First Lady Denounces 'Culture of Violence'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 1999; Page A23
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y., April 22 – In an unusually forceful response to the Colorado school shooting, Hillary Rodham Clinton tonight called for stricter controls on guns and violent media images in a speech to the statewide teachers union, denouncing "the culture of violence that infects the lives of our children."
The first lady's speech to the politically influential New York State United Teachers had a bit of a campaign aura, and she has spent three days in New York just this week, but Clinton did not refer to her possible race for Senate. Instead, she unleashed a blizzard of proposals designed to prevent similar tragedies: more money for school counselors and social workers, tougher penalties for children who use guns and the adults whose guns fall into their hands, more resources for child care and after-school programs, an anti-violence hotline in every community, and a national debate about violence in the media.
Clinton began by cautioning against the urge to point fingers in the wake of the horrors in Littleton, but she then proceeded to do just that. Her rhetoric about guns and money was not particularly surprising, echoing as it did the themes in her best-selling book about child-rearing, "It Takes a Village." But Clinton also lashed out at violent images in the media, repeating themes of Republican presidential nominee Robert J. Dole's attack on Hollywood during the 1996 campaign. She was particularly tough on video games that "you win based on how many people you kill," describing them as military training for impressionable minds.
"We have to be willing to talk about the culture of violence that infects the lives of our children," she said. "The constant exposure to violence on TV, in the movies, on video games, in music -- there's much too much evidence that children get desensitized. . . . There's so much of it. We're awash in it."
Clinton acknowledged that any crackdown on media violence would raise First Amendment issues, but she suggested that America needs far more than the "V-chips" that parents can use to screen out violent shows.
"We are going to have to do some serious thinking in this country about how we can take more control over what our children see and experience," she said. "We can no longer shut our eyes to the impact the media is having on all our children, and the potentially violent impact it is having on some of them."
In recent weeks, the yes-or-no speculation about Clinton's possible Senate race has been tilting toward yes; the state Democratic Party announced today that the first lady will attend its annual dinner on Thursday, and Clinton met with several local Democratic leaders before her speech. A statewide Quinnipiac College poll released today gave Clinton a 49 percent to 41 percent advantage in a race against New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a slight increase over a few weeks ago, but her advisers say she has not made up her mind.
Still, Clinton took advantage of her friendly crowd tonight, winning applause with her emphasis on several traditional Democratic issues: support for teachers unions, opposition to school vouchers and increased resources for social services.
It is not clear how the killers in Colorado got their guns, but she also criticized the gun lobby, blaming the disaster at least in part on the wide availability of firearms in America.
"We need to stand up and say what needs to be said about guns and firearms," she said. "Why on earth would we permit any young person access to the firearms those two young men brought into that school?"
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