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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Guns Under Fire Town Hall

Aired January 31, 2013 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to this special 360 town hall "Guns Under Fire" from the George Washington University in the nation's capital.

In the nearly seven weeks since the rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, silenced 27 lives, a national debate over guns has only grown louder and more urgent. There was a shooting just today in a middle school in southeast Atlanta. A student was hit, so the need for action is clear.

Often, however, the debate over what to do ends in shouting and pointed fingers which is why tonight we want to try to cut through the talking points and the slogans, and have an actual discussion that zeros in on some key issues and what goals, if any, are actually achievable.

We've got people with many different experiences, many different opinions and backgrounds, they're all represented in this room. Gun control advocates, people opposed to greater gun control, victims of crimes, people who have used guns to protect themselves and their families. We start, though, with a look at what's at stake.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown. It's an all too familiar pattern. Mass shootings followed by a national dialogue on one of the most polarizing issues in America. Gun control.

But any attempt to alter our relatively easy access to guns rarely gets off the ground. The last time a federal gun control legislation was passed was in 1994, a year after a shooter armed with semiautomatic handguns shot and killed eight people in an office building in downtown San Francisco. The shooter was reportedly able to fire 30 shots without reloading, causing outrage among gun control advocates.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: The 19 assault weapons banned by this proposal are deadly, dangerous weapons. They were designed for one purpose only. To kill people.

COOPER: The manufacturing of semiautomatic weapons with magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition was banned for 10 years. But still, the shootings continued. In 1999, 23 people were wounded and 13 killed at Columbine High School. The shooters used semiautomatic weapons they obtained illegally.

By the time the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, its effectiveness was questioned. The Congressional Research Service could not definitively find a causal connection between firearms and violence. They wrote, quote, "Existing data do not show whether the number of people shot and killed with semiautomatic assault weapons declined during the 10-year period that those firearms were banned."

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA EXECUTIVE V.P. AND CEO: It's not a question of harm. It's a question of it was a meaningless ban.

COOPER: Boasting nearly 4.5 million members and heavy political influence, the NRA is a powerful force. Not afraid to publicly push back against pressure.

LAPIERRE: Since when did the gun automatically become a bad word?

COOPER: With the recent shooting of 27 in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 children inside their classrooms, emotions are high.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The NRA has blood on its hands. The NRA has blood on its hands. Shame on the NRA.

COOPER: Everyone agrees America needs to be a safer place, a place where children can go to school without fear of being shot. The question is, how do we get to that point?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And that is the question we hope to get at least a little closer answering tonight, or at least sort of understanding tonight.

To help us, we've got -- here are a couple of numbers, 310 million. That's an estimate of how many guns there are in the United States right now. Also 30,000. That's roughly how many Americans will do -- will be killed by guns each year. And finally, 27 words that you probably recognize. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

That's the Second Amendment. Twenty-seven words, very much at the core of this debate for many in the United States.

I want to introduce some of our guests on the podium today. Joining me is Dan Gross. He's president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Also joining us, Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia's police commissioner. Also joining us is Sandy Froman, an NRA board member and a former NRA president. Also Gale Trotter, a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum. She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee just yesterday.

I appreciate all of you being with us.

(APPLAUSE) So, Dan, let me start with you. After Newtown, do you think we are at some sort of a tipping points, or do you think this debate that we're having now will end as the debates have in the past years with a lot of pointed fingers but not really any action?

DAN GROSS, PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: I think we are at a tipping point. I think we're at a tipping point in terms of the outrage of the American public wanting to do something about this issue but also in terms of the involvement of the president and the White House and creating this task force that's really taken a comprehensive look, not only at what we can do to prevent tragedies like Newtown, but to prevent the 10,000 gun murders, 30,000 gun deaths that happen every year in our country.

And we need to look at this comprehensively. That's why this issue in the past has faded with the headlines of these big tragedies. So we need to look at it in terms of not only what can we do to prevent those big tragedies, which is a very important conversation, but also, you know, as Chief Ramsey will tell you, the violence that occurs in our streets and communities every day in this country.

COOPER: There are a number of issues that are being looked at, and that we're going to look at, mental health issues, school safety issues, how to protect kids in the schools. Are armed guards the answer?

