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Sandy Hook, One Month Later; Internet Activist Takes Own Life; Robin Roberts Sets GMA Return; Florida Tackles Python Problem with Contest; President News Conference Next Hour

Aired January 14, 2013 - 10:30   ET



So Alex, let's start with you, Maryland has a good chance of passing the kinds of laws that Governor O'Malley was illustrating for us a recent poll shows a majority of residents of the state of Maryland, 62 percent favor an assault weapons ban, but not so much at the federal level.

So is that what you see for the future? That individual states will pass gun control laws and the federal government just won't?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well I think that -- that seems to be the path we are on. And of course we've seen different levels of effectiveness in states with tough gun laws.

In Connecticut, for example is one of those states where -- where some of these horrific events have occurred. So yes, and Harry Reid, I mean the President's problem with some of the things he's proposing is not just with Republicans, but is with Democrats in his own party including Harry Reid who says -- who is taking kind of a wait and see attitude. Because Nevada is such a tough -- you know it's a hunting state.

COSTELLO: Oh you're absolutely right about that. Maria, if -- if individual states pass these gun control laws and other states don't, will it really make any difference?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well I think that it certainly make the -- the state-based laws a lot less effective. The reason why a lot of the gun control laws have been passed in some of these sates like Alex mentioned have been ineffective and D.C. is one of those areas where there are strict gun control laws, but we -- you know our D.C. kids are gunned down every single day and the reason for that, Carol, is that there is no federal legislation that covers all states, so what happens, criminals go across the border to Virginia where the gun control laws are very, very lax and I think that is buy this time is very different.

Those 20 children that died in Newtown, I think really marked an era of real discussion of Americans really looking inward to see what can be done, yes it will be difficult, yes, it will be difficult to bring people together but I think that something will happen at the federal level. What that is, I think remains to be seen. COSTELLO: It could be very little, right tomorrow, Vice President Biden he's going to issue this findings of his task force. He's going to be giving them to President Obama. And aside from expanded background check, Alex, what else do you think will be on the list?

CASTELLANOS: I think the big issue is you're going to have an assault weapons ban, is he going to have limits on these -- on these large clips? You know, we have to remember that Washington is all about feel good legislation and getting guys, women and men in this town re- elected. For example, these large clips we're talking about banning is that really going to make any difference. How many -- how many bullets should a crazy person have when he's going to go out there and kill innocent children? The answer is none.

And that's actually something that the NRA and the anti- gun lobby agree on. So the way that I think that it's interesting to see the way the debate is moving. People have noticed for example that President Obama's children in school, they're protected by 11 armed guards. The President himself is protected by armed men.

The Congress is protected by arms guards and it's a debate that started with let's just do something that makes us all feel good is now moving in a direction I think that's going to actually make a difference in protecting children in school.

COSTELLO: Yes but the other side of that coin now is let's arm everyone, let's give everyone a gun, why not teach children how to use guns?


COSTELLO: In one tiny town in Ohio, the city council there, the town council says we'll allow janitors in schools to carry guns. I mean, that's a little loopy, isn't it?

CASTELLANOS: Well you know if people are trained --



CASTELLANOS: It is. And of course, you know a country like Switzerland, it's mandatory that everyone have a gun. But it's not -- that's not what's going to happen here, obviously. But the point is there's something in the Constitution that says the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed. It actually means the right of the people to bear arms shall not infringed.

So our constitutional protections, they have to be ensured here. But I think what you're seeing is a debate. Look we have 300 million guns in America, there are a lot less crazy people that we don't want to let have access to guns, let's focus on something's that manageable. Something we can do, those people shouldn't have large clips, they couldn't have small clips. By the way most gun crimes they're committed with hand guns and we're certainly not going to take those away so I think focusing on the problem is -- is where the debate seems to be moving in Congress.


COSTELLO: OK, Maria, final word.

CARDONA: And it should be focused on the problem because the right of the people to bear arms should not be infringed. It should also not infringe on our right to make sure that our kids are safe in their schools and the way that we can do that is by keeping the high caliber rifles and the high capacity magazine clips away from people who are mentally insane.

