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Interview with Frank Keating; School Shooting Invigorates Gun Law Debate; Faint in Response to Tragedy

Aired December 18, 2012 - 08:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live this morning from Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman's rampage has now reignited the gun control debate in this country.

Overnight, we learned that Dick's Sporting Goods, out of respect to the victims, is pulling all guns from its store closest to Newtown. It's also suspending the sale of AR-15 rifles and weapons like it across the entire chain, which is more than 400 stores.

President Obama met with members of the cabinet and wants them to come up with various gun law changes. This morning nearly 5,000 children in Newtown will head back to school after the Friday shooting. Sandy Hook Elementary will remain closed.

Also, six-year-old Jessica Rekos, one of 20 children killed on Friday will be buried today.

When you have a tragedy of this magnitude you cannot help but recall other tragedies of the past, senseless acts that claimed innocent lives in the country, Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the bombing of a federal building downtown killed 168 people, and 19 of them were children. Frank Keating was the governor of Oklahoma when that happened and Governor Keating joins thus morning. Nice to have you with us, sir. We appreciate it.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING, (R) OKLAHOMA: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I have to imagine -- good morning to you, sir -- when you're inside a tragedy of this magnitude, it's hard to imagine that you're ever going to be able to get out of it. Is that how you felt when everyone was mired in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing?

KEATING: Soledad, it's an instant cataclysm for the families and for the first responders, but the climb out is long, and it's searing and it's very difficult. Today, 17 years after the Oklahoma City bombing with private funds we are still putting children through college, providing counseling, first responders, firefighters and police officers, and even providing medical care for a number of the badly injured.

So the one thing about Newtown, it is a community. So stitching together, holding hands together, understanding your neighbor is really your neighbor, if not a family member. This is going to be a long time crawling out, scratching yourself out, because it's going to be searing. We've had suicides, just a lot of agony after the Oklahoma City bombing, and I'm afraid that the tragedy in Newtown is not going to be December. It's going to take a long time to recover.

O'BRIEN: It just sounds so brutal. You know, you mentioned the first responders, and I remember seeing when the president came to the interfaith vigil, the first responders everyone came in walked and cheered and patted them on the back. But I think they're often forgotten in the story. People remember them as heroes but we don't think about their mental health and how brutally difficult it must have been for them to go inside that school and see the massacre of small children, many of those responders parents themselves.

KEATING: That's the point because right now I saw the University of Connecticut putting together a scholarship fund, and surely there are private checks arriving, private transmissions or transfers of money. I think it's important that a community foundation or perhaps the United Way initially put together a plan for how do we address these problems. Some people need long-term counseling. The first responders, particularly, people need to be sensitive to those absolutely stunning, searing, shocking, unforgettable moments of those wonderful little children.

So people need to sit around the table together, work it out, but realize they're going to be in this business for a long time. Unfortunately, tragically they have to work through it for a long time.

O'BRIEN: So what do you think happens next? All morning we've been reporting about the new focus on gun control, there is a support if you look at the polls much higher, 14 points higher obviously before this massacre. What do you think happens in that conversation on gun control? What change do you think should happen?

KEATING: Well I'm a hunter. I've been a hunter my whole life. I had my first shotgun when I was 11. My first job was in a skeet field. But I think this debate, this conversation needs to take place. Should people be able to access to purchase semiautomatic weapons with these clips, these magazines that provide for basically unlimited fire power? That needs to be debated and discussed. We did it once. I think we should do it again to ban those assault weapons.

But also you have to discuss mental health, privacy issues. You have to discuss quite truthfully the easy divorce process, even with children, marriages are -- more than 60 percent end in divorce. Obviously video violence, movie violence, television violence, all of this should be on the table, round table community resolution, national resolution so we can make sure this is an aberration.

But as a child we had cap guns, we went hunting after school but none of us slaughtered our classmates. There's something evil in the hearts and minds of some people, and that all needs to be addressed.