Initially, though, we want to look at the so-called assault weapons ban, high capacity magazines and also background checks. The NRA says that current gun laws on background checks are not being enforced. And you look at the statistics, people lie on background checks. Felons attempt to get guns legally on background checks and they're not prosecuted for lying. Nobody is actually going after people who are lying on background checks. And the NRA says we don't need greater background checks. We need just execution of the laws as they currently are.

Do they have a point?

GROSS: It's not an either/or. Nobody is against enforcing laws --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you agree the laws should be better enforced?

GROSS: The laws have to be better enforced, but at the same time, we have to have a conversation about what we can do to prevent guns from getting into the hands of dangerous people. The Brady Law passed in 1993 has prevented nearly two million convicted felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun.

Did people fall through the cracks in those background checks? Very possibly yes, and there are things we should do about it. But the reality is, 40 percent of gun sales in our country don't requite a background check. It's been trivialized by calling it the gun show loophole. It's not only the gun show loophole. It's the Internet loophole. It's the newspaper classified loophole. Every day in our country, there are guns being purchased by dangerous people and we can stop that just by extending background checks.

COOPER: If you buy a gun in a private sale it's not subject to a background check.

GROSS: And -- right. And I'll point out that that has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It actually re-enforces the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens.

COOPER: Let me bring in Sandy from the NRA. Why are you against the idea of, you know, gun show buyers having to have background checks or private sales having background checks?

SANDY FROMAN, NRA BOARD MEMBER: Well, first of all, that 40 percent number is just not true. That's based on an old study that was a study of ordinary, law-abiding people, I mean, people like you and me, people who are out here in the audience today. It wasn't a study of where criminals get their guns. They --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But plenty of people do buy their guns privately.

FROMAN: Yes, but the law-abiding people are not the ones we have to worry about. If you look at a 2004 study that was done of people who were incarcerated in prisons, less than 2 percent of them got their guns at gun -- at gun shows. The vast majority of them, 85 percent, got their guns on the street, black market. They stole them or other illegal means.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right. Right. And for some of those --

FROMAN: It's criminals that we're worried about.

COOPER: Some of those are strawmen who are buying guns legally and then sell them illegally. But, I guess, still the question is, why shouldn't everybody who is buying a gun legally undergo a background check? A universal background check?

FROMAN: Because there's a cost to this kind of basically bureaucracy. Why should a law-abiding citizen who isn't a problem, who is not a criminal, should have to go through additional background checks? Why should we spend scarce law enforcement resources spending money on background of law-abiding people who weren't a problem.

COOPER: Commissioner Ramsey, I mean, some of the guns that wind up in your city in Philadelphia, are they purchased legally at gun shows and elsewhere? Where are they -- where are the guns coming from that you see?

CHARLES RAMSEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I mean, the guns come from a variety of sources, and it's true that some are just bought on the street, but none of these thugs are manufacturing their own guns. At some point in time, the gun was manufactured, probably sold legally, but over time, transferring from person to person, it winds up in the wrong hands. That's why you have to have the background checks, I believe --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So you're for universal background checks?

RAMSEY: Absolutely. Whether it's private or not, and please, don't worry about the cost. I'm from law enforcement, I'll spend the money, because to me, it's a much greater cost --

(APPLAUSE)

It's a much -- it's a much greater cost in terms of human lives.

COOPER: Let's look at some FBI statistics from 2010. And there were a bunch of felons trying to buy guns legally who got caught in background checks. A bunch of domestic abusers who -- so why shouldn't these people, if they go to a gun show, or if they buy a gun privately, why shouldn't they have to submit to a background check? I'm still not clear on your rationale. You're saying it's too much of a bureaucracy.

FROMAN: Well, basically what the chief is saying is that everyone should submit to a background check. Well, the vast majority of people who buy guns are not criminals. They are law-abiding peaceable people. And so --

COOPER: But why shouldn't even law-abiding people submit to a background check?

(CROSSTALK)

FROMAN: Because --

COOPER: Because maybe they have a mental health issue.

FROMAN: I think it's admirable that the chief says he'll spend the money, but I think Vice President Biden was quoted a week ago or so saying we just don't have the resources to do all this. We don't have the resources --

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS: I'd like to point out --

FROMAN: We don't have the resources --

COOPER: Let her finish.