And I do think that had the assaults weapons ban been in place, had a ban on those high capacity clips been in place, Newtown would not have happened, at least it would not have happened to the extent of losing 20 of our precious children. There needs to be a middle ground here, doing nothing is no longer an option.

COSTELLO: Maria Cardona, Alex Castellanos, thank you both for the conversation this morning.

CARDONA: Thank you so much, Carol.

COSTELLO: He changed the Internet at the age of 14, but his passion for the online world might have led to his suicide. We'll look at Aaron Swartz's passion for social change.


COSTELLO: As teenager Aaron Swartz created a way to share online content with a global audience. And he transformed his position for the Internet into a lifelong career. Swartz helped created Reddit, a popular Web site dedicated at helping users share and discuss stories.

But he found himself in legal trouble and was about to go on trial for trying to make millions of private academic documents available to the public. Swartz took his own life Friday. He committed suicide and his death is not going unnoticed. The hacker group Anonymous claims to have taken over the Web site for MIT to honor Swartz.

John Abell is a technology columnist for Reuters. He joins us now from New York to talk about this. Good morning.


COSTELLO: When I read about this suicide, I was just so shocked about this, were you?

ABELL: Yes, look, Mr. Swartz had struggled with a depression, had written about it for quite some time, so in a sense that he took his own life isn't terribly surprising, there's also word that a possible plea bargain fell apart this past week, so we see the ingredients of what might have driven him to this. But of course we have no idea.

COSTELLO: And just for -- for members of our audience who aren't familiar with Swartz, talk about his brilliance. ABELL: Yes well look there are a handful of people in the Internet community who the Internet community intimately knows and no one else does. Aaron Swartz was one of those guys, he was a brilliant coder, a brilliant hacker but what endeared him most to the community was his incredible sense and sensible about what the medium should do to empower people and the power of information to kind of liberate everyone.

So he ran into trouble with the law a couple of times by liberating data and that's where he found himself in his troubled moment on Friday.

COSTELLO: And -- and some people suggest that he committed suicide because the state of Massachusetts was overzealously prosecuting him?

ABELL: Yes well, there are a lot of people that are saying that quite publicly, quite loudly and very prominent, accountable people that are saying that. Look, we'll sort this out MIT itself is doing a lot of soul searching. I understand they were not -- I don't believe -- an active participant in this prosecution.

But you know we'll see. The tragedy is that I'm sure this had something to do with his unfortunate decision on Friday and we're all very upset about it.

COSTELLO: And I know it's like you just struggle for words because 26 years old, brilliant he didn't really know --


ABELL: Well you know this is sort of you know this -- this is really kind of not to be too cliche, this is one of those good die young kinds of stories. And it's -- it's -- this is a guy who Stanford was not challenging enough for him, that kind of person. So and he committed himself to his deeds were exactly what his words say, he was committed to this medium more than anything else and I think took very personally attacks on the medium as he saw them by, you know, people charging for data which we had already paid for, that kind of thing.

He created creative comments which was a way for you and I to share things and still protect a right as the owner of these things. He fought attacks by Congress in (INAUDIBLE), he created demand progress. With all of these things they paint a picture of someone whose life was protecting the medium for the benefit of all.

COSTELLO: Oh, just 26. John Abell of Reuters, thank you so much.

ABELL: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Just about 30 minutes, President Obama will hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House. First on the agenda: the debt limit.

CNN will carry that news conference live. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: Forty-four minutes past the hour. It's time to check our "Top Stories".

This is what I looks like in northern Indiana where heavy rains have triggered widespread flooding. Roads are under water. Many schools are closed today. Flood warnings in effect for more than 20 counties in the northern half of the state.

Just about 30 minutes, President Obama will hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House and yes, he will open it up to questions from reporters which always means a good time, right? Topping the agenda he's going to talk about the debt limit and of course many, many questions will be asked about gun control and what Joe Biden will present to him tomorrow.

CNN will carry that Obama news conference live.

Robin Roberts says she'll return to "Good Morning America" sometime next month. She's been off the air since August as she recovers from treatment for a rare blood disorder.


ROBIN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": What happens now is after I go through this dry run, my doctors will sit down with me again and we'll evaluate where I am. We're talking now a matter of weeks not months. I should be back sometime in February.

