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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

President Obama Honors Victims; Tragedy Renews Gun Control Debate; Coping With A Monumental Tragedy; Heroism At Sandy Hook; Explaining What Happened; Newtown Remembers

Aired December 17, 2012 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our main focus is on the victims, but we are also learning more about the gunman today. A relative says he was pulled out of the Newtown school system by his mother, who was unhappy with their plans for her troubled son.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And you saw a moment ago as the law enforcement officials walked into where they were holding a vigil and how people were cheering and patting them on the back. It was such an emotional moment in that vigil. They have been a rock for this community.

Imagine what they have seen in responding to that elementary school. It must have been a horrible thing for them. We want to turn now to John Lott. He is the author of a book that's called "More Guns, Less Crime."

That's his theory in a nutshell. If people had more guns, there would be more opportunity for self-defense, and not only would he not like to see new gun laws. He would like to see current laws taken off the books all together.

It's nice to have you talking with us. We appreciate it. You know, on Friday, you were talking to Piers and then again with Wolf yesterday. And you said it's time to get rid of gun laws, the takeaway for you from this massacre at an elementary school is it's time to get rid of gun laws. How does that possibly make sense to you?

JOHN LOTT, AUTHOR, "MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME": Well, I mean, because of my research, I've talked to dozens of people who have been present at these horrible events over time, and the feeling of utter helplessness is just overwhelming for these individuals.

I mean, it's hard to think of something more terrifying than being helpless there when one of these attacks occurs. Look, there is one common feature across the attacks. The ones the president mentioned, you go back from 1950 at least on.

With only one exception, all the multiple victim public shootings have occurred where more than three people have been killed have occurred where guns are banned.

We try to make an area safe by banning guns, but what happens is, it's a law-abiding good citizens who obey the ban and not the criminals, and rather than making --

O'BRIEN: But more than one thing in common, right? There is one more thing in common. One thing is common is that something has weapons too, and they go into a place where they should not be with a weapon. So I would say it's not just one thing in common. They are also armed often to the hilt and often with automatic weapons or semiautomatic weapons, right?

LOTT: Well, never with automatic weapons, but with semiautomatic weapons, sure. They have those, but here is the point. We only have very tiny areas in the United States where thaw are completely gun- free zones, but time after time, that's the place these criminals go.

Take the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shootings. There were seven movie theaters within a 20-minute car ride of the killer's apartment, only one that banned guns. He didn't go to the movie theater closest to his home. He didn't go to the movie theater that was largest.

The movie theater that he went to was the only one that banned guns, and you see that --

O'BRIEN: Let me stop you there. Let me stop you there. Here, again, a case where someone had a semi automatic rifle, how do you know that he chose that because they banned guns? Have talked to him? I have not seen anywhere in any transcript of anything he has said that he picked it specifically for that. He has not spoken to the media. How do you know that? You don't know that.

LOTT: OK, well, there are two points. One, I don't know in this particular case, but he picks one out of seven. It's the only one there, and the point is, every time. You go look at these mall shootings, most of the malls in the area aren't posted as gun-free zones.

And yet the only ones they always pick are the ones that are banned. Pick the Columbine case. You probably don't know -- let me give you one piece of information here. Take the Columbine case.

Do you know that Dylan Klebold, for example, was lobbying against the concealed handgun -- that was before the state legislator, he was writing a state legislator who is strongly against it.

He was particularly upset about the part of the law that would allow concealed handguns on school property and do you know the day the Columbine attack occurred. It occurred on the day of final passage of the state concealed handgun law.

O'BRIEN: But, listen, why is your takeaway --

LOTT: That is at Columbine.

O'BRIEN: Why is your takeaway to get rid of gun laws rather than there are people that should not have access to weapons. In this particular case, we know that the investigation is just at the beginning stages, but we know he used a semiautomatic rifle to blow out essentially the glass wall at the entrance to the school. So the security was useless. Why? Because he had a high-velocity, multi-shot with many rounds with him to be able to access the school. So why would you not say, that's exactly the kind of weapon that someone should not be able to easily get their hands on?

And he was able easily to get his hands on it because it was legally registered to his mother. Why is that not your takeaway?

LOTT: You know what country had two of the three worst public shootings prior to Friday? It was Germany. Germany had three of the five worst public school shootings in the world.

Now, they have extremely strict gun control laws. You can't get semiautomatic weapons. It takes a year to get a bolt action long rifle there. Yet they had the worst record in terms of multiple victim shootings at schools than we have here in the United States, even with this attack and so I --

O'BRIEN: I don't see how any of that brings you to the decision that the answer is to get rid of gun laws. The other question that I would ask you --

LOTT: Because they serve as a magnet for these attacks.

