Clinton seeks summit dedicated to curtailing youth violence

President to summon religious, industry leaders for White House meeting

May 01, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to spark "a grass-roots movement to turn away from violence," President Clinton announced yesterday that he will summon religious leaders, entertainment and Internet industry executives, explosives manufacturers and weapons makers to the White House for a youth-violence summit on May 10.

In the wake of the Littleton shootings, the president once again pleaded for parents to connect with the children, children to connect with their peers, and politicians to put aside their differences in the search for answers to last week's tragedy.

"We should recognize the simple truth that there is no simple, single answer. We should not be fighting about who takes the blame," Clinton told reporters in the Rose Garden. "As we have united in grief, now we should unite in action."

In some sense, the Littleton shootings have rescued the president from the morass of Kosovo and allowed him to address Americans in the realm in which he is most comfortable, domestic policy. Clinton delivered a statement on the night of the tragedy, returned the next day to speak on the problems of youth violence, then unveiled an ambitious package of gun-control measures that, he said, could prevent future schoolhouse massacres.

Congressional Republicans sought to deflect the debate away from gun control, proposing a series of town hall meetings focused on violence in the entertainment industry and a culture that, they say, increasingly appears bereft of morals.

Yesterday, Clinton embraced that proposal, attempting to co-opt a GOP position as he has done so often.

"I'm pleased the president has decided to join the Republican Congress' call for a broader examination of what has led to the rash of recent school tragedies," chided Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

But Clinton pointedly refused to drop his call for new gun regulations, which he called "common-sense measures to promote the common good." The proposals include background checks for explosives and for firearms purchases at gun shows, a ban on handgun and semi-automatic assault rifle ownership for anyone under 21 years old, reinstitution of the Brady law's waiting period for handgun purchases and a limit on handgun purchases of one per month.

Appealing to gun owners who have long opposed his gun-control policies, Clinton said, "Let's bury the hatchet and build a future for our children together."

He sought to quell critics, who have accused him of singling out the gun industry while soft-pedaling criticism of the entertainment industry, which has long been supportive of his administration and his own campaigns.

Speaking on the "Today" show, Clinton did not propose restrictions on the content of films, television and video games. But he did say Hollywood must take some responsibility for the violence in American society.

"I think it would be a mistake for the people who don't want to offend the [National Rifle Association] to blame Hollywood, and the people who don't want to offend Hollywood to blame the NRA, instead of keeping our children and their safety and their future in mind," he said.

When asked if the NRA would be invited to the May 10 summit, White House aides were noncommittal. Domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed told reporters the invitation list has not been compiled.

Clinton asked all parents to sit down this weekend with their children to discuss the Littleton shootings, and he suggested that students next week make an effort to reach out to a fellow student outside their school clique.

"The spirit of America can triumph in this troubling moment, and I am convinced it will," Clinton concluded. "But we must build the energy and will and passion of our country, and the fundamental goodness of our people, into a grass-roots movement to turn away from violence."

Pub Date: 5/01/99

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