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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Handgun Control, Inc

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Thank you. Thank you very much. Mike Barnes, I am so excited to be able to work with Michael. The energy he brings, the experience he brings to the leadership of HCI is really just a perfect, perfect match. We've had a great couple of months already. I think we've made some strides that we hadn't made in years before. And with Michael's leadership, with your good work, we're going to keep it going.

And I'm very honored to be here with him today, and with all of you, because this is not going to be an effort that is won in Washington.

I am convinced of that. You can't win this in Washington. If we engage the enemy in Washington we will lose. They will beat us in this town. They are too strong in this town. Their fortress is within the Beltway. We're going to beat them state by state, community by community, because we have the ultimate weapon with us, which is the American people -- and reason. And that does not lose, but we're going to have to engage it there, and I'm going to say more about that in one moment.

Mary Lee Bleck, who is with us, also with the Million Mom March, which was just an exciting, exciting effort. We have Andy McElvy with us who is also doing great things, and I'm excited to be with him.

Vicky Reggie Kennedy is not here. She is going to be here. I want to acknowledge her, because she is somehow related to me, if you believe in the extended family concept and in-laws. The Kennedy family is a very large family, and I married into the Kennedy family. So, I normally just acknowledge any Kennedys that might be in the room, because you never know when a Kennedy is in the room.

I also want to take a moment to thank my team, who has worked on this issue. HUD did not have a lot of expertise in the gun area before we got into this. It is not a major plank, historically, in the HUD portfolio, Housing and Urban Development and guns. So we had to scramble a little bit to come up to speed and to get this effort going, and we are blessed.

One of the best things that I think I did as Secretary, and something I'm still trying to do, is bring the best talent into government that you can, because you are only limited, in a position like mine, by your own imagination, your own creativity, and then the talent you have to actually do it. And we have some phenomenal talent.

They came up to speed on this issue and they did a great job, and many of them are here today. Alexandra Stanton is here today, and Max Stier and Nester Davidson, and I just want to thank them all very much for what they have done and what they will do, because there is still much more to do.

Let me make a couple of quick points, if I can, and then I asked Mike maybe the best way to do this is to have some dialogue. Tell me what you're thinking, what ideas you have, and let's see what we come up with together.

The issue, and the reason I applaud you for tackling this issue, is to me one of the toughest issues that we have to deal with, but the benefits, if we actually make progress, could be unlike anything that we have seen, because it is not just a statistical problem. It's not just dollars and cents and how much this is costing us. This really goes to a statement of our national character and our national identity.

I kid about this not really being in the HUD portfolio. It was not, but I wanted to stand up as a cabinet officer and say this is a national issue, and if it's a little bit of a stretch, if it takes a little bit of a leap of faith for HUD to go out there on this issue, I want to set that as an example, because it is that important. And we should all step out there on this issue, because it is that important.

If you want to say what is the HUD Secretary doing going out front on guns, that's a good message, because it's that important. That even if it's not in our daily job description, we should step forward on this issue.

It works on many levels, and I think that the line that you hear, that they use so effectively in this town, really shows the fundamental disconnect on this issue, when they say: "Well, guns don't kill people; people kill people." And you can see when they use this line that it has an effect. There's some logic that it's suggesting.

I was working for months on the answer to this riddle: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. What is the response to that one? They asked me about the Social Security trust fund, I know the answer, but this one I have trouble with. The best answer I came up with, was people with guns kill people. Because it really is both elements, and I think we have to acknowledge both elements.

We have a tendency for aggressive behavior, as a people. We have a tendency for violent behavior, as a people. You look at the history of this nation, we were born of violence. We were born of revolution, and we're proud of it that we went after the people who were dominating us. So much of our history is defined by violence. I was the World War I generation, I was the World War II generation, I was Korea, I was Vietnam. We define ourselves by wars. We go to the movies to see gladiators. We don't go to see a movie called peacemakers. We go to see gladiators.

We have a tendency for violence and aggressiveness. Maybe it's in the human condition, but it is definitely part of this nation's heritage. Yes, we have that. But that doesn't excuse then the vehicle that actually communicates that aggressiveness and takes it to a new level, which is the gun. Be violent. Be aggressive. Argue with me. But don't shoot me. We are gun crazy as a society.

It has gotten wrapped up as a symbol of Americana, in some perverse way, but it is unhealthy. It is destructive. You all know the numbers better than I, and I'm not going to go through them, but we should have seven times more gun dealers in this nation than we have McDonald's hamburger dealers? Seven times more gun dealers than McDonald's franchises.

It is amazing that we would have more deaths in this country, with all our progress, with all our sophistication, with all our intelligence, that we have more young people die than any other industrialized nation. It is such a disconnect. You wonder how we've gotten to this point.

Smith & Wesson, I think, is very important. Why? Because Smith & Wesson takes this whole abstract argument, reduces it to the real, and then resolves it. What we have said all along, your gospel, is: It is not guns or no guns. We're not trying to outlaw guns. Smith & Wesson says the largest handgun manufacturer -- not a politician, not a think tank -- the largest manufacturer of the handgun industry, 20 percent of the market, Smith & Wesson says we can make safer guns. We can have a more responsible distribution network. And the bona fide users of guns will be unaffected by any of this.

But we can have a safer gun. We can keep guns away from children. We can keep guns away from criminals. We can have a safer distribution network. And the sun will still rise in the morning for the bona fide sportsman and the bona fide hunters. That's not a report saying that that we commissioned. It is not political propaganda. It is the leading expert, Smith & Wesson.

