that they have been running so that you can respond to them and so that we can talk to some people here who are supporters of the NRA. Let’s see one of those ads.
       CHARLTON HESTON, PRESIDENT, NRA: When a 6-year-old in a crack house finds a stolen gun and shoots his schoolmate, the president doesn‘t demand gun theft prosecution or busting drug dealers — he demands safety locks. Don‘t get me wrong, nobody supports safety locks more than the NRA. But his solution is to give crack house drug dealers safety locks. Mr. Clinton, when what you say is wrong, that‘s a mistake. When you know it‘s wrong, that‘s a lie.
       Pretty harsh language, Mr. President.

       CLINTON: Well, actually it — Mr. Heston is right, I guess, when — if you say something is wrong unintentionally it‘s a mistake, when you know it‘s wrong it‘s a lie. That‘s what he said. Now, when that child was — when the one child killed the other child I said, A, there ought to be child safety locks; and B, another provision of my bill, which I couldn‘t get through either House, was to hold people like the people in that crack house criminally responsible when they allow children like that little boy to have access to guns. That was a provision of my law, that was my position. And actually I believe they supported me. So they knew I was for that, because they supported it, but he didn‘t say that on the airwaves. Now, I‘m not going to call him a name like he did, I still like his movies actually.
       Look, this is not about me and him. You have to understand, the NRA, if they can make a demon out of me, then they can raise more money. If they can terrify people who live in a district like the House majority leader there, where there really is a cultural divide here, because they don‘t have many people in his district who would ever violate the gun laws and they have a lot of people who own guns and they use them safely and they help their kids to use them safely, and they can‘t imagine the kind of culture that a lot of these kids live in, these urban cultures. So they don‘t understand what the deal is and they‘re afraid it‘s a slippery slope. So that‘s what this is about. They just keep everybody all agitated, and they raise a lot of money, and maybe they beat the bill. But again I say, “Let‘s calm down here.” Since I‘ve been president, gun crime‘s down 35 percent; nobody‘s missed a day in the deer woods; nobody‘s been unable to go to a sports shooting contest; and the prevention has worked, and what we need is more prevention that doesn‘t unfairly burden the right of hunters and sports people and people that want guns for their own safety. Those are the facts. The gun death rate in America is still higher than any other country in the world, and I want to say this: The accidental gun rate — death rate — of children under 15 is nine times higher here than in the next 25 largest countries combined. We could use a little more prevention. That‘s what this is about. That‘s all it‘s about. It‘s not about a fight with the NRA. It‘s about a fight to save lives.
‘Historically, there are a lot of people that had to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. No one ever thought that interfered with the Second Amendment.’
       We had hoped — in our next hour, which will play tonight — to have Wayne LaPierre, who is a very conspicuous officer of the NRA, appear with us, and he had accepted it but then cited a scheduling conflict so he won‘t be us later tonight. But we do have in the audience, I know, some people who are not only enrolled members of the NRA, but are outspoken proponents of the NRA‘s position on a lot of things.
       Bob Ford (phonetic spelling) is the president of the Rocky Mountain Arms, Inc. He is a gun dealer and he joins us now. We have Mr. Ford right here.
       Mr. Ford, Wayne LaPierre has said two rather provocative things about the president in addition to the Charlton Heston commercial that we just saw. He said the president has blood on his hands as a result of what happened to the coach that was tragically shot in a hate-crime shooting in Northwestern, and he said that this president wants a certain level of violence in America to further his political agenda.
       Do you agree with that?

       BOB FORD, PRES., ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARMS, INC.: No, I don‘t. I believe, as the president has indicated here today, there‘s been a little bit too much rhetoric on both sides. We need to come together.
       I believe our industry has been working closely for a number of years with the BATF to try to make our laws clearer and understandable, and what we do need to do is what has been successful in the United States. And we‘ve got college kids here; even they know you don‘t go out and drive drunk. We need to drive that same message home to the felons in America: that if you use a gun, you are going to go prison. There is no deals, and Alex Hunter only exists in one county.
       And what about gun shows in places like Colorado and across the American West, and across the American South, for that matter, where they‘re so popular? You‘re a regular gun dealer and represent gun dealers. Do gun shows unfairly compete with people who go out and set up their shop in a brick and mortar operation?

       FORD: Unfortunately there is not enough funding for the BATF. The green book you have next to you, states that if you sell guns for the purposes of making money, you are a gun dealer and you are supposed to have a license. There are casual people that go to the so-called gun bazaars or flea markets that do sell, perhaps, their private collection or something, are from another state, but these people are engaged in business. They should be called on that, come up — walk into the gun shows and say, hi, we‘re with the ATF, we see that you‘ve been at this gun show, you were at the gun show last week and you made a reservation for next week. Here is an application for a license. You either get a license or you are out of business. (OFF-MIKE)
       But this administration raised the standards for licensing. And here in Colorado, just this week after I arrived, many Colorado Republican legislators were saying, they‘ve made it too hard to get a license. They only raised the price from $10 to about $30 and put some additional standards in there. Wasn‘t that the appropriate thing to do or not?