FROMAN: -- to prosecutor the criminals who already have been identified as lying on the federal forms. If you don't have the resources to prosecutor the criminals who've already lied on the federal forms and who are prohibited possessors, how are you going to have the resources to run background checks on all of the law-abiding people.

COOPER: But, Dan, isn't it cheaper to run a background check than to prosecute somebody?

GROSS: To prosecute somebody or -- than to cost of life. I mean, I just want to point, as we have the NRA representative on the stage, to -- the extent to which that point of view doesn't represent even the average NRA member. Seventy-four percent of NRA members are in favor of universal background checks.

They realize that that is a commonsense measure that will save lives. And the question is, if you're against background checks, are you against the background checks that are currently being done, that have already prevented two million convicted felons and domestic abusers and dangerously mentally ill from buying guns. It's just -- it not -- it's not a logical argument and the real shame of it is it's causing -- it's costing lives.

(CROSSTALK)

FROMAN: Of course not. The NRA is not against background checks. We support background checks. The system that's in effect now. We support making sure they're enforced and making sure that names of prohibited possessors, felons, who shouldn't have firearms are in that background. And we're in favor --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But you don't --

FROMAN: And we're in favor --

COOPER: But you don't any more background checks?

FROMAN: We're in favor -- no, we're not supporting more background checks of law-abiding people. We're in favor of making sure that the names of people who shouldn't have guns get into that database.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: How do we know if they 're law-abiding people if they don't have to undergo a background check at a gun show?

(APPLAUSE)

FROMAN: First of all, I hope everybody here knows that if you are a firearms dealer, whether you sell a gun at a gun store or at a gun show, you have to do a background check on your buyer. So we're talking about private people who might want to, let's say, transfer a gun to their brother-in-law or something. You're talking about them having to be background checked. Now some of those people live in rural areas. It would be very far to have them go to a dealer to run a background check. Right now, unless you're a dealer, you cannot use the instant check system. That would require a change in federal law. GROSS: It's patently untrue. I mean, the reality is that when you go to a gun show, you can see what really happens in this country, which is under the guise of being licensed firearms dealers, people are selling guns to people that they don't know and people who could be very well be criminals, be dangerously mentally ill, and people who would be caught if they went to a federally licensed firearm dealer.

COOPER: Gayle Trotter, do you support any further background checks?

GAYLE TROTTER, SENIOR FELLOW, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM: No, and it's funny that you would say that we should for economic reasons violate our fundamental constitutional right to choose for self- defense.

GROSS: What does it have to do with a constitutional right?

(APPLAUSE)

What is doing a background check on gun shows have to do with taking away the Second Amendment right? That's why 74 percent of NRA members support them.

TROTTER: It's an uncomfortable fact that guns make women safer.

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS: Nobody is denying --

TROTTER: Who choose to carry guns --

GROSS: Nobody is questioning you.

TROTTER: I've listened to you.

COOPER: Let her finish.

TROTTER: Guns who -- women who choose to carry guns are safer. The people who are in their households are safer. And the women who choose not to carry are safer because some women choose to carry.

In my appendix to my Senate judiciary testimony yesterday, I had 21 examples of women defending themselves from violent attacks. Fifteen of those 21 cases involved a woman having to fire the weapon. So guns reverse the balance of power.

COOPER: But is anyone talking about taking the guns away from the hands of responsible women?

TROTTER: It's an undue burden.

COOPER: Or anybody else?

TROTTER: It's an undue burden on a fundamental constitutional right.

COOPER: So a background check is an undue burden in a private sale?

TROTTER: Yes.

COOPER: Is it an undue burden in a not private sale?

TROTTER: No.

COOPER: Is it undue -- it's OK in a store but you're saying it's an undue burden in a private sale?

TROTTER: If you have -- this is so funny that we're talking about this economic issue. When you look at people who are in the business of selling guns, we all have to do things in businesses because we're professional lawyers or doctors or things that our businesses require us to do that we don't have to do when we're doing things among friends.