I have a date in mind that's very personal and very important to me, but I will ultimately listen to what my doctors -- of course what my doctors say.


COSTELLO: Well, we're excited to have her back.

Florida desperately trying to save it's fragile ecosystem from invasive Burmese pythons, like big snakes. So state officials have officially launched a hunting contest, not to capture the snakes, but to kill them. They're calling it the 2013 Python Challenge.

John Zarrella is live from the hunting contest in Davey, Florida. So I guess you use guns to kill snakes? How do you -- what -- explain?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's -- well that's the preferable way. That's what everybody would like to see them do. A capture bolt is one way they use. And of course, guns is the other way so that the snakes are humanely disposed of.

I'll tell you Carol, nobody's quite sure how many are out here. There may be up to 100,000 in the everglades, they have no natural enemies. They're non-venomous but they are constrictors. And they've been seen out here and caught out here up to nearly 20 feet.

And you can see behind me right now, we're at the University of Florida research facility. The first snakes that were caught during the first day of the competition have been brought in. They have seven of them total. This one is about nine, ten feet maybe in length. And Frank Mazzotti, wildlife ecologist, University of Florida is with me.

And Frank, you know, we were talking, this is not just about catching and killing snakes, is it?

FRANK MAZZOTTI, WILDLIFE ECOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: That's correct. In fact for us this event is really all about science. And we're not only going to take advantage of the python challenge, to ask questions that we have not been able to do before.

This is going to give us our largest single one-time sample most snakes over the biggest area that we have ever been able to collect. And we're going to be available to ask questions about contaminants, things like mercury, genetics; can we identify new individuals from the core population or diet help us address the very important question about what impacts these species have on our native ecosystem.

ZARRELLA: In other words, what other creatures --


MAZZOTTI: Because we will know what is inside of the critters.

ZARRELLA: You're going to go necropsies right here on site?

MAZZOTTI: We will do necropsies. That is correct.

ZARRELLA: And how big is this one guys -- you've got a knife -- which is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About nine feet.

ZARRELLA: Nine foot, that's a pretty good size snake.

MAZZOTTI: That's a pretty good size snake. This is just about the average size 6 to 9 feet is the average size snake that people catch out in the everglades.

ZARRELLA: And how many years old would this snake be?

MAZZOTTI: This snake would be two, maybe three years old.

ZARRELLA: That's it. Two and three years old.

You can see Carol that if you get this big Burmese pythons that are out there in the everglades and they live out there and they're, you know -- in two or three years, look at the size of these thing. A few years, you know, after this it could be 15, 16, 18 feet long. So they are a menace in the everglades and that's why they're doing what they can to control them. They don't ever think they'll be able to eradicate them, but to control the spread.

COSTELLO: I'm just amazed it was so tame, it just kind of sat there. ZARRELLA: It's dead. They killed -- this one is already dead. It's got a bullet hole in the head. It's dead or it wouldn't be doing that. You know, there's six more -- take a real quick look right there. Right in there. There are six more of them. Those are the other ones that they brought it in here wrapped up in the bags.

COSTELLO: Oh please, I don't want to see anymore now.

Thanks a lot -- John Zarrella.

ZARRELLA: You're -- got it.



COSTELLO: In about 25 minutes, President Obama is set to hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House. It will be open to questions from reporters. On his agenda: the debt limit, I'm sure gun control will come up too.

Let's head to the White House now, and correspondent Dan Lothian, why now?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an interesting question. I mean this was kind of a surprise. Sometimes you get a heads up that perhaps the President as you know has said that he was not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling. There'd been some rumblings up on Capitol Hill.

Over the last weekend we've been hearing some law makers talk about how they're not going to back down on this one. They're going to take a very tough stance so perhaps the President wanted to get out in front of that. And as you pointed out, his opening statements will be focused on the debt ceiling. But we expect that a lot of questions will also be on guns and gun control.

The Vice President is expected to give the President a list of recommendations tomorrow so it will be interesting to see when the President will be acting on those recommendations and also have some questions about what the President plans to do under executive action. We have gotten confirmation as you know over the last few days from the White House that the President would in fact be willing or looking at an option to use executive action to put into his some measures to remedy further gun violence.

