Text: Kerry on Assault Weapons             

eMediaMillWorks
Monday, September 13, 2004; 12:10 PM

Following is the full text of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry's speech on assault weapons.

KERRY: Thank you, all of you, for being here this morning.

I particularly am pleased to be here at the Thurgood Marshall Center. For so many years, this place has given our children the gift of hope. And today I'm proud to stand with heroes, people who put their lives on the line every single day, every call; whether it's a domestic call or just stopping a car, carries the risk of death. And these folks are heroes, and I'm proud to stand with them today in their efforts on a daily basis to make certain that our children can live the hope that this center represents in the streets of America.

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We're grateful to them.

Thank you.

I really can't tell you how grateful I am. I'm touched personally and honored by the endorsement today and the endorsements that I've received from police officers before today.

I want to thank the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Coalition of Public Safety Officers for their endorsement today.

And these organizations, along with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, an international union of police associations, and police officers all across America, are standing with me in this campaign because they know that we need to set a new direction for our country.

And like me and like you, they are tired of a president who takes cops off the streets with one hand and puts assault weapons -- military assault weapons back on with the other.

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It's an honor for me to be here with the mayor of this city, Anthony Williams, who struggles with this every day. And I want to run through each of these people because it's important they're here.

And their being here, Mr. President, makes a statement about the choice that you have made.

I'm here with Congressman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who's been a champion, fighting for protecting young kids and making our streets safer and helping our communities to build themselves.

I'm here with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who's been one of the heroes of this effort, who's suffered personal tragedy, who understands what happens, who's had the courage to go out and fight for the things that she believes in as a result.

I'm here with Sandra Grace, whom you just heard from, who represents people in uniform, police officers all across our country, who every day, in every action, put themselves at risk. Why? To help us be safer, to raise the quantity of life in our country, to give our children the opportunity to go to school without the threat of some kid pulling out a gun and shooting other kids.

And I'm here with Senator Joe Biden, who in those 17 years, as either chairman or ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and even when he hasn't been in that position, in one of the longest careers in the Senate, has always been a champion of common sense and of trying to make our streets safer.

Ten years ago, thanks to Joe Biden and his leadership, which he fought for year after year, we passed a tough crime bill in order to protect America.

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And we made sure, in a tough fight, that criminals couldn't get their hands on military assault weapons.

I'm proud of the role that I played in that fight with Joe to help lead the effort to put 100,000 cops in our nation's communities where they could stop crimes before they happen.

And it worked. I learned that firsthand when I was a law enforcement officer. People don't think of D.A.s, assistant district attorneys, as law enforcement, but we are; we're part of the brotherhood and sisterhood. We work every day with cops. We did.

And I worked with cops in one of the 10 largest countries in America. And I saw what they did and how hard it was to be able to balance the effort to go out and do your duty, and come into the court and find time to prosecute and investigate and do all the things you do.

And so we did what common sense dictated. And thanks to Joe Biden and others, we led. We fought against people who resisted. And it makes common sense: You put a cop on the street and on the street corner, and that cop's walking the beat and that cop gets to know the people who live in that neighborhood. Guess what? You notice if some terrorist has moved into an apartment and there's somebody there you don't recognize. You notice whether criminals are walking the streets who are on parole or out and whether you have to watch them or not.

And we learned that it's more important to have that kind of presence because you build relationships in the community, and by building relationships in the community, people come to trust those officers and they'll tell them things before a crime happens.

You can stop crime with police officers on the streets of America.

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We saw record drops in violent crime all over America, including gang violence and school-related murders. We saw assault weapon- related crimes drop 65 percent. Criminals were on the run and communities were able to live in peace because of the tireless work of brave officers.

But then George Bush became president, and when his powerful and well-connected friends asked for a massive tax cut, he said, Sure. And he paid for it by gutting the COPS program, slashing gang prevention and cutting enforcement programs that keep drugs like meth off the streets.

Sure enough, over the last four years, America, the most violent crimes have made a comeback. Sure, the lesser crimes have gone down; we understand that. But the violent crimes, particularly those crimes which the people who want to use an assault weapon for and are attracted to, have gone up.

Eight hundred more murders a year, gang-related deaths up 40 percent and violent deaths at schools are at a five-year high.

This is the phoniest, silliest argument I've ever heard in my life, and we deserve a president who stands up and fights.

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I'm proud of the work that I did as a prosecutor. We put murderers and mob bosses behind bars. We created a new rape crisis unit because we saw that there was a need for women to be helped through the criminal justice system. We created a victim witness assistance program, so that people didn't feel victimized twice; once by the crime and then by the justice system itself. We stood up for victims' rights.

And as president, I pledge to you I will continue to fight crime and I will stand with police officers in doing whatever it takes to protect our communities and keep our families safe. Our plan...

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John Edwards' and my plan for a safe America puts more police officers on our streets by restoring every last dime of the COPS program.

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We're also going to put 5,000 new prosecutors into our communities in order to help those police officers be able to fight crime and put criminals behind bars. We're going to take on gang violence with a zero-tolerance policy and a message to our young people that there is another path. And especially for our rural communities, we're going to help local law enforcement shut down the methamphetamine labs that are taking the lives of our children and we'll make it harder to buy drugs in the first place.

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Now let me just tell you a quick story about that, talk about guns and law enforcement. I was in Iowa. I was out hunting. I was pheasant hunting with the local sheriff. And we were walking through a field -- a beautiful Iowa field in the afternoon, a nice fall day, and the sheriff pointed out a house about 30 yards in back of me.

That's the story. That's why police officers in our country care about this.

So the final peg of my plan is we're always going to keep the ban that keeps dangerous, military-style assault weapons out of the hands of killers and terrorists. And I'll tell you, if you really want to handle an assault weapon, and this is something you just think is going to make your life, we've got a place for you to go do it. It's called the United States armed forces, and we can use you.

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My friends, George Bush made a choice today. And over these next days I will be showing how these choices affect America and Americans. This is what presidential leadership is supposed to be about, but it's also a test of character. It is a test of character.

In a secret deal, he chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over police officers and families that he promised to protect. The president made the wrong choice for Americans, and the American people are going to pay the price for his choice.

He failed the test of leadership by saying that he supports an assault weapons ban, but then doing everything in his power to keep the Republicans from sending it to him. That is not what we expect in leadership from the president of the United States.

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George Bush should stop hiding behind the Republicans in Congress. He should tell the American people the truth; that he had no intention of extending the assault weapons ban, that the gun lobbyists were absolutely correct when they publicly said, point- blank, that they had a real friend in the Oval Office.

When I'm president, we will set America in a new direction, with a real plan to fight crime, to keep our communities safer. We'll stand beside those police officers, we'll stand up with American families. And we'll face the reality that Anthony Williams and leaders all across this country face for these ideologues that Joe Biden talked about a moment ago who say, Well, we just don't think the federal government should do this.

Well, that's all well and good, but then who's going to do it? In communities that have no money, communities that have lost their tax base because of the economic policies of the president; communities that had the promise of No Child Left Behind, only the money has been left behind; communities struggling to be able to put their lives together...

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I intend to set America in a new direction where we keep faith with the American people, where what we say in public life we mean, and we do the things we say, because the only interests that I'm going to be looking out for are the interests of the American people and our children and our future.

Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)