COOPER: But when I --

TROTTER: And it's not fair to put an undue burden --

COOPER: When I give a car to a friend, I have to transfer a title. I can't just give --

TROTTER: Right.

COOPER: I can't give away a car.

(APPLAUSE)

TROTTER: But you don't have a constitutional right to have a car.

COOPER: Because? I'm sorry, I didn't hear.

TROTTER: You don't have a constitutional right to have a car. And that's a frequent example used by opponents of the Second Amendment.

COOPER: Has the NRA changed their position on this? Because I -- Wayne LaPierre is now saying that universal background checks don't work. I saw this testimony that he gave in 1999 to the House Judiciary Committee and he said, quote, "We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes for anyone."

FROMAN: The answer, Anderson, is yes, the NRA has changed its position. And the reason it's changed its position is because the system doesn't work. The NICS system is not working now. We have to get that working before we can add any more checks to that system. It's already overburdened. In Colorado, I know it takes 10 -- 10 days to do an instant check.

COOPER: So you're saying if it got working, if it started -- the existing laws started to be improved, you would -- might support the imposition on background checks? FROMAN: I don't know. Let's get it working. Let's make sure that the 23 states that aren't reporting the names of people who are mentally ill and have violent tendencies, let's get those reported into the system.

COOPER: OK.

GROSS: Anderson, I --

GROSS: And then we can have a --

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS: I just don't understand why you can't do both. The reality is, yes, regarding the 60 percent of gun sales that require background checks. Are there things that we can do to improve that? Yes. Should we be committed it? Should be invest resources in it? Yes.

COOPER: Gayle tried to brought (sic) up a point of women protecting themselves with guns. I want to introduce Sarah McKinley, who's in the audience.

Sarah, if you stand up.

Sarah did something extraordinary. She -- someone -- two men tried to break into her home. She was alone in her home with her baby. She had two handguns. She dialed 911.

You were on the phone with the 911 operator and you asked the operator if they come in, is it OK to shoot? You actually shot one of the intruders. The other ran off. You protected your home, yourself, and -- and probably saved your baby's life. And it's an extraordinary thing you did.

When you hear Dan Gross from the Brady Campaign talking about, you know, more background checks, do you -- is that -- is that something that you would support?

SARAH MCKINLEY, SHOT AND KILLED HOME INTRUDER: I'm not against background checks. I mean, you know -- I mean, obviously, there's nothing that prevents thieves from having a gun. I have no problem doing that to own my gun. You know, I mean I don't think that's a wrong thing to do.

COOPER: When you hear people talk about gun control, do you worry about any kind of limitation on the kinds of weapons citizens like yourself can have?

MCKINLEY: Well, I think it's like -- I mean, I personally have no need for an assault weapon. But --

COOPER: You're pretty good with a handgun.

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINLEY: It was a 12-gauge.

COOPER: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MCKINLEY: You know, at the same time, I think that once they start limiting, they're going to limit more. I mean, they -- they're not just going to come in and take our guns away. They're going to start with one thing and then go do something else.

COOPER: You see it as a slippery slope, it just -- they get their foot on the door and then they can take more and more?

MCKINLEY: Exactly.

COOPER: OK.

MCKINLEY: But I personally have no problem, you know, doing background checks or registering all my guns in my name or whatever, you know. But I mean, the bad guys are always going to have guns.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: OK. I also want to bring in Josh Boston. Josh is right behind Sarah in the audience.

Josh, you can stand up.

Josh is a former Marine, served in Iraq, in Afghanistan as well. And we applaud him for his service.

(APPLAUSE)

You wrote a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has put up a legislation for a so-called assault weapons ban. And I want to read some of what you said. You said, "I'm not your subject. I'm the man who keeps you free. I'm not your servant, I'm the person whom you serve. I'm not your peasant, I'm the flesh and blood of America."

To someone who says -- you know, the counter argument is look, why do you need an AR-15, why do you need a semiautomatic so-called assault rifle or semiautomatic rifle?

CPL. JOSH BOSTON, OPPOSES SEN. FEINSTEIN'S GUN BAN PROPOSAL: Well, the AR-15, first off, is a very ergonomical platform. And for people who have never been in a life-or-death situation, that don't understand the changes the body undergoes, it's something that I experienced in the Marine Corps in my first gun fight and throughout. And then I also had to teach the young Marines as they came through the school of infantry.