These are some of the things that we expect the President to be dealing with during this news conference. It was supposed to have started at 11:15. Now been pushed back 15 minutes to 11:30.

COSTELLO: All right. Dan Lothian reporting live from the White House.

Just four teams left with a shot at winning the Super Bowl. The NFL championship round is set. We're going to talk about that and more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Another fabulous weekend of NFL playoff action on tap. Only four teams remain in the hunt for the Super Bowl. Here are the championship round match-ups for Sunday. The NFC title game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, go to the Georgia Dome and take on the Atlanta Falcons.

Then at 6:30 Eastern, the bottom of Ravens have an AFC title match with the Patriots of New England.

There was an image following the Ravens double overtime victory over the Broncos on Saturday that's really caught fire in the Twitter- verse. Losing quarterback Peyton Manning waited in the empty Ravens locker room to talk to Ray Lewis. Manning's wife was also there and called out to Lewis, "I'm so happy for you."

We don't know what the two legends said to one another, but Lewis did talk about reporters, about how he feels about Manning.


RAY LEWIS, BALTIMORE RAVENS' LINE BACKER: There's so much respect that I have for Peyton, you know, him and his wife was outside waiting on me now because of how great a friends we became through the years. And to extend it now, you know, to know whenever the road stops, you know, that it won't be the end, it is just a new beginning.

But to do it like this, to do it for my teammates, to do it for my children, who are my greatest inspiration and then to do it for my city there's no other reason you do it.


COSTELLO: Aaron Nagler is lead NFL analyst for Bleacher Report. He's so emotional. I hope he makes it through OK. He has one last game. Well, maybe more than one. Right?

AARON NAGLER, BLEACHER REPORT: It could possibly be the last game. I mean the Patriots are favorites, heavy favorites. I think they open up 9-point. It's kind of surprising seeing as these two teams did meet last year in this game in the AFC championship game and people may forget. And the Ravens played very well. People may forget, they're a drop touch-down pass and then a missed field goal for taking it to over time.

I mean this will be a great game, I think people have kind of anointed the Patriots already in the Super Bowl. I don't think that's the case, I think the Ravens have a really good shot at this.

COSTELLO: I watched that game and it's already a classic. That was one of the best football games I have ever seen in my life.

NAGLER: Yes. When you go to double overtime in the play-offs, you can't ask for more drama than that. The NFL's got to be loving it. I mean let's face it. Peyton Manning, everyone had the Denver Broncos, the number one seat in the AFC kind of marching through the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl and they're going to road block there in double overtime. Peyton Manning, I know a lot of people want to defend him and say he doesn't play defense, you know, the defenders let a lot of guys get behind him. Big touchdowns.

Ultimately he threw the back breaking interception, very reminiscent of Brett Favre back in 2009, off-season comes, Denver got another go at this with Manning next year. He's on the hook for a lot of money. He's got one more year to get it done.

COSTELLO: I want to talk a little bit about Atlanta, because, you know, I have dual citizenship, I live in Baltimore and I live in Atlanta. That was also an astounding game, that was a fantastic game. So has Atlanta finally put all the naysayers to rest? I mean they have proven they can win in playoffs, right?

NAGLER: They did win and it was very exciting, it's interesting, though, they have opened up as the underdogs in this game. The 49ers are favorite to win. And I know Atlanta fans are very happy this morning, I get a lot of tweets and a lot of e-mails about no one respected us. And it's true, this was a big-time show me game, everybody was waiting for the Falcons to do this.

They finally did it but they didn't really answer a lot of critics in my mind in the sense that they went up big and then they almost gave the game right back.

So it will be interesting to see how they do against another physical team, the 49ers have to travel across the country and Atlanta's playing at home so that's in their favor. But ultimately this 49ers team is no joke, you saw Colin Kaepernick run all over the Green Bay Packers.

Russell Wilson didn't keep it once in this game against the Falcons where he ran that Reed option that kind destroyed the Packers. Atlanta didn't really have to worry about it that much. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaepernick takes the field.

COSTELLO: I can't wait. I can't wait until this weekend. Aaron Nagler, thank you so much.

NAGLER: Thanks so much for having me.

COSTELLO: And thank you for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. "CNN NEWSROOM" continues right now with Wolf Blitzer.