       QUESTION: Well, there is always a two-edge to the sword. The back side of that is there are a number of dealers at these gun shows that used to have federal firearms licenses, and they have been engaged in now disposing of their personal inventory for a number of years. The ATF needs to go back and say, hey, the deal is over. If you‘re going to still sell guns for money, you‘re going to get a license and you‘re going to do a background check. There is not a dealer in this country that does not object to the background checks, because we don‘t want crooks having guns anymore than anyone in this room.
Were you surprised when the Colorado legislature defeated the attempts to tighten the laws governing gun shows?
       QUESTION: No, I was not. Our — members of our Colorado legislature are responsive to their constituents.
       Thank you very much. Matt Bai is a colleague from “Newsweek” magazine and he has been covering extensively this whole question of the gun culture in America, the gun law and the political debate that has heated up across America — Matt.
       MATT BAI, NEWSWEEK: Well, Mr. President, the NRA in a letter to gun dealers last week, called you the most anti-gun president in history. That may or may not bother you, but along the same lines of what we‘ve been watching, there are a lot of gun owners and gun dealers who believe that you won‘t stop until you get an outright ban on handguns and that whatever you get, you‘re going to want more. I‘d like to know what specific provisions of the ones that you‘ve outlined today it would take for you to go away and leave the gun companies and the gun dealers alone?
       CLINTON: Well, first of all, I have said specifically that I would not support a ban on handguns. You may know that the major newspaper in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post, has actually advocated that. And so we were all asked about it and I said, No, I wouldn‘t support that. I would go further than my proposals here. I also think that it‘s all right to register these sales the same way we register cars, because what I‘m trying to do is improve the ability of law enforcement to trace weapons when they‘re used in a crime, and none of this in any way interferes with the Second Amendment. You know, historically, there are a lot of people that had to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. No one ever thought that interfered with the Second Amendment.
       So my basic view is I‘m for anything that will increase our capacity to prevent guns from going into the wrong hands, but I‘m not for preventing law-abiding people for having the guns that they have a right to have to hunt, to sport shoot or if they choose to protect themselves in their own homes.
       I do think, in addition to that, we should invest a lot more in this smart gun technology. We will be able — within three years, we will have guns on the market that can only be fired by their lawful owner. And I think we ought to have internal as well as external child trigger locks. I believe that. That‘s what I — and I believe when we do that, you will see a much safer country. I just — and I think that if you look at the evidence here, there‘s been no assault on hunting, there‘s been no assault on sport shooting, but we do have a safer country than we did because I‘ve taken on these fights. And so I think that the fears are unfounded. We should take — instead of getting into big verbal battles, we ought to look at the specifics of every proposal and debate it and decide whether it‘s right or wrong.
‘I would oppose any effort to say that people couldn‘t have firearms in this country.’
       As you know, many people believe that if you register every handgun that‘s going to be a national registry and the government someday is going to show up at your door and say, Give me your guns.
       CLINTON: Well, I don‘t agree with that but that wasn‘t my proposal. I think first of all, that‘s impractical, because there are already over 200 million guns out there. And now, that scares a lot of people. The truth is that the vast majority of them are in the hands of collectors and law abiding hunters, and sports people. There are too many that are kind of floating around on the streets in the criminal culture. But the answer to that, I think, is aggressive local buy-back programs, which we try to support. But if you register new gun sales then they could — the guns could more easily be traced in the event of a crime. That‘s all I‘m interested in.
       I would oppose any effort to say that people couldn‘t have firearms in this country. You know, maybe others disagree, I suppose, but it‘s probably the culture I grew up in and I‘m still a part of it. But I also think that the people — most of the folks I grew up with, if I have a chance to talk to them and they understand we‘re trying to save kids lives and trying to prevent crime from happening in the first place, and it doesn‘t burden their ability to do what they want to do lawfully with their guns, will support these specific measures. That‘s the direction I think this debate ought to take.
       Well, you‘ve tried to make it a ... state option, as well. Would that be the answer that gun owners would be more inclined to trust their state governments than the federal government? The federal government can provide the appropriate incentives for the states to install those kinds of laws?

