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Secretary Cuomo's Remarks
Press Conference on Hostettler Amendment

Thursday, June 29, 2000

Thank you very much. It's my pleasure to welcome the very accomplished group that we have before you today. First, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who has long been a champion on this issue. It's a pleasure to be with her. Congressman Patrick Kennedy who has brought his significant energies, abilities, and talents to the issue of gun violence in this nation.

It's also a pleasure to have Mayor Fernandez, who will be participating by telephone, and the police chiefs who are with us today, who understand this issue in a way no one else in the nation understands the issue, literally from the ground up. And Assemblyman Joseph Morelli, from the State of New York. It's a pleasure to have him here also.

The issue of gun violence in this nation is a uniquely American problem. No other industrialized nation has the problem that we have. Literally, 12 times more deaths than the other 25 industrialized nations combined, in the United States. I was in the Middle East last week, speaking to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat about the need for peace, because the violence is unacceptable. We lose more children in one week than they lose in a year, believe it or not -- and I'm there talking to them about peace.

Now, the United States Congress has not resolved the situation. We hope and pray one day they will, but up until now they haven't. This has been going on for years, and there's always been one reason or another why there was gridlock. For years there was no resolution. So, some other entity said we have to get something done, and we're not going to wait for the Congress, and they started to sue the gun manufacturers, primarily cities. It started about two years ago. Now, over 30 cities and states have sued the gun manufacturers.

That worked, and the gun manufacturers came to the table and said we want to resolve this. How can we resolve it? We entered into a settlement with a company, called the Smith & Wesson agreement. The Smith & Wesson agreement was very simple. It said we will have safer guns, because there is technology to make guns safe.

There is technology that makes a gun safe for a child. You can do it with a bottle of aspirin. You can do it with a garage door opener. You can certainly do it with a gun. Right? It's not rocket science to make a gun safe for a child. Smith & Wesson says we can do that, and Smith & Wesson says we'll have a code of conduct that keeps our dealers from selling to criminals, because we can do that also. We know how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We know how to do a background check when we choose to do it.

That's important. Why? So the police officers, who go out and fight this fight every day and put their lives on the line every day, don't have to worry that the criminal is going to be armed also. That's what the Smith & Wesson agreement said. And we started pursuing the Smith & Wesson agreement.

Over 500 communities stepped forward and joined what's called the Safe Gun Coalition to support the Smith & Wesson agreement. Why? Because there was finally a solution, finally a step in the right direction, finally something tangible that was actually going to save lives. Five-hundred communities, in literally a matter of months, have stepped forward.

What is the response of the United States Congress? Unbelievably, the United States Congress now tries to pass something called the Hostettler Amendment, named for the congressman who's proposing it that would stop the coalition supporting Smith & Wesson. How can this be? We only went this route in the first place, because Congress wasn't acting, and now the one action they want to take would be to impede the only progress that was actually made.

The 500 communities that support this agreement represent over 40 million Americans. Over 40 million Americans are presented in this coalition supporting this agreement. Forty million dwarfs the three million members of the NRA. Why does the tail always wag the dog with this Congress?

Enough is enough. If you can't be part of the solution, U.S. Congress, certainly don't be part of the problem. If you can't resolve it, please don't take the one positive accomplishment that we've reached without you and try to take it back from us. We took a step forward. Don't pull us back. Please. We have an agreement that will save children's lives, that will help police officers do their jobs. If you're not going to help, at least don't hinder.

That's our message today, and it is being made by the congress people who know this issue and who have fought this fight and will fight this amendment, and the police officers across this nation who fight the war every day. Not with words, not with the safety of the Beltway around them, but literally on the ground every day, and it's my honor to have them with us.

Let me turn it now to Congressman Patrick Kennedy. Congressman Patrick Kennedy is truly one of the young stars in the United States Congress. He is a good personal friend of mine. He is also a family member of mine. I can't tell you how proud I am to see the great work he is doing, and what an honor it is to have him here with us. Congressman Patrick Kennedy.


QUESTION: Mister Secretary, I'm curious as to what sort of assistance you're getting from the White House. Have they indicated whether this amendment is likely to be vetoed whatever it's on? Or is there a point beyond which they can't go?

SECRETARY CUOMO: The White House has not spoken to this issue yet. I have said that if this amendment were to pass and if it were to be attached to the HUD bill as it is, I would urge the President to veto the bill, and I would make that plea as strenuously as I can.

QUESTION: Apparently Smith & Wesson, according to some groups, is encountering some financial difficulty. Do you think that bringing more groups on with these preferences can help them out with that?

SECRETARY CUOMO: Sure. Look, what happened here is Smith & Wesson made an agreement. Smith & Wesson said they'll make the safe guns, they'll have their responsible code of conduct. And for some unbelievable reason, the NRA then targeted Smith & Wesson, and they're trying to put Smith & Wesson out of business. That's what this is. We're trying to say as a coalition, no, we welcome people who are making safer guns.

Look, police officers buy guns. They would rather have a safer gun in their home. They have families, they have children. If they have a choice between a safe gun and an unsafe gun, let's see, which one would I want in my home with my children? Clearly, you'd want the safer gun.

The police officers are buying guns. They have a choice between patronizing a company that does more or a company that does less to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Which one would they pick? They're going to pick Smith & Wesson. They're going to pick a company that is doing more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Otherwise, it would really be a bizarre circle: We buy police officers guns so they can go out and fight the criminal, but the criminal has a gun from the same company that sold you the gun for the police officer. Why would you do that?

So, these communities came together to support Smith & Wesson. The NRA opposed it, and the NRA has now gone to the Congress of the United States, in my opinion, and said put Smith & Wesson out of business. That's what this is, and Congressman Hostettler is carrying their banner. It's that clear.

SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you all very much again. Thank you to the police officers, to the Congressional Representatives, to the Assemblyman. Thank you.

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