Your brain releases chemicals into your body. You lose motor control function, and you shake, and you miss. That happens. Now I helped a 70-year-old man sight his AR-15 at the range I work at in Fort Worth. I asked him why he had it, and it was for self defense. Because he's not able to control a 12-gauge shotgun. She would have been better able to engage both of those threats with an AR-15.

COOPER: OK. You know, I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, from CNN just on the side of the aisle.

Jeff, you know, the Second Amendment, which is obviously, you know, part of our Constitution, has it always been interpreted in the same way?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, I mean, these are 18th century words that have had very different meanings over time. Until 2008, there was no individual right under the Second Amendment to have a gun. But the Supreme Court changed in 2008, and in the famous Heller decision, the Supreme Court said yes, under the Second Amendment, you do have a right to keep a handgun in your home.

But what other kinds of rights do you have to have other guns is now frankly pretty mysterious. The Supreme Court said, dangerous and unusual weapons can be regulated. Can even be prohibited. Are assault weapons dangerous and unusual weapons? We don't really know the answer to that at this point.

So you have some right to a -- to a handgun or to some kind of gun under the Second Amendment, but that right is not unlimited.

COOPER: All right. I want to bring in Sheriff Brad Rogers who's also joining us here. Sheriff is on the other side. He's from Elkhart County, Indiana.

You made headlines recently when you said, you know, that folks in your area were concerned about people -- government coming and confiscating their guns and that you would not uphold any law that you felt was unconstitutional that was passed.

Do you believe -- and you believe it's a state's rights issue. Do you believe the federal government has any right to any form of gun control?

SHERIFF BRAD ROGERS, ELKHART COUNTY, INDIANA: No, I do not believe so. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution clearly spells out what the federal government should be -- is authorized to do. And everything else goes back to the state. It's reserved for the states to mandate that.

In Indiana where I'm from, the Indiana Constitution spells it out even further. In Article 1, Section 32, it says, that people shall have a right to arm themselves to defend themselves and the state. So, you know, even if this -- you know, even if it's taken up by the state, they are restricted usually by their own constitution.

COOPER: Jeff, just from a legal analyst standpoint, what do you make of that?

(APPLAUSE)

TOOBIN: I think that's just factually wrong. The --

(APPLAUSE)

The federal government is supreme -- is supreme in this. There is a supremacy clause in the Constitution. If there's a conflict between state law and federal law, the federal government wins. However, the federal government does have to abide by the Second Amendment, too. So the question, there is no doubt that the federal government has the right to engage in some sort of gun control. The question is, what can they ban? They cannot ban handguns.

We know that from the Supreme Court. But can they ban assault weapons? Can they ban tanks? Can they ban stinger missiles? You bet they can. And they do, and so that much we know is that the federal government can ban certain weapons, but they can't ban all weapons.

COOPER: Right. Let's not get too far down the road of states rights.

TOOBIN: Yes. Sure.

COOPER: Because I do want to try to keep this on -- kind of focused as much as we can. I do want to bring in Amardeep Kaleka whose father was killed in the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin this year.

You -- I know you have questions. You're actually a gun owner. And you have questions, I know, for both representatives from the NRA and also from the Brady Campaign.

AMARDEEP KALEKA, FATHER KILLED IN SIKH TEMPLE SHOOTING: Yes. Absolutely. I'm a gun owner and I don't fear losing any rights because I think it's a responsibility. It separates me from the bad guy so I know what's going on.

The question I have is, is it becoming a polarizing issue on all fronts? We don't really need that as a country right now. We've been down that path so many times. What are the gray areas? Where is an area where you guys will agree so that we have public safety?

FROMAN: I think everybody on this panel can agree that we don't want to have people who are insane have guns. We don't want to have terrorists to have guns. We don't want to have hardened criminals, violent criminals to have guns. We all agree on that. And we need -- I think it's part of this national dialogue that, you know, we're here talking about -- come to some ways about things that we can agree upon.

When there's plenty to do, I think, that we can agree upon, to enforce existing laws.