Now, what has the response been to Smith & Wesson? Because this petrified the other side. It threw them into chaos. What was the response of the other side? It's very interesting. The NRA did the predictable -- caught themselves just shy of a total extremist response -- but the NRA essentially said we boycott Smith & Wesson. And the Smith & Wesson sales have been dropping. They want to put Smith & Wesson out of business. Make no mistake. That is their plan, because Smith & Wesson is now a traitor.

I believe Smith & Wesson is a visionary. Because make no mistake, Smith & Wesson is a business. It is not a politician. It is not a public policy analyst. It's saying, look, we believe we've gotten to the point in this nation that if we don't do something about gun safety, guns are going to be out of business. So Smith & Wesson thinks it's making a prudent business decision getting ahead of the curve. The NRA says you're a discordant voice. You have to be out of business.

The Congress has now picked up the NRA banner. There's an amendment that was put in yesterday, or may even go in today, Congressman Hostettler, that says what? That says HUD shall not administer the Smith & Wesson agreement. And HUD shall not do anything in furtherance of putting together a coalition to support the Smith & Wesson agreement.

Why? The only reason cities sued in the first place was because the Congress wasn't acting. Make no mistake. Nobody wanted to do this through litigation. You'd want to do this through legislation. That's the way this should be handled. But when you've tried for years and years to get legislation, and you see no progress, then you go to the court system.

Thirty-two cities -- New York City joined yesterday. That's important. Why? That's a Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, I think. I believe he's a Republican -- not that I pay attention to these things, but I believe he's a Republican. He is the thirty-second city, a Republican mayor. So it says it's not political. They sued because there was no legislation. And now the response from the Congress is -- the one legislative response they want is to stop the progress of Smith & Wesson.

The other response and why we haven't had more manufacturers join the agreement is because the issue has become politicized. It's now a presidential election year, and this is very much a political issue, and the NRA is very potent politically. And there are suggestions that if certain politicians are elected, the lawsuits will go away.

Governor Bush passed a law in Texas that said no city can sue a manufacturer without the approval of the state legislature, which is not going to happen. It's a very nice way of saying, city will sue a manufacturer, period. He has now said, if he is president, he will do for the nation what he did for Texas. So the other manufacturers correctly are saying why should they sign a Smith & Wesson agreement? They're going to be immunized if Bush becomes president. So, we can't get any more manufacturers to sign the Smith & Wesson agreement right now. We're on hold.

It is ludicrous that anyone would play politics with this issue -- Democrat, Republican, President, Congress, City Council. There should be some issues that we have the sanity to say are exempt from being used as tactics in a political contest, and this should be one of them.

Presidential candidates, senatorial candidates, just give us your position on this issue. Let's be clear. Let's not try to score any points. But to lose five months on this issue waiting for the outcome of an election, when you're losing 12 children a day is inexcusable.

My last point is this. Why all of this? I've talked with Andy McElvy about this. I've talked to Mike about this. Why? Why can't we make more progress? The NRA is, in some ways, too simple an answer, but the NRA is symbolic of a mentality. Now the NRA is three million people, but in this town -- and that's why I've started by saying we've got to get out of this town -- in this town the NRA and the three million people win, because they are organized, and they are effective and they are directed, and it doesn't take that much in this town to win.

You think the Congress of the United States, boy, that's a deliberative body. It's a very large vehicle. But a pebble in the road can stop it. I've never seen anything like it. And the NRA is the pebble in the road that stops the tank from coming down. Three million focused with money, with energy, are a potent force.

Three million people are nothing. There are three million public housing residents. Why don't they have the same impact that the three million members of the NRA have? There are two million nurses. Why don't they have the proportionate impact? There are three million public school teachers who have to see children lose their lives. Why don't they have the same proportionate impact? Because the NRA is a focused force.

Win the battle outside of this town. Awaken the sleeping giant, which is the American people, and the American people are starting to rustle. Thank God for the Million Mom March. That's what that started to say, and the politicians started to notice.

Who are these women who got on buses and came to this town and nobody paid them to do it? They're lobbying for an issue that they're not going to make money on. There's no financial incentive. They're not even political people. They are just people who believe in an issue. This is dangerous. This is sort of democracy at work. These are citizens involved in the process. Boy, what do you do with this? We haven't seen anything like this in years. This is almost like what we thought the system was supposed to be about.

It scares the people in this town. Who is their lobbyist? How do we make a deal with them? Where is their trade association? Who can handle this phenomenon? A very, very potent force. We just have to organize it and inspire it and facilitate it, and then we will win.

It will happen naturally. I believe that. Because I believe the American people have been sitting back and they've been seeing the insanity that goes on, the Columbines, the National Zoos, and they've said enough is enough. Something is seriously wrong here, and they're going to take action. We have to be the expeditor, the facilitator of that. Because you have a lot of people who are just turned off with the process in general.

A lot of young people, relatively young people -- I'm somewhere in the middle, 42 -- but a lot of young people say to me all you people, it just doesn't work for me this government thing. I just don't want to get involved. We have to say to them you ca make a difference. Here is the vehicle. And change is possible.

What's great about this issue, it's more of a single targeted focus. You don't have to change the world. We just have to change this one issue. And it is doable. And that is the fight that you are fighting. And that is where we are going to win.

And I also believe that we have a window of opportunity, which is now, for a confluence of factors. You have the election cycle, which means the politicians' antennas go up in the election cycle. Self-preservation is a very good thing. It's a motivator of people and of politics. You have an election year. You have the Million Mom March. You have unfortunately a litany of bad acts and tragedies that have registered with the American people.

Politicians are wary. We just have to add that spark. All the elements are in the environment. You provide that spark. We will have combustion. And we can get to a new level on this issue.

Knowing what Mike Barnes has done, knowing what HCI has done, knowing what Jim and Sarah Brady have done, I think we're going to do it. And it's my pleasure to be with you and to be part of everything you're doing. Thank you for having me today.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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