May 12, 1999

Mary Leigh and Charlie Blek of Laguna Hills, Calif., lost their 21-year-old son, Matthew, when he was shot and killed by a teenager in New York City. Catherine and Pedro Murphy, both New York City police officers, lost their 12-year-old son, Christopher, when a friend, who was playing with his older brother's illegal handgun, accidentally shot him. Tom Vanden Berk lost his 15-year-old son, Tommy, when he was shot and killed by a teenager in Chicago.

Rebecca Lynn's 18-year-old daughter, Betina, was seriously wounded one year ago this week when a classmate opened fire at her school in Springfield, Ore. Tom Mauser's 15-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the Columbine High School shooting on April 20. Daniel, a straight-A student, was studying through his lunch hour in the school library when he was shot at point-blank range.

Last Saturday, these anguished parents, along with many others whose children were victims of gun violence, joined me at the White House for a special Mother's Day event to highlight the importance of keeping our children safe from guns. We all took this Mother's Day Pledge:

"I will not give my child unsupervised access to a firearm. I will not allow my child to play in a home where guns are improperly stored. If I own a gun, I will unload it and lock it up and store the ammunition separately and securely. I will urge others, including my elected officials, to do everything in their power to protect our children from guns."

Looking into the faces of those assembled in the East Room, I had to wonder what it will take for our country to say, "Enough." What will it take for our Congress to pass common-sense gun laws to keep handguns and assault weapons out of the hands of juveniles and criminals? How many more children have to die?

On Saturday, Tom Mauser reminded us that parents -- especially the parents of teenagers -- have to be more involved with their children. "Parents need to be more in tune with their children," he said. "There needs to be more talking, more listening, more hugging, more teaching of tolerance, more time together and less time with televisions and computers." He also asked us to ponder what is wrong with our culture and why our children have such easy access to guns.

Tom is right. It's time for all of us to take responsibility for our children and to find answers to his questions.

This week, several members of Congress took a step when Sen. Charles Schumer and 10 co-sponsors introduced the President's Youth Gun Crime Enforcement Act in the Senate. This bill would strengthen the Brady Law and the assault-weapons ban, restrict access to guns by youth, and crack down on illegal gun traffickers.

Also this week, the President and I, along with Vice President and Mrs. Gore, welcomed a distinguished and diverse group of Americans to the White House to begin the hard work of developing a strategy to protect our children from violence. In addition to several young people, the group included entertainment and media executives, representatives of gun owners and the gun industry, religious leaders, parents and other experts on youth violence -- all determined to look for solutions rather than point fingers or cast blame.

Behind closed doors, the exchanges were frank and constructive. Sarah Brady, one of this country's most devoted gun-control advocates, and representatives of the gun industry agreed to support the President's proposed gun legislation. Video-game manufacturers and Internet leaders promised the Vice President to work together on developing an on-line rating system for video games.

And we announced a national campaign to prevent youth violence. Based on other successful non-profit organizations, like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the Welfare to Work Partnership, this public-private alliance will work to devise specific solutions to help parents, schools, community groups, the media and gun manufacturers -- in short, all of us -- prevent youth violence.

When I wrote my book, "It Takes a Village," I added this subtitle: "And Other Lessons Children Teach Us." There are many lessons to be learned from our children. But if there's one lesson we must take to heart in the wake of the Littleton tragedy, it's that we must act now to keep our children safe. Raising our children is our most important job. We owe it to them to do the best we can.

I'm encouraged by the steps we took this week. We know that when we work together, we can change America. Everyone -- from parents and community leaders to CEOs and members of Congress -- has a role to play. Next Mother's Day, I hope that none of us will be looking into the eyes of yet another parent who has lost a child to senseless violence.


April 29, 1997