COOPER: We're going to take a short break. We're going to have more of all the angles ahead, including the personal side. People who have lost loved ones or survived a shooting. When we come back we'll look at how their experience has shaped the solutions that they support. We'll also explore some of those including putting more armed guards in school. Is that part of the answer or the answer? When we continue. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. You can look at that poll, but you can look at all the polling you want without every really fully capturing what Americans truly think and feel about guns. That's not just because the issues that are involved are so complex or so difficult, is because for many, the questions involved are so deeply personal.

For many here tonight in this room and on this stage, those questions just don't invite an answer. They invite a story. So tonight we're looking at those stories of the intensely individual and profoundly life changing ways that people have arrived at the views that they now hold.

Joining us now is Colin Goddard, who survived the Virginia Tech shooting, he calls it the most terrifying nine minutes of his life. As a killer burst into a classroom he was in and opened fire. Colin was hit four times. He still carries three slugs inside his body.

Also joining us on the stage is former Congressman Asa Hutchinson who now heads up the NRA's School Shield program.

I appreciate both of you being with us. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

So let's talk about armed guards in school because that's what the former Congressman Hutchinson is really focused on here. Are armed guards in schools, on campuses, is that the answer? Colin?

COLIN GODDARD, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I don't think so. I mean, shootings happen in more places than just schools. You know? I mean, and I think most people realize that we need to do better than just something at the last possible second. That we need to do a better job of actually keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people to begin with. So, I mean, that's the real conversation I think the American people want to have.

COOPER: But when you were, you know, laying on the floor in that classroom in Virginia Tech and the gunman was walking around, shooting your classmates, shooting you, wouldn't having an armed guard there made a difference or having students who were armed?

GODDARD: I mean, there was -- there were SWAT team there, you know, fairly early on. I mean, that's, you know, standard local police department. I don't think I could have reacted in such a way. Like I said, it was just so -- a chaotic thing, I didn't really understand what was going on until I was shot.

COOPER: Congressman Hutchinson, why is putting guards in school, why is that your focus?

ASA HUTCHINSON, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, NRA SCHOOL SHIELD PROGRAM: Well, the focus is safety in the schools. And after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the first thing that happened was they went in and reviewed the security systems to see how we can better protect the students. It was the right thing to do. That's exactly what we're doing now is looking at our entire school environment, not just armed guards, which is a local school decision, but also the architecture of the schools, the technology, the layers of security. All of these things go into making it a more secure environment. And that's our objectives.

COOPER: Are you talking about some new federal bureaucracy with the government putting armed people inside the schools? Because we just heard from the NRA saying, you know, the cost of background checks would be prohibitive. That would be -- we're talking billions and billions to put armed people in school, no?

HUTCHINSON: No, absolutely not. The federal government would mess it up if they tried to do that. We're talking about --

(APPLAUSE)

We're talking about issues that are local controlled. Right now, school districts are utilizing school resource officers, armed guards out of their own budget. They're in about one third of the schools. President Clinton initiated that effort, but the local school districts had to pick it up. In fact, I think the federal government should not be funding it. I think it's a local responsibility and effort.

What we want to do is to provide free of charge some solutions for them. Assessment tools that they can go in and better assess the security of their schools, perhaps grant money, some voluntary contributions to raise money for enhanced security, but it would be with trained professionals that would be able to go in and better protect our -- the security of our children.

COOPER: There's a lot of folks who are concerned about the idea of just inserting guns into schools. I want to play something that the Baltimore chief of police said and then have you respond to it. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JAMES JOHNSON, BALTIMORE POLICE: Let me tell you something, carrying this weapon on my side has been a pain all these years. I'm glad I have it if I need it, but I tell you, it's an awesome responsibility. And what do you do in the summertime when you dress down? How are you going to safe guard that weapon from a classroom full of 16-year-old boys who want to touch it? How are you going do it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Does it concern you, inserting guns into schools? HUTCHINSON: They made the same argument about guns in the cockpit of an aircraft or federal air marshals utilizing guns, but it's kept our planes in the past. You're still comfortable in flying. It's the right thing to do.

The school environment is very sensitive. The chief is correct in the sense that awesome responsibility, they need to be trained, and that's the point of our emphasis, to have enhanced training of armed security presence in the school.