O'BRIEN: Or -- or a rational person could say -- or a rational person could say that having access to a high-powered semiautomatic rifle is inappropriate that there is no reason to go deer hunting with that. There is no reason to have access to that. That's the connection that these killers have access to those weapons. Let me ask you another question.

LOTT: No, I want to answer that that you just said. No, I don't argue second amendment. I argue crime. That's what I do. I want to answer your question here. These guns are just like any hunting rifle. The inside guts, they fire one bullet.

In fact, the Bushmaster gun there is -- would be the equivalent of a rifle that would be used for hunting very small game like squirrels. You know, it looks different on the outside because some people like to have guns that look like military weapons, but it's not. It's like any hunting rifle.

O'BRIEN: Sir, sir --

LOTT: If you want to ban all hunting rifles that's fine.

O'BRIEN: Sir, if you are trying to kill a large number of people in a massacre, that's the kind of gun you grab.

LOTT: A hunting rifle would do the same thing.

O'BRIEN: If you could inflict as much carnage on people, that's the kind of gun you grab. How you could say we should have fewer laws, not more, it boggles the mind honestly. If you would come and talk to the people in the town here, they would be stunned by you. LOTT: Unfortunately, I talked to multiple people that have been victims of public shootings. Look, semiautomatic guns are the most common gun in the United States. They are beneficial for self- defense.

If you had two criminals coming at you, you are not going to want have a gun that only fires one shot like that. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? You can't even fire a warning shot.

If you miss the first shot and you don't have a semiautomatic gun, what are you going to do for self-defense at this point?

O'BRIEN: And if you have -- if you have a man who seems to be troubled and he is armed with a semiautomatic weapon, a rifle, then there is a high likelihood that is he going to massacre a lot of people in one location, sir, in a very small amount of time.

We could continue this debate for a long time, I appreciate you talking with me this morning, but I just -- I have to say, your position -- your position completely boggles me, honestly. I just do not understand it. Thank you for talking with us.

I want to bring in Deepak Chopra because I get so frustrated at times when I have these conversations and many people point back to the second amendment, which we should read for everybody because it's used often as a position.

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "SUPERBRAIN": Remember, Soledad, when the second amendment was written, people had muskets, it took 20 minutes to load one and half the time they missed. The second amendment wasn't written for assault weapons, ammunition, and the easy availability of these guns of mass destruction over the internet.

O'BRIEN: Here is what it says. A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of the people the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringe infringed. It doesn't mention assault weapons.

CHOPRA: There weren't any.

O'BRIEN: I guess, right now people seem very frustrated and angry about where we are in country in the debate over mental health and weapons, kind of the intersection of those two things. I get the sense often that we wring our hands until the next tragedy, there may not be anything tangibly done.

CHOPRA: See, one single mentally unstable person brought the whole country to this state of deep sorrow, anguish. If that doesn't galvanize our collective psyche to change these laws, then we are going to live for the next half a century in a culture of violence. There is no other country, no other advanced country --

O'BRIEN: But people could tick off and you know this well, not only mental health issues, not only easy access to guns. Movies, absolutely glorify violence, video games seem to be relevant in this case, especially violent video games, and everybody likes to point -- CHOPRA: All of that is part of the context, but you cannot kill on the scale unless have you a gun. People kill people, not guns, but people use guns to kill. You know we do have to slowly create a culture of kindness and love and compassion and empathy, that's what a civil society should be doing. But in the meanwhile, you have to actually get rid of the assault weapons that are directly responsible for the killing.

BERMAN: All right, Deepak. We have to wrap this up. We have a lot more questions. Not just about what happened with the guns and the violence in our society, but also how to move on, how to find the inner peace to deal with these issues. We look forward to talking to more on that.

In the meantime, we want to turn to Zoraida Sambolin. She has more details about the victims of this crime.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": You know, John, Deepak Chopra just said that this brings us deep sorrow and anguish, and as I read this and I'm about to share it with you, it actually made me smile.

So we want to talk about the victims that were lost on Friday. We're remembering 6-year-old Dylan Hockley. He loved video games, jumping on a trampoline, watching movies and eating garlic bread.

Madeline Huh, 6 years old, she was a little girl who always wore bright and flowery dresses. We're also remembering 6-year-old Catherine Hubbard. Catherine loved animals and in lieu of flowers, her family is requesting donations be made to the Newtown Animal Shelter.

Chase Kowalski, he was 7 years old. He was always outside. He was playing in his backyard riding his bike. He had just completed and won his first mini triathlon. Jesse Lewis, 6 years old, he loved math and riding horses and playing at his mother's farm.