       CLINTON: Well, they probably would. But to me, how it‘s done is not as important as whether we have done everything we possibly can. Look, let me just say this, when I started in ‘93, as president, we had a rising crime rate. Most people didn‘t think you could drive it down. Now, the Congress not only passed the assault weapons ban and the Brady bill, they put 100,000 police on the street; they put more resources in law enforcement; they did more to help local agencies, as well as to strengthen our federal efforts. And crime is at about a 25-year low, the murder rate at a 31-year low, but I won‘t be satisfied until America is the safest big country in the world. And if I were running the NRA, I would love — I‘d have a whole different take on this. I would be for all this prevention business because I would want to prove that a country where a lots of people hunt, sport shoot, and have guns for their own protection, could also be the safest country in the world. So I would have a totally different take on this. I might not raise as much money through the mail...
       ... but I think it‘d be better, a better approach.
‘There is no such thing as an absolute if you mean it can never be restricted.’
       Let me just be absolutely clear about this. You‘re going to be out of work in less than a year. Does that mean that you‘re thinking about running for the NRA presidency?
       CLINTON: I think, you know, somehow I think I‘d have a better chance of getting elected to the school board at home than I would to the NRA presidency.
       But what I — I‘m just trying to say, I don‘t think this — again I will say, let‘s go back to what the gun dealer there said. We don‘t need to turn this into personal animosity, we need to debate every single one of these issues, bring out all this stuff and figure out how we can make America the safest big country in the world. That‘s really what we all want, isn‘t it? Wouldn‘t you like it if your country were the safest big country in the world? I mean, that‘s what we all want.
       I think we have a question from the audience for you, Mr. President.
       QUESTION: I have a question I‘d like to direct to the president. Sir, do you believe the Second Amendment is absolute or something that can be limited by gun-control legislation?
       CLINTON: Well, there is — there is no such thing as an absolute if you mean it can never be restricted. The First Amendment, which most people believe is the most important one, let‘s say freedom of speech, Supreme Court has said there‘s a limit on freedom of speech. Pornography is not protected. You can‘t shout “fire” in a crowded theater when there‘s no fire. Freedom of religion. The courts have upheld that people who want to join the United States military, for example, may not be able to have beards even if their religion says they‘re supposed to have one. So all of these amendments have to be interpreted over time in terms of the real circumstances. If you look at the history of the Second Amendment and what led to its adoption, there is, it‘s my view, nothing in there which prevents reasonable measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and kids. To say that criminals have an absolute right to get guns, and we‘re just going to throw the book at them if we catch them, but we can‘t prevent them from committing a crime in the first place, I think is wrong.
‘I think that Littleton‘s no different than any other community. There are differences of opinion of how we deal with this terrible epidemic of gun violence.’
father of Columbine victim
       Tom Mauser is here ... from Columbine. He lost his son at Columbine, and he appeared, obviously, at the State of the Union speech, and you came out here to speak to this group today. Mr. Mauser, have you been surprised in the almost year now since the tragedy at Columbine and the loss of your son, by the divisions in the Colorado community generally, and specifically in Littleton, about how to resolve these issues of violence in America and especially what we do about guns?
       TOM MAUSER, FATHER OF COLUMBINE VICTIM: No, I haven‘t been that surprised because I think that Littleton‘s no different than any other community. There are differences of opinion of how we deal with this terrible epidemic of gun violence.
       And where do you think it will lead to in Colorado, given how the Colorado legislature voted this time?

       MAUSER: Well, clearly where it‘s leading to right now is that we‘re taking — my organization, SAFE Colorado is taking a ballot initiative to the people to close the gun show loophole, and I think clearly the polls show that people see that it‘s a reasonable, common-sense law.
       We also have in the audience Richard Gephardt, who represents your party in the House of Representatives. There‘s a letter, Mr. Gephardt, that we got a copy of just today. It may come as some surprise to you. It‘s signed by Henry Hyde, as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and John Conyers who‘s the ranking Democrat on that committee, and they‘re sending it to Orrin Hatch, saying they want to request a juvenile conference meeting as soon as possible because they think that they have agreed on some terms of where they can get to on closing these loopholes, for example on gun shows, John Conyers signing off on a 24-hour check. Does that have any chance of passing?

       REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Well, I hope that that can happen. We‘ve been trying to, on a bipartisan basis, get this conference to meet and get them to bring out something that we can get a vote on in the House and the Senate. I‘m very optimistic that we can get this done, and as the president has said, we all have our eye on safety, and this bill would help.
       Twenty-four hour checks would be OK with you?