And teachers should not have the burden of this either. This should be -- teachers teach. Others should protect and that's why the armed presence, trained personnel is important.

COOPER: But haven't there been plenty of instances, Columbine, I'm sure Virginia Tech even had police on campus or security guards on campus, and yet that didn't seem to help?

GODDARD: I just don't understand why the first idea put forth is something that might help at the last second. We can do better than what we're doing now and we can do things in advance, the weeks and the months beforehand to keep a dangerous person and a gun from combing in the first place. We don't take that seriously. We don't do background checks on people. That's nuts. I guess, something we should get done.

COOPER: I think that's important to point out that you work for the Brady Campaign. You've actually gone out. I know you went out and shot kind of a documentary where you went out to gun shows and you actually bought a lot of weapons without having background checks.

GODDARD: I bought Tech .9s, .9-millimeters, I bought an AK-47. I bought the same Glock that was used to shoot me all without paperwork, all without a background check to complete strangers, at publicly advertised events and I'm told there are no checks because these are private sales.

My question is what is private about that? I walked up to a random stranger at a public event and paid them money and walked out with a gun like that's nuts, man. We shouldn't be able to do that.

COOPER: I want to bring in Veronique Pozner who is in the audience. Veronique, if you could stand up. Veronique, lost her son, Noah. He was killed at Sandy Hook. We have talked many times over the last few weeks. I'm so sorry for your loss and I think about you so often. Do you think having an armed guard in that school on that terrible day would have made a difference?

POZNER: I can't say for sure. I don't think anyone can. I think there might be a certain power and deterrence. I think in the case of Newtown, it's clear that the perpetrator did choose the path of least resistance, the most vulnerable, defenseless victims that he possibly could.

As far as funding all this, I think handsomely taxing ammunition might be an answer because you can certainly talk about second amendment rights, but that doesn't mean it doesn't come with a price tag. And certainly, public safety should be paramount. So it makes sense.

Until we have universal background checks, better reporting from the states, and more -- just more safety across the board, maybe a presence in schools is worth considering. I know that there is a police presence in the new location of the Sandy Hook school, and it certainly does reassure me when I drop my daughters off to see that there is that level of protection.

COOPER: Yes, well, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. People's personal perspective and experiences often affect the way they view this. I want to bring in somebody else. Joe, if you could stand up. Joe did something that everybody hopes they would do if confronted in a situation.

Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona. Joe heard the shots and ran toward what many people would run away from. Joe had a -- you had a handgun, right? You didn't take it out, you ran to try to see if there was something you could do, and you could respond.

Has your personal experience of doing something heroic and running to that situation and seeing the chaos at that situation, has it changed in any way your feeling about people being armed?

ZAMUDIO: Most definitely. I believe that, you know, everyone should have the ability and the access to take training and to prepare themselves for a terrible situation because we aren't safe.

It's a false idea that you're safe just because you live in America. So if you want to be responsible and take into consideration that in the worst case scenario, a person who is mentally unstable might open fire on a crowd that you might be a part of.

So you should train yourself with a weapon and carry it on you so that in the event of that situation, you could do something rather than just be a target, I believe we should all have that opportunity.

A lot of guns in this country are unsecure. I don't agree with that. This Newtown tragedy, which is a horrible, horrible thing, he was able to steal the firearms from his own home like, lock them up.

COOPER: We have seen -- first of all, thank you again for being here, but also what you did. Again, running toward something a lot of folks run from, it's heroic and I appreciate it. You want to say something?

GODDARD: I want to say, you know, the idea if we only had more guns in more places in the country we would become safer, if that idea was true, the United States of America would be the safest country in the world. How many more hundreds of millions of guns do we need? How many more hundreds of millions of guns do we need before things become safer for everybody?

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. Remind you, you can find extensive coverage of the gun debate online at cnn.com as well as an exclusive look behind this town hall at ac360.com.

When we come back, I want to try to expand the roots of gun violence and whether those roots include movies, video game violence, as is often cited, and issues related to mental health, issues still surrounded by so much stigma and so much silence. We'll look at all sides. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We look at what's on the screen, a staggering amount of media Americans consume. The question is, what is it doing to us? It's not so easy to answer. We're back at the George Washington University in the middle of Washington, D.C., a city that has seen violent crime plummet over the last 10 years. The same is true nationwide.

