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School Shootings Addressed

The following is an excerpt from the Presidential press briefing held on May 21, 1998 at 2:15 PM EDT in the White House briefing room. The questions below focus on the tragic outbreak of school shootings. Answers to questions from the Press Corps are being given by Press Secretary Mike McCurry.

Q Mike, during the Africa trip the President directed the Justice Department to study the phenomenon of school shootings. What's occurred since then and what, if anything, has the administration decided it can do about this?

MR. MCCURRY: The Justice Department I think is providing some updates, but a couple of things in motion now in light of this terrible event in Oregon. First, the Department of Education has been in contact with the State Superintendent of Education to make available the team of people that they have for crisis response that grew out of some of the terrible experiences in Paducah and Jonesboro and elsewhere. That's available to them. I think it's really up to the state to indicate whether that's a resource that they want to have available.

Second, some of the work done out of that briefing that the President had with experts on these issues is leading to an examination of what, if any, federal role there is in working with state education agencies in trying to find ways to do better training, do better awareness efforts in schools so that they move to the kind of zero tolerance for guns on campus that we have long advocated, and find ways of successfully implementing that strategy. In most cases, that still is going to be a local decision, but we're looking carefully to see if there's any federal role that is suggested.

One thing that came up in the session before is whether or not there is some type of copy-cat phenomenon. We don't know the answer to that. We don't know enough about this incident today to know what is suggested by way of motive. But I'm sure in the aftermath of this event they will continue to do that type of work that was already underway to look at questions and motive.

And, by the way, the President has spoken to the principal of the school in Thurston just to express his personal condolences and that of the First Lady and to let people there know that nationally this country will stand with a community that is clearly suffering.

Q If I could follow up, Mike, on the briefing that the President was involved in on this phenomenon, what were some of the things that were discussed that schools should do to protect themselves?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd go back and talk to education people and Justice Department people -- there were a lot of questions about security, a lot of questions about counseling and the utility of on-campus counseling and what role the school can play in helping people who are dealing with estrangement or dealing with difficult psychological situations.

There was, by no means, any federal program suggested or, coming out of that meeting, any suggestion that we should prepare federal initiative because, again, the work to address these issues is going to be largely local and even personal, down to the family level. But clearly, the experts believe that schools need to be sensitive to students who are at risk; that communities need to be mindful of the kinds of tears in our social fabric that produce awful incidents like this; and that there might be some proper role for the federal to play largely through assistance to state education agencies as they attempt to grapple with this problem. But they are still working on it.Tragically, we've had another event before we have any real clear-cut answers.

Q Some people ask why now there is such energy on these kinds of shootings when for years there have been shootings in minority schools that have gone unremarked, at least nationally.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been -- I don't know that they've gone unremarked, Sam. There has been a real strenuous effort during the term of this President and even dating beforehand to kind of create violence-free, drug-free, gun-free learning environments for our young people. That's irrespective of what kind of community we're talking about. That's been a priority, and it's been addressed as a priority in the crime bills and the other legislation that's come along the way.

It starts with getting the communities more directly involved in protecting kids. It includes things like community policing, which this President has been a strong advocate of, and includes the concept of getting parents, teachers, administrators more directly engaged in both security issues and also figuring out what the sources of violence are all about. So I think there has been a great deal of work on exactly that issue.

Q You would reject the idea that it's not just because predominantly white students are killed?

MR. MCCURRY: I would not reject the idea that sometimes our interest as a nation and the interest of news organizations might be greater in cases when they are confined to these kinds of communities, but the problem is no less important if it occurs in urban settings and involves minority kids. And my suggestion is that there has been an awful lot of hard work on that that ought to be acknowledged and recognized.

Q What's the name of the principal that the President called?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll get that for you. See if you get the name.

Q Does the President still expect a report from Reno on this subject? There is one forthcoming?

MR. MCCURRY: There was a combination of ways in which they thought there might be some follow-up. There might be a series of specific proposals or things that we might be able to do as a government, and then he looked to the Attorney General to see if there was some way of summing up what the federal role might be.

Q Does he see any problem with the availability of guns to these young people?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's only part of the problem, because we've done -- most of these states have got laws on the books to deal with the acquisition of firearms by minors. It's got to be clearly more than that. It's detection. It's figuring out how you keep guns off of campuses, and figure out what best you can do.

Questions on other topics followed.

President Clinton's 5/23/98 Radio Address to the Nation
On May 23, 1998, President Clinton's Radio Address to the Nation further spoke to the school shootings and teen violence. View the text of the entire address.

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