May 14, 2001
Web posted at: 5:08 p.m. EDT (2108 GMT)
By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush, using an appearance in Philadelphia to pitch his efforts to curb firearms violence, said Monday the White House plans to spend $550 million over two years to help squelch gun crime at the community level.
Addressing an audience of Philadelphia law officers, Bush called the initiative "Project Safe Neighborhoods," which he said would link federal, state and local efforts to curb violent crimes rates as it steps up enforcement of laws already on the books.
Guns under fire
Accompanying him was Attorney General John Ashcroft. The president was introduced by his friend John Street, the city's Democratic mayor.
"If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time," Bush warned Monday. "This nation must enforce the gun laws which exist on the books."
Gun violence and gun control were troublesome issues for Bush when as governor of Texas he campaigned for the presidency.
Democrats hounded Bush during the campaign, using outrage over school shootings to bolster their arguments that new gun laws were needed. Bush expressed support for closure of the so-called "gun show loophole" and other initiatives but argued that violent crime rates would drop if gun laws were enforced with more vigor.
Congressional Republicans pressured the Clinton administration to boost prosecution efforts -- something President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno insisted they were already doing.
Bush acknowledged Monday that rates of violent crime were decreasing, saying, "Between 1989 and 1995, the rate of violent crime has decreased 25 percent. That is a huge accomplishment."
Much of the credit, however, should go to local law enforcement officials that have implemented "zero tolerance" policies, Bush said, citing Virginia's "Project Exile" and Boston's "Operation Cease Fire."
"Thanks to Boston's 'Operation Cease Fire,' no one under 17 has been shot in the past two years," he said.
Nevertheless, Bush pointed out, the United States is still one of the world's most violent industrialized nations.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, Bush said, would "involve an unprecedented partnership at all levels of government, and increase accountability."
The linchpin of the project, he said, would be the involvement of all newly appointed U.S. attorneys, who will be required to certify to the federal government that the multiple portions of the plan have been implemented in their localities.
Bush left it to Ashcroft to fill in the details.
Ashcroft and Bush had spent a significant amount of time together over the weekend, meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat to discuss the potential fallout of the FBI's discovery of 3,000 additional documents in the McVeigh case. Ashcroft postponed McVeigh's scheduled execution so the content of the documents could be assessed.
Speaking after Bush Monday, a rested-looking Ashcroft broke down the $550 million for the audience to illustrate how the cash -- with some $230 million earmarked for this year -- will be put to work.
"The president is willing to back his action up with appropriate resources so we can get the job done," Ashcroft said.
"This funding will be used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, and develop and promote community outreach efforts," Ashcroft said.
Newly appointed U.S. attorneys, he said, would be in charge of establishing partnerships that:
• Consider gun cases for trial in the "most appropriate forum."
• Implement strategic plans to reduce gun violence based in community need.
• Encourage partnerships for regional "cross-training," involving prosecutors and law enforcement agents.
• Establish outreach programs that make it clear to potential criminals that dire consequences await if they use a gun while committing a crime.
• Measure the long-term impact of the programs they implement through statistical analysis of crimes rates.