- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday outlined what he called a "clear agenda to make America a more secure and safe place," including strict enforcement of existing gun and drug laws and a commitment to every person's civil rights.

In a politely-received speech to an audience of more than 400 at the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) annual convention here, Mr. Ashcroft said Americans should not have to "move to a safer place to secure their safety, when we can do it by enforcing the laws."

The attorney general said that there is a "clear link" between drugs and violence, and that Justice Department lawyers are working to identify problems and actions that can be addressed now to combat gun violence and drug abuse. He said such things have had "a devastating cost to our economy and to our culture."

Mr. Ashcroft, challenged by Democrats during the confirmation process on civil rights, abortion, gun control, race and homosexuals, told the editors he was vigorously committed to enforcing civil rights, particularly voting rights, and he would ensure that no one is "denied or defrauded" of their rights.

"All members of the culture have to understand that the law can reach them if they violate the law. And when people think about the law as being a category in which certain individuals are favored, we have a very serious problem, because the law instead of becoming a friend to all is an agency that favors some," he said.

He also suggested that the media could play a better role in combating violent crime and gently urged the industry to show some restraint in its use and reporting of violence.

He said newspapers were in "a position to help this country in a special way."

"It does not mean we abolish or abandon or otherwise impair the First Amendment of the Constitution," he said. "It does mean to us, though, that we ought to think carefully about who we are as a culture and society and how we ought to respond. The idea of responsibility for people is a concept that needs to be elevated in our consciousness."

"If I were one to believe that the only solutions were governmental, I might be willing to trade First Amendment rights to improve the culture," he said. "Frankly, I don't think trading our First Amendment rights is a way to improve culture. Everyone has to take a role. We make the world a liveable place not because the law tells us to, but because we choose to."

Mr. Ashcroft used violent video games and the recent rash of school shootings to make his point.

He said those responsible for the shootings in Kentucky and Colorado had watched violent video games, and that one of them, Michael Carneal in West Paducah, Ky., learned how to aim his weapon from the games.

"I'm not here to say we shouldn't have video games. I'm here to say we are poorly situated to deny that these kinds of settings have an impact on what we do," he said. "We live in a culture of violence, and it's going to take more than government to address it. Everyone has to have a role."

He urged video manufacturers and parents to be responsible in making the games available to their children.He also said newspapers could be more careful how they report the incidents, adding that "enormous media coverage occurs" each time a school shooting takes place.

"I have to wonder how much news coverage plays into the copycat incidents," he said, calling for the editors to accept an "era of responsibility."

"Frankly, if you try to just stack up enough laws to remediate the absence of any restraint in people and by the culture, you'll find yourself in a police state with a great need for police," he said. "But if the culture can be responsible, you don't need nearly as many laws and you find yourself in a survivable community where people respect one another."

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