04/06/00 Committee on the Judiciary - Castaldo Statement
Mr.Chairman and Members of the Committee,
I thank you for the opportunity to come before you and speak about my support
of H.R. 4051, "Project Exile: The Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act of
On April 20th of last year, my son Richard was having lunch with a classmate,
Rachel Scott, outside the Library of Columbine high school. Richard was shot
eight times and is now paralyzed from the chest down. Rachel was not so lucky;
she died while lying next to my son.
Rachel's father testified in this very room shortly after the incident. Like
me, he does not blame the guns. I believe that there are a number of factors and
cultural influences that affect young people today. Mr. Scott spoke of the loss
of faith and the denigration of God in some circles of modern America. Many of
us speak about the influences of the media, music and movies on our teenagers.
Many of our political leaders ignore the effect that these influences have on
young people and continue to blame this behavior, like Columbine, solely on
guns. This, in my opinion, is clearly wrong. It is the failure to identify and
address the root cause of this behavior that I find dishonest. Our President has
stood up and proclaimed, "If only congress would pass my gun legislation,
our children would be safe." I find this personally offensive. That the
President of the United States can blame the lack of gun laws, of which there
are already 20,000, for a tragedy like Columbine, is ludicrous.
Shortly after the Columbine shooting, my son Richard, while in intensive
care, asked me how many laws were broken. I was told by the district attorney
that there were at least seventeen federal laws broken. I could not even count
the vast number of state laws that applied. Richard had been asked, by members
of the media and some of our elected officials, about his position regarding
"gun control." His response showed that the wisdom of youth frequently
exceeds our own. "What good would a few more laws do?" he asked.
"What causes kids to do something like this?"
There have been a number of high profile crimes over the past few years. But
who can blame the Oklahoma City bombing on the availability of diesel fuel? It
is equally illogical to blame Columbine on a gun.
Recently, in Michigan, a six-year-old murdered a classmate with a gun he
brought to school from the crack house that he lived in. The little boy had a
history of problems that we will never know about because of privacy concerns.
Although there are a number of social programs, child welfare agencies, and laws
against dealing drugs, possessing guns illegally, and abusing or neglecting
children, this little boy still lived in a home infested with drugs, illegal
weapons, and no adult supervision. It appears that a number of public agencies
knew about his situation and did nothing. Yet, the only outrage that we saw from
some of our elected officials was directed at the gun. President Clinton went so
far as to suggest that even people in a crack house would have used a child
safety lock, thus preventing the little girl's death. Do Americans really
believe that drug dealers would use child safety locks on illegal weapons, or
are we so callused to the barrage of rhetoric from our elected leaders that we
do not care anymore? No matter, that headline is gone, another will be here
Another recent headline involves a felon, turned down for a gun purchase
under the Brady Bill, who went out, got an illegal gun and killed more people.
If that man had been put in jail where he belonged for violating the law, those
people would be alive today. This man broke a federal law, why didn't our
Attorney General, or her designee, prosecute him? Where is the outrage over
that? Why doesn't the media care? Why doesn't Congress, my elected officials,
hold the Executive branch accountable? Should we just pass more laws outlawing
guns to placate the public, creating a façade for political benefit?
During my son's four month hospital stay, he and I talked at length about
what has gone on in our country today that contributed to Columbine. We came to
the conclusion that this is a difficult and convoluted question. One issue that
we have resolved amongst ourselves is that more laws will change nothing. It was
not normal behavior that two teenagers would construct a number of bombs, gather
up weapons, and set siege to their school. Thank God that their bombs didn't go
off. Thank God that more children didn't die. Thank God it wasn't worse.
So what do we do now as rational Americans? My suggestion is rather
straightforward. We should consider the causes. By that I mean we should ask the
following question: What on Earth causes two upper middle class students to
concoct and carry out such a plan? For all practical purposes, these boys had
intact households, after school jobs, good grades, and caring parents. However,
they were intent on doing their fellow students harm. Why?
Was it the treatment by fellow students that they received, being taunted,
being disparaged, being outcasts? Was it the solace they found in Internet chat
rooms, visualizing death for their tormentors? Was it the violent video game
"Doom" that they mentioned throughout their infamous videotapes? Was
it the constant messages in the music they listened to? Why didn't the Sheriff's
department act on the web site information they had? Why didn't the school think
it odd that two students would produce a video about murdering fellow students?
Was it within their freedom of speech? Has this contributed to the perverse,
permissive behavior? These are all difficult and controversial problems to
It is far easier to blame it on guns. It makes it simple to sell on TV.
So how do we send a message to criminals? How do we communicate to the public
that we are serious about solving the crime problem? One way is clear: swift and
tough prosecution of laws that we already have in this country.
In New York City, thanks to a tough, "law and order" mayor, violent
crime is down over thirty percent. This alone accounts for a substantial drop in
the U.S. crime rate. The President has taken credit for the drop in violent
crime in the U.S., but I give the credit to the governors, attorneys general,
mayors and prosecutors who have taken a renewed look at prosecuting the people
who break our laws. Nothing could be more simple, and nothing has had more of an
impact in crime. Many would take exception to enforcing laws; perhaps it is a
philosophical difference between what we call the left and right in this
country. I call it cleaning up the criminals.
In Virginia, where I have lived for eight years, Project Exile has worked
what I consider miracles in Richmond. I have visited my State's capital a few
times. And I must admit, I did not stay in town after dark. I no longer worry
about heading home at dusk. Homicides are down over 40%. Gun crimes over 50%,
assaults are down, and all this because people are being put in jail for
breaking the law. What a novel idea. How many people in jail are not now on the
street to commit crimes?
Finally, in Washington D.C., where there are some of the most stringent gun
laws in the nation, gun-related crimes continue, many by repeat offenders. Does
our lax enforcement contribute to the mentality that would be criminals develop?
"So what if I break the law," they say. "I'll get a slap on the
hand and go about my way." Do our children take on these attitudes? I
suspect they do.
In closing, I would like to say that criminals will not change their behavior
until we change ours. Let's eliminate the possibility that lax enforcement
breeds contempt, and support mandatory sentences for criminals who use guns.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for introducing this bill which will give