Student Pledge Against Gun Violence

Senator Bill Bradley's Speach on the Student Pledge as it appeared in the Congressional Record

Mr. BRADLEY. Mr. President, I rise today, along with my colleagues, Senator Specter and Senator Wellstone, who initially joined me to serve as original cosponsors, to submit a resolution designating November 6th, as a day of national concern about young people and gun violence.

This resolution has enjoyed broad bipartisan support over the last several days. I have been asking other Members of the Senate if they would like to join as original cosponsors of this resolution. As of today, the date of its introduction, there are 81 additional cosponsors of this resolution to declare November 6th as a national day of concern about young people and gun violence.

Mr. President, we are in a crisis in this country. America is losing a generation of young people to crime and violence. Last July, Cindy Villalba, a 20-year-old Rutgers University student , was slain in Paterson, NJ, when a bullet from a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol careened into her chest. The assailant, Corie Miller, was 17 years old.

The murder was a senseless tragedy. Ms. Villalba was sitting in a car talking to a friend, Julissa Vargas. Miller, along with two other teenagers, aged 19 and 18, approached the vehicle and demanded money. When the two women insisted they did not have any money and began screaming, Miller cocked the pistol and struck Vargas in the back of the head. The pistol then discharged, and a bullet struck Villalba in the chest, killing her instantly. Villalba, a catechism teacher at St. John the Baptist Cathedral, had just returned from Costa Rica, whereshe was teaching English to schoolchildren as a part of a Rutgers University program.

A few months after the murder of Ms. Villalba, Desmond Carberry, then 12 years old, took a loaded gun and pointed it at his 10-year-old neighborhood playmate's head. He squeezed the trigger, killing Noel DaRoja. The children were playing unsupervised with a .22-caliber handgun at a third friend's house in Berkeley Township, NJ, on a day when school was let out early because of teacher conferences. They had a dispute, and use of the gun resulted from the dispute.

Mr. President, the common theme in the murders of Cindy Villalba and Noel DaRoja is that children are killing and being killed at an alarming rate in this country. The number of juveniles murdered in 1994 was 47 percent greater than the number in 1980.

Mr. President, juvenile homicides involving firearms tripled from 1980 to 1994. Ask any police chief of any major city in this country, and they will tell you the problem in violence is that now the weapons are more powerful and they are used more frequently.

Teenage violence is skyrocketing. In 1994, one in five murdered juveniles were known to be killed by a juvenile offender. Juveniles were responsible for 14 percent of all violent crimes cleared in 1994, and young people were 17 percent of all persons arrested for murder that same year. Among young African-American males, murder is the No. 1 cause of death.

Mr. President, young people in this country are understandably frightened. In 1993, 42 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 reported knowing of weapons in their school. That same year, nearly 75 percent of students were aware of incidents of physical attack, robbery or bullying. Almost one-third of the students had witnessed such attacks, and at least one-fourth were worried about being the victims of such attacks.

Mr. President, this is not simply an urban problem. It is a national problem. During the 3-month period between December 1995 and February of this year, 31 teenagers were murdered in the largely suburban New Jersey counties of Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Somerset and Union.

In January, 18-year-old Torrance Turner of suburban Lakewood, NJ, died after being shot in the face after a confrontation outside an apartment complex.

In September 1994, 20-year-old George Corbett biked to a park in suburban Old Bridge with a .22-caliber rifle swung over his shoulder. Once at the park, he shot 14-year-old Christopher Shrimpton in the head, killing him instantly. This deadly confrontation resulted from a dispute between the boys after the Old Bridge police caught them trying to break into a car the summer before the shooting.

Mr. President, the epidemic of violence is ensnaring our children at an alarming rate. I could go on and I could go on and on with story after heartbreaking story about kids killing kids and being killed. It is time to reverse this deadly trend because, if we do not, the future of America will perish before our eyes.

It is time to make it unfashionable to carry a gun to school.
It is time to make it unacceptable to resolve a dispute with a gun.
It is time to give young people in this country a chance to stand up and retake their schools and their neighborhoods.

Mr. President, the resolution that I am introducing today is designed to give American young people a chance to stop the carnage that is taking place on the streets that they often frequent. The resolution designates November 6th, 1997, as a day of national concern about young people and gun violence.

No will mark a national observance, giving young people throughout the country the chance to sign a voluntary pledge. On this day young people will be asked to sign the pledge . Across this country, they will be asked to raise their hand in urban centers and small towns alike. They will be asked to raise their hand and say, `I pledge that I will never bring a gun to school; that I will never use a gun to settle a dispute; and that I will use my influence with my friends to keep them from using guns to settle disputes.'

That is the pledge .

Mr. President, by taking individual and collective responsibility for their decisions and actions, American young people can help chart a less violent future.

Through the power of their collective voices, young people
can demonstrate that the country, through their initiative and resolve, has come to terms with a crisis.

A couple of years ago there was something called Hands Across America, where on one day, at one time, literally millions of Americans joined hands to make a very important point. It is my hope that every local television station, that local radio stations, that local institutions on that day, November 6th, will cover young people in schools, raising their hand, and take this pledge .

Mr. President, the distribution of the national pledge will give local communities and residents of those communities the power to control their own destiny. Instead of looking to Washington to stop the scourge of violence, young people will take the pledge , and they themselves, by their action, will stop the violence.

Mr. President, this resolution does not concern the issue of gun control. It does not prevent someone from becoming a police officer, joining a State patrol, using a gun in hunting. It is designed simply for one purpose, and one purpose only. That is to curb the epidemic of gun violence and its deadly consequences for America's young people.

This bipartisan resolution is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, who frequently are the targets of some of this gun touting, the National Education Association, the Council of Great City Schools, the National League of Women Voters, Mothers Against Violence in America, the National Parent Teachers Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Association of School Administrators, the Presbyterian Church of the USA, United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society, the National School Board Association, the United Methodist Church and the General Board of Church and Society.

Mr. President, young people are our most important resource. As a society, we have a vested interest in helping people survive, free from fear and violence, and survive into healthy adulthood. It is my hope, my sincere hope that all 84 Senators who have supported this resolution and cosponsored it, will share in their communities and States on this day of November 6th, 1997, and oversee and participate with young people taking this pledge .

Some people say, well, what is a little resolution, a little resolution designating a day? It is a focus, that is what it is.

It is a focus. It is a focus that allows young people, wherever they are, to take some control over their school, to give those who want it to be a safer place a chance to organize around an action, a simple pledge . `I pledge never to tell a lie'--we have all heard that before. It has some impact when it is taken seriously. `I pledge never to take a gun to school, never to use a gun to resolve a dispute, and to use my influence to keep my friends from using a gun to resolve a dispute.' A very simple idea. If adhered to, a very positive and successful idea.