O'BRIEN: There's a state rep in your state, Mark McCullough, and he will introduce a bill which would allow certified teachers and principals to carry guns in the school.

Here's what he wrote, "We cannot continue to be shackled by politically correct, reflexive, anti-gun sentiment in the face of the obvious. Our schools are soft targets. It's incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended, to allow madmen to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple available to us to prevent it" and by that solution he means arming some of the teachers and the principals. Do you think that's a good idea in your state, which is where he's proposing it?

KEATING: Soledad, I was the architect really of the first concealed carry law in the United States. But we required a mental health history, criminal background investigation, and a 15-week course before somebody could have a concealed carry permit. So that's an example where perhaps a former law enforcement person, even a teacher who happens to have a conceal carry permit in my state could satisfy the needs of security in that school.

But I would hope we would attack the whole universe of problems and violent videos, violent movies, insensitivity and de-sensitivity toward the precious life rights of every human being, those are things that need to be discussed as well. Whether Oklahoma passes this Bill or not is Oklahoma's business, but the conceal carry law was prudently handled and our violent crime rate has gone down.

O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting, in New York City not long ago we had a disgruntled employee who shot a co-worker and then it happened not very far from where I live and when the police opened fire it turned out that eight other people were injured in the cross- fire frankly and some of the fragments and things like that. When you talk to police officers the idea of having people armed especially inside of a school is more concerning to them than feeling that it would help them in what they do. Not everybody, but a lot.

KEATING: I think, Soledad, quite truthfully, it really would depend on the location, urban, big city versus small towns. In the case of the New York incident, as an ex-FBI agent I thought it looks to me these guys were trigger happy. You had a lot of shooting going on with a lot of people around which was not handled well.

O'BRIEN: That is an interesting point, because they're trained, right? To be a police officer in the city of New York requires such incredible training on weapons, and I guess I'd worry people who are not trained like they are you know and we see so many people injured out of that incident, I guess I extrapolate out of that, that's very worrisome.

KEATING: That's why conceal carry or open carry law in any state needs to have not only mental health history and criminal background but also extensive training to avoid the situation you're referring to. But if that person is a constable make sure he or she is well- trained.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a last final question. The people in Oklahoma City I know did not want to be defined pi a tragedy. And we heard from people the same thing in Newtown, nobody wants to be defined by the worst thing that ever happens in their community. Do you think that Oklahoma City has avoided that? Do you think that's possible for Newtown?

KEATING: Well, initially that was exactly how Oklahoma City was described. But there was a renaissance moment, or renaissance years. The fact that Oklahoma City showed itself to be so caring seen sharing, putting together these funds to put every child, 170 children lost one parent. Every child who wanted to go to college went to college. The fact there was no looting and over 300 buildings damaged or destroyed, Oklahoma City was proud of the way to the way they responded to the evil tragedy, from the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game, the NBA franchise, to all sorts of redevelopment. It's the sense of pride.

I'm not saying always good things come from bad things. But sometimes good from evil, and in Oklahoma City's case I think the community felt better about themselves. They'll never bling back the wonderful people who should not have been injured or killed. And it's the same thing with Newtown. It's an evil tragedy that hopefully will not be repeated.

O'BRIEN: Maybe good people always come to the surface on that. Frank Keating, the former Oklahoma governor, thank you for being with us.

KEATING: Great to see you.

O'BRIEN: John Berman has a look at other stories making news today.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. A developing story in Washington, significant movement to avert the fiscal cliff. We have learned President Obama presented a new proposal to House Speaker John Boehner. Under this revised plan tax rates would go up on incomes higher than $400,000. Previously he wanted higher taxes on households starting at $250,000. The offer offers new spending cuts worth $100 billion. Speaker Boehner is calling for tax hikes on people making $1 million or more, a change for him, too. Today he meets with Republican house members to update them on negotiations. That could be a difficult meeting for him.