The 6-year-old James Mattioli, neighbors say he was a happy child that would wait for the school bus at the bottom of the family's driveway with his dad and finally, 52-year-old Anne Marie Murphy, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, married, a mother of four. She is described as being artistic and hard working.

And another Sandy Hook teacher, 27-year-old Vicki Soto is being remembered for heroism under fire. She spent her final moments shielding her students from harm, hiding them in a closet before the gunman entered her classroom. Soto's mother says she is not surprised by her daughter's actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILLIAN SOTO, VICTORIA SOTO'S SISTER: She was truly selfless. She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children. She loved them more than life and she -- she would definitely put herself in front of them any day, any day for any reason. So it doesn't surprise anybody that knows Vickie that she did this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Soto's mother says teaching was all Vickie ever wanted to do, since the age of three actually. So to find out how you can help those affected by the tragedy, go to cnn.com/impact. There are a lot of options there for you, ways you can help and feel like you're doing something -- John, Soledad.

BERMAN: Thank you so much, Zoraida. It's so nice to hear the stories.

One of the questions we're all asking ourselves right now is how do you help children to grieve, to understand the tragedy like this or even to discuss a tragedy like this. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, getting mic up right there, we'll talk about in this a moment. We'll be right back.

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O'BRIEN: One of the most difficult things moving forward in any tragedy is how to explain exactly what has happened to children, especially since children have been the victims in this particular crime.

BERMAN: Yes. You had to explain it both to those who witnessed the tragedy and those who may be hearing about it right now, on the radio, in television, at other kids in school.

We're joined by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who has been looking into this the past few days. We talked yesterday, Sanjay. This question very personal to me, I am struggling how to talk to my kids, whether to talk to my kids. Are there right answers here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the answer of talking to your kids as opposed to ignoring it is probably the only right answer and assuming they will find out. I know you both have children. You both have twins.

And I have a 7, 5, and 3-year-old. My 7-year-old already knew about it. I'm positive my 5-year-old will learn about it today and we're already prepping for that conversation. I think that the idea that you check your own feelings first, in medicine, check your own pulse before going into a code, in this situation, checking your own feelings.

Don't over talk to your child. That is a constant concern I've been hearing. You let them talk first. See what they are saying, what they know. A little bit about feelings and as appropriate, fill in details. Don't be graphic, probably not appropriate at any age. I think you have to have the conversation.

O'BRIEN: What do you say when they say, is my school safe? You know, my kids were talking a lot about it. We're very upset. I've been gone a couple of days and walk in the door, they are happy to see you, and then burst into tears, because all this is very upsetting. GUPTA: I think you don't lie. Everyone says that loss of innocence -- I remember, Soledad, when we were covering some of these conflicts, and I remember being in a Red Cross truck, and the Red Cross truck I came under fire, and I remember thinking at that point that the rules have changed.

BERMAN: What do you say?

GUPTA: You have to say, look, what I said to my 7-year-old, this never happened in daddy's school, never happened in mommy's school. It happened here obviously, but we're doing everything we can to make sure it will never happen to you. Kids will see through it if you make false promises I think and that won't help.

O'BRIEN: There's a woman named Liza Long and she wrote a fascinating blog, sent all around Twitter and on the internet. And it says I Adam Lanza's mother. She writes about her own experience with her son who she says this.

"I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son, but he terrifies me." And she goes on to describe, "when I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said the only thing I could do is to get Michael charge with a crime. If he is back in the system, there will be a paper trail. That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless have you charges. I don't believe my son belongs in jail. He's 13 years old."

GUPTA: I feel strongly about this. I have done a lot of reporting on this. Right now, short of going into the criminal justice system, which you will give your kid a record, and parents, it's obviously a tough thing.

Short of that, to get someone in-patient therapy, they have to be proven to be an imminent harm to themselves or to others. And as we hear over and over again, the first time that they see that is when something tragic happens like this.

So there wasn't evidence of imminent harm to themselves or others and that's a very, very high threshold. That is not parity. You don't go into the doctor for a physical only when you're about to die.

O'BRIEN: Once you have a heart attack, then we'll see you.

GUPTA: That is too late. When people talk about mental health, you guys have been talking all morning about it. That's the manifestation of not having things on par.

BERMAN: What threshold are you talking about?

GUPTA: I mean, right now it has to be imminent harm to yourself or to others.

BERMAN: What's an appropriate one?

GUPTA: Well, if someone has symptoms of mental illness that are short of that -- there's all sorts of different things. We talk about depression. There's a whole combination of things, changes in appetite, changes in sleeping, all these types of things that may seem minor in comparison, but are the progression of a much more serious illness.

