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Public Papers - 1991 - March

Remarks Announcing Proposed Crime Control Legislation

1991-03-11

Thank you all very much for that warm welcome. Mr. Vice President and Mr. Attorney General; and then the State attorneys general with whom I just met, so many here today; distinguished Members of the United States Congress; other law enforcement officials; and community leaders: Really, it is an honor on this occasion to welcome you all back to the White House.

Last week before Congress I saluted a group of hometown heroes, the finest combat force that this nation has ever assembled: the brave men and women of the United States military. We honored them with our cheers, with our prayers, and come this summer, I'm looking forward to it, because then I think the whole country will honor them again with the biggest Fourth of July since the Liberty Bell first rang.

But as I said last week, the real way to honor them is to welcome them back to an America that is worthy of their sacrifice by joining together with Congress to move forward on the domestic front.

Last month we launched an innovative package designed to assure real opportunity for all Americans. And our veterans deserve to come home to an America of improved schools, better jobs, stronger laws against discrimination, increased homeownership, and families that are healthy and together. And most of all, our veterans deserve to come home to an America where it is safe to walk the streets. Well, we can't do that before they come home, but we can have that on our minds as something we are determined to do.

Economic opportunity is impossible for citizens who cannot be safe and feel safe in their homes, in their schools, in their jobs, and yes, their churches. And that's what I mean when I say a most basic civil right is quite simply the right to be free from fear.

Some of you may remember that shortly after I took office we met with the 50 AG's at the White House. It was 2 years ago almost to the day. And I told you how a few days earlier I had gone to New York to meet the family and friends of Everett Hatcher, a brave DEA agent who was gunned down in the street. And they told me that it used to be unthinkable to shoot a cop. But now the culture has changed. And when the bad guys hear the word ``police,'' they just turn around and start shooting. I'll never forget that conversation.

Two months later, on that rainy day on Capitol Hill, we launched an effort to pass our crime legislation, legislation designed to help protect our cops by giving them the tools they need to get their job done. We proposed stiff new penalties for criminals using semiautomatic weapons, an improved exclusionary rule designed to protect the truth and punish the guilty, an habeas corpus reform that would stop frivolous appeals and ensure that punishment was not only just but also swift and certain, and most of all, it would have finally given us a Federal law to uphold a simple rule of justice: Those who kill must be prepared to pay with their own life.

And today, 2 years later, the Congress has still failed to act on these critical core provisions. And today, 2 years later, another 294 police men and women are dead -- 294, almost 3 times the number of precious American lives lost during this entire Gulf war. The killings must stop. And it must stop now.

Today, it's time to stand up and be counted. It's time to stand up for what's right. We stood by our troops. And today it's time to stand up for America's prosecutors and police.

Last week, many of you joined together with the Attorney General and me in an unprecedented crime summit, America's first. For 3 days, you freely traded ideas, insights, suggestions, and support. And when I visited that group Tuesday, the mood was contagious. It was powerful and confident and, most of all, driven by a sense of urgency. And so, when it was over, we wasted no time: I told Dick Thornburgh that we wanted the crime bill ready in final form before another week was out. And today, 5 days later, we have it here.

Of course, we had a head start. The truth is, the vast majority of these core proposals are identical to those that we sent up 2 years ago. These fundamental, badly needed reforms have been argued over the years. But the American people are not clamoring for more debate. Today they're demanding action -- action to stop violent crime, action that translates to a straight up-or-down vote on these core commonsense proposals. As I said Wednesday night, if our forces could win the ground war in 100 hours, surely the Congress can pass this legislation in 100 days.

Our core proposals have also been strengthened by some potent new additions. These include new laws to protect men and women and children against violence and abuse. And most important of all, they include tough new laws that will protect our people and our police by helping prosecutors put away America's most violent offenders.

One of the most important of these provisions recognizes that reducing firearms violence must mean exclusionary rule reform. I'm not a lawyer, but I put great stock in common sense. And it never did make sense that, because a policeman has made a mistake, a dangerous criminal can get off scot-free.

The Supreme Court has invited legislative experimentation with direct action to prevent illegal searches and seizures. And so, today I am announcing that we are accepting that invitation. Our plan would authorize the Attorney General to develop alternative administrative sanctions for any Federal agent who improperly seizes a gun in violation of the fourth Amendment. Once these protections were in place, firearms in serious drug, violent, and certain other cases would always be admissible in certain Federal cases involving armed felons. It is simply intolerable that these armed criminals should go free when good solid evidence is available.

Our message is simple: The time to act is now. The time to schedule congressional hearings is now. The Attorney General is ready to testify now. And most of the other experts needed are probably right here in the East Room now.

So, looking out here today, I see a group of principled, all-American heroes whose dedication at home matches that of our people overseas. Heroes like Attorney General Mike Moore of Mississippi, who stood with us in the Rose Garden last fall and described the terrible ordeal, due to current habeas rules, in which victims and their families can never draw the curtains on tragic murders and rapes. Heroes like Louisiana's district attorney Richard Ieyoub, who called the efforts to gut last year's crime bill a major fraud on the American people -- the one that, for all practical purposes, would have shut down the death penalty in the 37 States where it now exists. Heroes like Dan Lungren, California's new AG, whose miracle end run in Congress in `84 produced some of the most far-reaching criminal law reforms in our nation's history.

Mike and Richard, we are on a 100-day clock. And we hope you and your colleagues are ready to roll up your sleeves again today. And Dan, we're hoping you can lend your magic to the cause once more. Because this week marks the anniversary of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. And I'm here to tell you that this new crime bill is on America's most wanted list of pressing national business.

And as I said last fall, America's prosecutors will not accept a phony crime bill that is tougher on law enforcement than it is on criminals. No more loopholes; no more rolls of the dice. I urge the Congress to heed the voices of our people, our police, our prosecutors, and help us take back the streets. Together, let's act on this crime bill now.

Thank you all very, very much for coming. Good luck. May God bless our country. And now I'll put a signature to both of these documents. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the East Room of the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Vice President Dan Quayle; Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Everett Hatcher, slain Drug Enforcement Administration agent; Mike Moore, Mississippi attorney general; Richard Ieyoub, Louisiana district attorney; and Dan Lungren, California attorney general.

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