I want to go now to Dana Bash, senior congressional correspondent. Yesterday we were talking about the meeting wondering what went on inside. What seemed to be going on was progress.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the White House offering out a deal late out in part. I think it's important to note where the movement has been and where we are now. First of all, $1.2 trillion in tax revenue toward deficit reduction, down from what the president offered, which is $1.6 trillion. And the White House is now offering to move on his position on tax rates for the wealthy from incomes of families making $250,000 to $400,000.

But it is, as you said John, very significant because Democrats I've talked to all along said maybe they'd move on the percentage of increases but maybe not the incomes. On spending cuts, the Democrats have moved up as well. And the debt limit, John, this is something that Republicans have been dug in on saying they want to keep this potential leverage or February when the U.S. is going to once again bump up against this debt limit. And the Democrats have said no, we want to take this off the table. Dough we don't want another fight like this in two months.

As you said, there is going to be very interesting meeting that starts in about 20 minutes, I'll head over there and see what reaction, response house Republicans are going to have to this. So far the speaker has been able to keep his folks in line because they've been aggravated the president's not given. Now the president has given a little bit. So we'll see if he still has all of his troops behind him.

BERMAN: It really is interesting. The $250,000 number for taxes has been part of President Obama's rhetoric since he campaigned since 2007. The speaker does go into that meeting with Republicans with maybe an argument that he has gotten the president to move.

BASH: He sure does. But I have to tell you, for Republicans, for them to politically be able to swallow any deal they've got to argue to their folks back home they were able to extract more on spending cuts from the president. It looks like $930 billion in spending cuts and there is a discrepancy over what the numbers really are, so that's probably going to be the next squabble over the next 24 hours, hopefully less.

BERMAN: Dana Bash, thank you very much.

Other stories we're following right now this morning, the director of national intelligence for the United States is staying on the job. CNN has learned that the president has asked James Clapper to remain in the position, and Clapper has agreed, at least for the foreseeable future. Clapper has taken a lot of heat and criticism from Republicans for the administration's response to the September 1th attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Doctors expect former president George H.W. Bush to be home from the hospital in time for Christmas. That's welcome news. He's been in the hospital since last month being treated for a lingering cough related to bronchitis. At 88 years old, he is the oldest living former president.

Talk about your power couple. Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese will produce and direct and HBO documentary on political icon Bill Clinton. This will cover Clinton's two terms in office and beyond. Clinton is being said to cooperating fully with Scorsese on this project. I am sure Clinton is loving every bit of that. Let's go back to Soledad in Newtown.

O'BRIEN: If Marty Scorsese wants to do your story, yes, it's best to cooperate. All right, John, thank you.

So he is a pastor of a congregation that is 30,000-people strong and knows very well how to help the parishioners through tragedy and grief. Ahead this morning we'll talk to Pastor T.D. Jakes about how Newtown, Connecticut, might be able to begin to heal. That's coming up next.


O'BRIEN: A tragedy of the magnitude of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School here in Newtown, Connecticut, can shake the faith of even the firmest believer. T.D. Jakes is the Pastor of Potter's House. It's a Dallas-based non-denominational church with 30,000 members. And he joins us this morning.

Nice to see you Pastor. I was reading earlier this morning --



O'BRIEN: -- the eulogy that the mother of 6-year-old Noah Pozner wrote and she delivered it at his funeral yesterday. And it just broke my heart you know and I think how do you counsel parents who have to deliver eulogies for a 6-year-old or 7-year-old? What words do you possibly use?

JAKES: You know, one of the things that we really have to remember about grief is that we are unique, we're not a monolithic society at all. People respond to emotions differently.

For some people, that would be totally impossible to begin to utter a word or a sound. For other people, it's rather cathartic to be able to open up and to express their love and devotions and -- and to have the final words over someone that they love.

I try very much as a pastor not to tell people how to manage their emotions and their relationships and how they choose to commemorate and honor the persons that they deeply love.