O'BRIEN: But then does a doctor have to report that? I have a patient who is severely mentally ill, and they could do something? I could see the slippery slope of what you're going to be asking a trained mental professional.

GUPTA: That's the whole point. You want to get before that point. You want to see them before they are potentially imminent harm to themselves or to others. That's the thing. Mental illness is treated only in crisis situations right now.

O'BRIEN: Every budget cut, cuts Medicaid, which is the number one health provider.

GUPTA: Even for people who are insured and have good resources, this is a way of life for them.

O'BRIEN: It is a terrible conundrum. We keep talking about that intersection between a gun culture, a violent culture, access to weapons, and lack of funding for mental health issues. Really it's a terrible --

GUPTA: It's not an either/or. You've got to talk about both.

O'BRIEN: I agree. Sanjay, thank you. There are many folks in this community who have been turning to their places of worship to try to get some kind a sense of comfort.

We're going to talk to a young man who's a local religious leader for young people, talking about what they're doing to help this small town grieve. We're back right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is in such times of almost unbearable loss that we seek the comfort with our creator. And that artificial divisions of faith fall away to reveal a nation of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters -- all united in a desire to bring healing and renewed hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Last night the clergy here in Newtown, Connecticut, gathered to offer prayers and messages of hope to the grieving communities. Jason Graves, you just saw him there. He is the youth director of Al Hedaya Islamic Center of Newtown. He joins us this morning.

What can you possibly say as you're trying to give comfort? You're the youth director. So I know you're dealing with a lot of children. What can you possibly say that makes sense of something like this? JASON GRAVES, AL HEDAYA ISLAMIC CENTER OF NEWTOWN: Well, it's very hard because a lot of children still haven't really wrapped their heads around it and I don't think they really will understand the gravity of what really happened.

It is very difficult especially for people in the surrounding areas. I know a lot of towns, nearby towns were affected and on lockdown too. So there's a lot of youth together that are all still trying to make sense of everything.

BERMAN: I was speaking to a parent of someone who died in the Virginia Tech massacre. He told me that it's impossible to move on, but you can move forward.

GRAVES: Yes, it's true. I mean, it's going to be difficult to return to things being normal. There's always going to be that kind of -- they say time heals all wounds, but there's still going to be a scar, if that makes sense.

There's always going to be a reminder, but it just -- you have to just keep moving on and take measures to -- you learn from the past. It's -- what's the word I'm looking for? You're always going to be reminded of it. There's no way to forget.

BERMAN: When do you think the first time you'll have a sermon, a first weekend when you will not be talking about this. When will that be?

GRAVES: I don't know, quite honestly. I think it's going to be on everybody's minds for a long time. It's very raw. It's very real. It still feels very unreal to people, like I'm still in a state of shock. I still -- it still feels weird to wake up and realize this wasn't just a bad dream. This actually happened.

O'BRIEN: You're a local. You went to school here. You grew up here.

GRAVES: I grew up in Newtown.

GRAVES: So does it make it easier for you in some ways because these are your people that you're counseling, or is it harder because this is your town and something terrible has happened here?

GRAVES: I think, in a way, it helps because you know the people, but at the same time, it's difficult because you're experiencing the same thing they're going through, and you need it just as bad as the other person that you're counseling because it's a shock for you as well.

O'BRIEN: What kinds of questions are the young people asking you? What's the thing that they want to know?

GRAVES: Well, a lot of people, a lot of especially the young kids, like especially on Friday and this weekend, they don't know. They're hearing all the information from their parents. They're hearing all the information from the news, and everyone has different stories.

And a lot of kids just want to know what happened or if -- or what's -- basically, what's going on because sometimes they don't want to tell -- some of the children are very young. You don't want to tell a 5-year-old the gravity of what happened. And people just say it was bad guys or they're going to tell them once they're a little more ready.

BERMAN: How do you find is the best way to communicate with these children?

GRAVES: I don't want to muddy it, but I don't want to tell them something that would be, "A," too shocking or, "B," don't understand the gravity of it. You have to tell them very -- not -- I'm a middle ground.

O'BRIEN: Right, there's a middle ground.

GRAVES: You can't give them the explicit details. You have to tell them something very bad happened.

O'BRIEN: I don't know how you do your job. Jason Graves, thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time. It's a terrible task you have now and for the next several months and years maybe because I don't think this is a process that's going to be completed for anyone any time soon certainly.

BERMAN: And as our special coverage here continues from Newtown, Connecticut, we will have a CNN exclusive. We're going to hear from the family of Dawn Hocksprung. She, of course, was the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. She lost her life trying to subdue the gunman moments before she was killed.

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