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August 18, 1999

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August 18, 1999

This past Monday, students and teachers at Columbine High School returned to class, 17 weeks after two teenage boys walked calmly into the building, and armed with automatic firearms and homemade bombs, killed 12 students and a beloved teacher.

One month later, on the very day that the President and I traveled to Colorado to meet with members of the Littleton community, a 15-year-old in Conyers, Ga., opened fire at his high school. And last week, the nation was stunned yet again, when a man, apparently wielding a submachine gun, murdered a post office employee, and then, turned his hatred on three children, a teenage camp counselor and a receptionist at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles.

Each time a child is the victim of gun violence, it shocks our national conscience and shakes our national confidence, for the safety of our children is our single most important responsibility. Neither gun violence nor hate crimes have a place in our society.

As I have traveled around the country in the weeks since the Littleton tragedy, talking with students and their parents, it's not helplessness or despair I've heard, but rather a clear and forceful determination to end the violence that threatens our children.

Let me share with you part of a letter I received shortly after the Colorado shootings from a seventh-grader I met in Buffalo, N.Y. She wrote: "Violence is all around me. There are gangs in my neighborhood. Because of this, I am not free to ride my bike around the block. My mother fears for my life every time I leave the house. I have gotten used to it, because violence has been a part of my life since I was a child." She concluded with this: "I believe the children are the future, but if we stay on this road of violence and destruction, our children will lose all hope for tomorrow."

The President and I are determined not to let this child, or any other child, lose hope.

After Littleton, the Senate passed tough new provisions, proposed by the President, that would have strengthened our gun safety laws. But even these most common-sense of measures -- measures that in no way would have restricted the activities of honest and legitimate gun owners -- were blocked by House members who, apparently, were more interested in the approval of the National Rifle Association than in the safety of our children.

The failure of Congress, though, has not deterred action on other fronts. On May 10, less than a month after the shootings at Columbine, the President and I hosted a strategy session at the White House to talk about solutions to youth violence. At the end of the day, we united behind the idea of a national campaign against youth violence. And this week, the President named an executive director to head the new nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

As part of the campaign, the President challenged the entertainment industry to do its part to combat youth violence. This week, television executives responded with a sweeping new anti-violence public-service advertising campaign that every major television network and more than 20 cable channels will air during prime time. The ad features the President and children talking about the need for parents to communicate with their kids about violence.

Of course, no ad can make every parent talk with every child about violence, but each of us has a responsibility to do what we can. This is an important commitment on the part of the television industry, and it will have a tremendous impact.

As our children return to school, they will probably be worrying about things like remembering their new locker combinations, winning a part in the school play or the band, making a sports team, and, of course, getting good grades. What they should not be worrying about is becoming the victim of gun violence in the halls of their schools or on the streets of their neighborhoods.

Before another child dies in a tragic shooting, let's translate our shock into action. Let's reach out to young people, and let them know that they can talk to their parents if they are scared or see problems developing in their schools. Let's provide more help and counseling for angry and alienated kids. And let's take guns out of the volatile mix that makes up our children's daily lives.

Let's give our children back their childhood.

If you'd like a free booklet on talking with children about violence, you can call 1-800-CHILD44 (1-800-244-5344), or visit this web site: www.talkingwithkids.org.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.


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Talking It Over: 1999

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