O'BRIEN: You know, as a reporter, one of the things I sort of like to do I think to handle these kinds of stories is to get as much -- the most information as you can. I want to know every detail about everything and I think that's sort of a way of processing and managing it.

And I know there are people who must ask you questions that you cannot answer, right? I mean, that people have to say well why did this happened? Where was God when this happened? How do you -- how do you answer that? What do you say?

JAKES: You know, it's precisely as you have said. I've tried to avoid answering questions just arbitrarily. Just because the question is raised, it does not mean that you need to provide an answer to everything. There are some things that are handed to us in life that we do not know that we do not understand. And for these areas, ambiguous areas where we -- we really don't have a definite answer it's better not to give any answer at all than to give one inappropriately.

That's why we have faith for those things. We cannot explain and point to directly we have to trust God and lean on him to get us through the tough times in life. O'BRIEN: There was a little girl named Emilie who died and her father was one of the first parents who came out and spoke to reporters. And I just thought it was amazing how -- he said -- he said, "I'm not angry," which was just stunning to me. And I know you've written a lot about forgiveness. And we've talked about that, how you say it's -- forgiveness tends to -- it's for yourself. It's not for the other person in a lot of ways.

Do you think people are going to be able to ever get to that? Not just here in this massacre, but for anybody who really I just -- I don't see it happening, honestly.

JAKES: Well, I think, different people again respond very, very differently, but one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that we don't know that much about the perpetrator yet. And as you begin to unfold that mystery, there are people in this world that are not on medication -- I'm not suggesting that about him, because I don't know that -- but they have problems in their lives that their emotional capacities and reasoning, sometimes that extenuating circumstance that people are able to forgive and other people are not able to forgive as readily.

Today is not the day to embark upon such a huge mission as forgiveness. Today is the day to honor the victims that were slain, to process, to commemorate them, to take out pictures, to hug, to hold hands, to bring around you people that you feel secure with and reaffirm your circle of love. Because if we do that as a society from that place of emotional stability, then we can embark on the arduous task of sorting out how we really feel about what happened and then planning a new, what I call a new normal, because the old normal is gone. You will never be able to get that back again. And it's very, very important that you begin to redefine the new normal, new traditions in the family, new ways of expressing the family and that is a huge task that you spend many, many years trying to do.

O'BRIEN: All right, Pastor, we're going to ask to you stick around through this commercial break so we can have more conversation with you about this straight ahead.

JAKES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Bishop Jakes, I have time for one last question for you as we talk about Newtown, remembering. Bishop T.D. Jakes of Potter's House is back with us this morning. You know, your church I know does a lot of outreach into the community and sometimes I think as Americans we're very conflicted about mental health. We -- we think people definitely should be getting treatment. We don't necessarily vote to pay for it.

We turn away from people I think who often have mental health issues because we don't want to get in people's business. What should we be doing for not in this case, we don't know enough about the shooter in this case, but just in general what would you advise people to be doing for their fellow brothers and sisters?

JAKES: I'm so glad you asked me that question. I think it's critical that we have these conversations that we press on Congress to provide some resources so that people who need mental health can get their appropriate treatment that they need.

Also, I want to caution people that you don't have to have a pre- existing mental condition to implode emotionally through stress. We have to respond to the age-old Biblical question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" And the answer is absolutely yes.

We have to be aware of the people we work with, the people across the fence in our neighborhood. We have to take that extra moment to see how they are coping particularly when there's economic crisis or they're going through changes. You don't have to have a history of emotional disorder to implode emotionally. And so we do have to check on people and encourage them to get the help they need whenever appropriate less we will find ourselves over and over in these types of horrific dilemmas.

O'BRIEN: Bishop T.D. Jakes, thank you. It was nice to talk to you this morning. We kind of needed that. Appreciate it.

JAKES: Always a pleasure.

O'BRIEN: CNN's coverage live from Newtown, Connecticut, continues right after this.