       GEPHARDT: If it can be done feasibly, if we think that we can catch the people. As the president said, even under the 72-hour rule, 90 percent of the people pass the check; we‘re only inconveniencing about 10 percent, and a large portion of them are the people that we‘re trying to stop from getting guns. So if we can work it out to get a 24-hour check, clear everybody or not clear everybody in that period of time, that‘d be great.
Would you sign that bill?
       CLINTON: Well, I want to see the details. But I almost certainly would sign anything that had the support of both Mr. Conyers and Mr. Hyde, and therefore got a majority of both our caucuses. Because, you know, we may never get a perfect bill. And I don‘t know what they mean by 24 hours. Because John Conyers had offered Henry Hyde 24 hours before, but he wanted some provision for this group — small, small group for whom there‘s a very large rejection rate. And so I don‘t know where they settled. I want to see the details. But if we could get a big bipartisan bill to come out of the House that would save people lives, even if I thought it weren‘t perfect, of course, I would sign it.
‘If we could get a big bipartisan bill to come out of the House that would save people lives, even if I thought it weren’t perfect, of course, I would sign it.’
       Would it be worth trying a conditional bill? We‘ll try the 24-hour check for two years, put a time limit on it, and if it‘s not working we‘ll come back to it again, just so that we get some effort to begin to close the door on gun shows.
       CLINTON: Well, I think we ought to do the very best we can on that. The one thing I did not want to do that was suggested by some is that we just go for the child trigger locks and leave the gun show loophole alone altogether just because it was almost impossible to come back. So if we can make some progress, obviously I‘m open to it. But I think that at even — without regard to party, what is uncomfortable is everybody would like — because a lot of these gun shows are held on the weekends and people are passing on. And as the gun dealer — the gentleman pointed out, a lot of these people are just getting rid of their own personal stock. And I‘ve been to gun shows way out in the country, you know, where you‘re 10-15 miles from the nearest town and they‘re passing through. So everybody would like to minimize the inconvenience. The real issue is, what do we do about this very small percentage of people that don‘t clear within a day and do have a 20 times higher rejection rate. But I can‘t believe we can‘t find a fix for that, so we can let everybody else go in a day. I — look — the ones that clear in 30 seconds, I‘m for letting them go in 30 seconds. You know, I don‘t want to — the government should never be in the position of imposing a burden for which there is no benefit. So, you know, I can‘t believe that we can‘t work this out. And I‘m encouraged by this letter.
       Speaking of that, Smith & Wesson recently came to you and volunteered to put in place a number of guidelines that rankled other gun manufacturers in this country, and not only gun locks, but they‘re not going to allow their guns to be sold at gun shows, they‘re not going to allow multiple handgun sales in the course of a fixed period time. The NRA has already pointed out that‘s a foreign company, it may be up for sale. Are you going to put the pressure on other gun manufacturers to follow the Smith & Wesson model or are you going to leave it to them to do what they want to
       CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think they did a good thing. Second, let me tell you exactly what they did because I think it‘s important and you might want to go back to some of the people in the audience. What they said was they would not allow their guns to be sold at gun shows unless all the people selling at the gun show did a background check. Then they said they would require trigger locks, both internal and external, and within three years would have smart gun technology. And they said that they would not continue to distribute their guns through dealers that had a bad record. Another thing, a lot of these gun dealers get an unfairly bad name. You know, an extraordinary percentage of the guns sold to criminals by gun dealers are sold by a tiny percentage of the dealers. Most of the dealers are perfectly law abiding and very vigilant. So all Smith & Wesson said, Hey, I want to get in and support this process. And what I‘m going to do is encourage other manufacturers to do the same and I think you‘re going to see a lot of city and state governments that buy a lot of guns encourage other manufacturers to do the same. Now, there is some evidence that a lot of the other manufacturers are trying to gang up on Smith & Wesson, which I think is a mistake. Again, what did they do that was wrong? All they did was to promote prevention and they‘re in the business of selling guns. They‘re obviously not trying to ban guns. They‘re making money selling guns.
       There‘s somebody in the audience who has some pretty strong feelings about that. Paul Paritis (phonetic spelling) is a gun dealer here in the state of Colorado. You‘ve decided, Mr. Paritis, not to sell the Smith & Wesson weapon?

       PAUL PARITIS, GUN DEALER: Yes, that‘s true. My store no longer sells Smith & Wessons. What‘s happened is we‘ve created some financial difficulties where it‘s not an incentive to sell Smith & Wesson. For example, some of the agreement which hasn‘t been talked about is allowing more inspections by ATF. One of the things that hasn‘t been said is a ATF inspection doesn‘t last one day. An ATF inspection can last a whole year. I‘ve been through that, not because I had bad records or that any number of guns have been traced to my store that were used in a crime. In fact, I take a great deal of pride that my store has the fewest number in my community. But yet, because of political activism, I was picked out.
Why do you think that selling Smith & Wesson weapons would bring more ATF inspections?
       PARITIS: Well, it‘s one of the things that dealers have to do. There‘s a number of other things. Taking — I carry over 400, 500 guns in my store.
       One of the things that they are requiring us to do is, we may have to remove every gun from the shelf and lock it up in a safe every night. Well, you take two employees — me and my wife usually, to spend a couple of hours to unpacking and putting guns up and then the next morning taking them out, that‘s a lot of money lost. You know, the states, a short time ago, were very upset about federal unfunded mandates. Now it‘s businesses, especially small businesses like mine that are receiving federal unfunded mandates.