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Awaiting Obama's Speech on Second Amendment; "Time" Looks at Gun Control Strategy.

Aired January 16, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR; We are less than a half hour away from President Obama's announcement of the steps that he plans to take and the measures that he'll support to try to make America safer while, at the same time, upholding the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, joins me now from our Washington, D.C., bureau to set the stage.

And, Wolf, it appears for now, right now, the public polls show that the public is on the president's side. We have some brand new numbers we want to release now, a CNN/ORC poll taken January 14th to 15th. There you have it, 55 percent of those asked favor stricter gun control laws.

What does the president have in mind? You have to imagine that they know these numbers are out there.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: The president thinks that this is the moment to really take dramatic comprehensive efforts to deal with guns in the United States. He has a whole bunch of initiatives he's about to unveil in dealing with this problem across the board. It will be a bold plan in terms of what the president wants to do, the military-type assault weapons, the high-ammunition clips, the number of rounds that can be in clips, dealing with mental health. That will be another part of what the president has in mind. So this is going to be a pretty ambitious plan.

Even though our new poll numbers show that the American public supports stricter gun control, this is going to be a tough ride. Dealing with the assault weapons-type ban, for example, it's by no means a done deal. You not only need the Senate, you need the House of Representatives. You need Republicans, Democrats. And then you have the National Rifle Association, its affiliate groups, supporting groups that will be fiercely opposed to what the president is now going to be putting forward. This is going to be a tough fight.

BANFIELD: And that National Rifle Association, as you just brought up, is about 4.25 members, give or take the approximate 250,000 that the NRA says has joined the organization just in the last six to eight weeks.

I want to ask you about that. Because the NRA, while accepting the invitation to the White House to discuss with Joe Biden the initiatives among the other stakeholders, they've also came out with an explosive new ad. Albeit, this ad is somewhat limited in its release. It is airing on the Sportsman Network, on cable, and on the web as well. But it's darn strident. Let's have a look at it and I want to ask you on the other side, Wolf.


ANNOUNCER: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?


BANFIELD: All right. So, Wolf, that is tough language. A lot of people would say this means business. But the truth of the matter is those millions of members I just outlined, they are also moderate as well. It's a very inclusive group. They run the gamut from moderate to extremely conservative. Does the president think that the NRA might be losing some of its steam in the wake of so many tragedies?

BLITZER: Their membership has gone up in the past month or so since the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. You and I were there, so we remember vividly what occurred and the immediate aftermath of those horrendous days that followed. He suspects this is the time to deal with background checks for all gun transfers, not just at gun stores but gun shows and private sales as well. He wants to make sure there are stricter controls.

This ad, when you start bringing in a president -- any president's children into a political advertisement like this, it's pretty outrageous. I speak as someone who covered a lot of presidents, including their kids. These are children of a president, of a sitting president of the United States. And I think it's fair to say I've always felt you keep the kids off of the politics. Let the kids grow up. You don't bring them involved -- get them involved in these debates. It's pretty outrageous.

BANFIELD: I think I can speak for all of us. We don't have the same security issues for our children that the president of the United States has for his family. I don't care what party you're from. They have always had protection.


BANFIELD: And they remain protected even after they leave office.

Wolf, I'm looking forward to seeing you shortly. You will be here for our special coverage of the president's gun violence announcement.

So, Wolf, I'll let you go and let you continue to prepare for that.

And we, while we look at the podium and await the arrival of the key players, there you have it, 11:45, Obama's gun proposals live from Washington.

We're back in just a moment.


BANFIELD: As President Obama is preparing to unveil his gun plan, in literally just minutes from now, we are also getting a first look at a "Time" magazine special report that is coming out today. It's offering exclusive details from inside the White House that led to this very day and these very proposals, the cobbling together of a coalition built to reset the gun debate. There you have it, splashed on the cover, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, Vice President Joe Biden, and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The trio is dubbed "The Gunfighters."

"Time's" executive editor, Radhika Jones, joins us now.

I'd like to ask you, as you say the around your editorial table and make this decision, do you have the sense this is a seminal moment in the history of the United States and how it deals with the Second Amendment, or is this a fleeting era that is bouncing off the emotions of some very, very sad news stories of late?

RADHIKA JONES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, certainly, we've all lived through a number of mass shootings. The shooting in Newtown does feel like it has moved the national mood a bit on this issue. Certainly, the muscle that the Obama administration is putting behind it and this new coalition, a group of powerful faces, Mayor Bloomberg, Vice President Biden, Gabby Giffords, they want to capitalize on this moment in a way we haven't seen happen in a few years.

BANFIELD: Radhika, can we are have some new polls that I mentioned with Wolf Blitzer that CNN and ORC and "Time" conducted just January 14th through 15th? It says 55 percent of those asked now favor stricter gun control laws. You add that to a man like Justice Scalia, who, by all means, people say, is the most -- you know, solid protector of the Second Amendment. Yet, in his opinion in 2008 on the Heller case, he wrote, "Like most rights, the rights secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." And he went on to say, "We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Precedent says the sorts of weapon prospected were those in common use at the time. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."

People freaked out when they heard that, and when he repeated it on television. And now we have Newtown and Aurora and the list goes on, which is why I asked that original question. You have Scalia saying that, the president crying in front of the country after what happened in Newtown, then you have this rapid response. I mean, this was expected in a couple of weeks. And yet, here we are in almost just a week.

JONES: I mean, I think it goes to show that the president in his second term is really willing to lead on these issues. It's less -- in a way, less relevant to him whether a particular legislation will pass in Congress. We know this Republican Congress. It will be very difficult for him to pass any legislation on gun control. But he wants to be in front of the American people. He wants his best people on it, saying can we be reasonable about guns? Can we -- as you said, can we preserve this right but also use commonsense to regulate it so that we're not looking at that multiple Newtowns?

BANFIELD: Reasonable. That's one of my favorite words in the law. Reasonable, because everyone has a different interpretation.

Radhika Jones, thank you for your time. Look forward to reading through your special edition of "Time."

JONES: Thank you.

BANFIELD: And by the way, speaking of special -- nice of Radhika to joins us with that -- we have our own special coverage, and it's getting underway in a moment, of the president's gun proposals. It starts right after this break.


BLITZER: Hello, everyone, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Exactly one month after President Obama vowed to use whatever power his office holds to prevent more tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut, he's about to tell us what that means. In a little less than 10 minutes, the president will unveil a series of proposals that go beyond what we typically think of his gun control.

CNN's special live coverage starts right now. We have our reporters and our analysts standing by. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin is at the White House. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. Here with me, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief national correspondent, John King. Also with us, our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, and Dan Glickman, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, former director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a member of the cabinet during the Clinton administration as well.

Jessica, let's start with you.

What do we know? What is the president about to tell us?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We just got notification the president will be out momentarily. I understand the president will be accompanied. First the vice president will speak on the stage, then the president. We'll be looking to see if the president is taking actions today to move forward on some of those efforts he can do unilaterally to effect gun safety, executive actions.

The president will be flanked by children who wrote him after the Newtown shootings about gun violence. Among them, three kids whose letters, they sent to us, to show us, ages 10 through 11, who asked him to stop some of the gun violence. Clearly, using the children of the nation in their effort to lobby for gun safety.

We've gone through some of those measures that the president has emphasized that we know will come out today. Chief among them, tightening the current laws for back ground checks and stepping up regulations to universalize background checks. Also expanding the limits on magazines, so you cannot buy magazines with more than 10 bullets.

One thing we consistently heard is many Democrats downplaying any push for the assault weapons ban. We expect the president will call for it, but in terms of action beyond that, not hearing a lot to of emphases on pushing that one forward.

Finally, Wolf, I will tell you that, in this audience -- we're hear with members of the cabinet and a number of families of victims will be here, but also a number of activist groups. A member of is behind me. They're organizing 200 actions around the country on Thursday to help mobilize efforts to support the president's attempts to improve the gun safety laws in this nation -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by, Jessica.

Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, I suspected this legislation that the president will send to Congress, there could be a huge, huge battle. There's no guarantee he will succeed.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No guarantee at all. I think that the odds are pretty low on him getting -- at this point, of him getting any of this through. Not entirely unlikely, but low.

It's interesting because so much of what we've seen with the battles over the fiscal cliff and everything have been along party lines. That's not the case here. The big thing we're watching are the president's fellow Democrats in the Senate. They're the ones, many of them that he will have to convince to get things through. A number of them are up for reelection next year, and they are from red states, where gun owners and gun rights are very strong. So they're going to be very reluctant to support anything.

I'm hearing from Democratic leadership sources, as Jessica was alluding to, the most likely piece of legislation to get through is something relating to background checks. That's the most likely. Because it is, in the words of one source, probably the least offensive to gun rights owners and probably the best way to appeal to many gun rights advocates who say you do need to focus on mental health, you do need to focus on criminals, making sure they don't get guns. But even that is going to be difficult and will require a lot of communication by the White House with fellow Democrats, particularly in the Senate. Never mind the House. They won't touch anything unless the Senate does it first, the Democratic-run Senate.

BLITZER: Getting ready for another fight on Capitol Hill.

The National Rifle Association, the gun lobbyists, have put out an ad, a controversial ad just a while ago. I'll play a little clip for you.


ANNOUNCER: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?


BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, just issued this statement: "Most Americans agree a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight. But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."

Gloria Borger is here.

Gloria, this is a very outrageous ad that --


BLITZER: As someone who has covered the White House and a lot of presidential children over the years.

BORGER: Republicans and Democrats. It's unseemly. It's in your face. It's kind of a classic move by the NRA, playing this game, being a small buy on a cable network and knowing we're going to talk about it. But this is about is rallying their base, their own anti- regulation base. Because they know what's happening now. You look at the polls. The numbers are going up for some kind of gun control. What they want to do is make sure that their intense supporters stay with them and multiply.

BLITZER: Here come the kids. These are children who wrote letters to the president, urging him to deal with the issue of guns.

John King is here.

The president will have them as a background. Biden will speak. Then the president will speak. Then the president will sign a whole bunch of executive orders. Stuff he can do without congressional authorization.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Stricter laws, some studies on gun safety. But those children, Wolf, and people outside Washington are critical, because, as you hear everybody here saying, including the Democratic leader of the Senate, this is a Democratic president who wants to make this a second-term priority. The Senate majority leader says we should be, quote, "very cautious when it comes to new gun control." So Harry Reid is part of the president's problem here.

But there's a change under way in the Democratic Party. The question is how big? After 2000, when Al Gore lost, they blamed losing Tennessee, West Virginia and other places on his support of gun control. Now, some of that was exaggerated. But that's what they thought. You saw Democrats being timid on the gun issue after that.

Now look at the 2016 lineup -- Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Governor O'Malley. New York and Maryland, those three governors. Three people looking at the 2016 race on the Democratic side in the forefront on gun control. We'll see how big of a shift it is.

BLITZER: The vice president will speak first.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before -- before I begin today, let me say to the families of the innocents who were murdered 33 days ago, our heart -- our heart goes out to you. And you show incredible courage -- incredible courage being here. And the president and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and your wives with -- with the work we take up here today.

It's been 33 days since the nation's heart was broken by the horrific, senseless violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty -- twenty -- beautiful first-graders gunned down in a place that's supposed to be their second sanctuary.

Six -- six -- members of the staff killed, trying to save those children. It's literally been hard for the nation to comprehend, hard for the nation to fathom. And I know for the families who are here, time is not measured in days, but it's measured in minutes, in seconds since you received that news -- another minute without your daughter, another minute without your son, another minute without your wife, another minute without your mom.

I want to personally thank Chris and Lynn McDonnell, who lost their beautiful daughter, Grace, and the other parents who I had a chance to speak to, for -- for their suggestions and for, again, just for their -- the courage of all of you to be here today. I admire -- I admire the grace and the resolve you all are showing.

And I must say, I've been deeply affected by your faith as well, and the president and I are going to do everything to try to match the resolve you've demonstrated. No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation -- a moral obligation to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.

As the president knows, I've worked in this field a long time in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation -- the last gun violence legislation, I should say. And I have no illusions about we're up against -- what we're up against, or how hard the task is in front of us. But I also have never seen the nation's conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook.

The world has changed, and it's demanding action. It's in this context that the president asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have. And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups -- not just individuals -- representing groups, 229 groups, from law enforcement agencies to public health officials to gun officials to gun advocacy groups, to -- to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders. And I've spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.

And the recommendations we provided to the president on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They're based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence, ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.

We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can, and we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some of what you will hear from the president will happen immediately. Some will take some time. But we have begun and we are starting here today and we're resolved to continue this fight.

During the meetings that we held, we met with a young man who's here today. I think Colin Goddard is here. Where are you, Colin? Colin was one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre. He was in the classroom. He calls himself one of the lucky seven. And he'll tell you, he was shot four times on that day, and he has three bullets that are still inside him.

And when I asked Colin about what he thought we should be doing, he said that -- he said, "I'm not here because of what happened to me. I'm here because of what happened to me keeps happening to other people, and we have to do something about it."

Colin, we will. Colin, I promise you, we will. This is our intention. We must do what we can now. And there's no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody. Please -- please have a seat.

Good afternoon, everybody. Let me begin by thanking our vice president, Joe Biden, for your dedication, Joe, to this issue, for bringing so many different voices to the table, because while reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn't be a divisive one.

Now, over the month since the tragedy in Newtown, we've heard from so many. And obviously, none have affected us more than the families of those gorgeous children and their teachers and guardians who were lost. And so we're grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here and recognizing that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.

But we also heard from some unexpected people, in particular I started getting a lot of letters from kids. Four of them are here today, Grant Fritz (ph), Julia Stokes (ph), Ini Zeha (ph), and Teja Goode (ph). They're pretty representative of some of the messages I got. These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people. Hinna (ph), a third-grader -- you can go ahead and wave Hinna (ph), that's you. Hinna (ph) wrote, "I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children. I love my country, and I want everybody to be happy, and safe."

And then Grant, go ahead and wave Grant, Grant said, "I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook. I feel really bad." And then Julia said -- Julia, where are you? There you go. "I'm not scared for my safety, I'm scared for others. I have four brothers and sisters, and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them." And these are our kids. This is what they're thinking about.

And so what we should be thinking about, is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up, and do everything that they're capable of doing. Not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe.

This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change