At the same time, the wave of violence has washed over Americans in their living rooms, on their flat screens and computers and at the movies, which raises the question, what are the connections, if any, between our violent culture and violent acts. Here are some backgrounds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Violence in the media is everywhere and the statistics are shocking. By the time the average child turns 18 years old, he or she will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence in the media, including 16,000 simulated murders, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee report.

But what kind of an affect does this have on us? In 1994, the movie "Natural Born Killers" came out. It's about a murderous couple who go on a killing spree and are glorified by the media.

This spawned numerous reports of real life copycat killers. The reality is violence sells, the media knows it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take the bloody shot.

COOPER: These are scenes from some of the top-grossing movies of last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are hopelessly outgunned.

COOPER: Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is considered one of the most violent movies of 2012 and has been honored with multiple award nominations. Of course, violence as entertainment is not confined to the big screen.

Showtime Broadcast this disclaimer before the finale of two of its most popular cable TV dramas warning viewers of disturbing content in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Viewer discretion is advised.

COOPER: Network programs lean on violence more and more through their primetime line up, but it's the gaming industry that's under the most scrutiny now. First-person shooting games like "Halo 4" and "Call of Duty" are extremely popular among young males.

"Black Ops 2," one of the highest grossing games of 2012 warns its players of blood and gore and intense violence. "Grand Theft Auto" is one of the most popular games ever. In it, a player can pick and choose random people on the street, even cops, and gun them down.

The Newtown shooter reportedly liked to play violent video games, but the principal investigator for the Department of Justice funded study said more research needs to be done before video game violence can be linked conclusively to real-life violence.

So the question remains, does America's appetite for violent material fuel the media industry or is it the industry that fuels violence in our society?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Complicated picture to say the least, some even argue that violent video games may provide an outlet, a release for aggression that might otherwise be than actual people, a lot to talk about.

Joining me now again is Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, also again is Sandy Froman, NRA board member and former president of the NRA. Also I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And Sheryl Olson who is the author of "Grand Theft Childhood," a book based on a groundbreaking two-year research project that she led on teens and video and computer games. I appreciate you all being with us.

So Sheryl, what can we say about -- I mean, is there a link between these violent video games? Because you hear that every time there's a school shooting, we hear the kids play violent video games. Is there some sort of link we know of between violent video games and violent behavior?

CHERYL OLSON, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND THEFT CHILDHOOD": One thing I can say for sure is we don't know of any causal link between any violent game or movie and a specific violent act. One of the things I learned at my study at Harvard, I studied middle school boys primarily and also girls.

And one of the things I found is that the typical 13-year-old boy is playing at least one mature rated violent game on a regular basis. When you look at something very real like a school shooting, it's something that is statistically normal like playing violent video games. It's kind of hard to make that link.

COOPER: But do we know -- I mean, I looked at a study in 10 different countries between gun violence and video game sales, and it doesn't seem like there's a link in all of these different countries. OLSON: This is an international phenomenon. The games that we see on the screens here, they play in Japan and Germany, Australia and so on. And what we find is that even if they seemed to consume more violent media, the rate of actual violence is less. It seems that guns must be the common factor.

COOPER: Do we know if a child who is, you know, disturbed in one way or has mental health issues or behavioral issues, do they play a video game differently than a child who doesn't?

OLSON: The research that I did focused on healthy normal kids attending public school. We've got no studies of kids with serious mental health problems and the parents of those kids, they really need to know more about how to manage the media. And we don't know if their media violence consumption is any different.

COOPER: Sandy, gun rights advocates often point to violent video games, kind of pivoting away from gun control issues point to violent video games. Do you agree with that, that the data is not out there?

SANDY FROMAN, NRA BOARD MEMBER: The real question is can violent video games be a trigger for an abnormal child who may already be having problems? That's something I certainly don't know and it's something that's good to have a dialogue about.

COOPER: Let's talk about mental health issues and behavioral -- because there's such stigma in this country, even when it's not associated with a shooting or violent crime. There's such stigma around mental health. Sanjay, where does that fall?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that stigma can have some real damage. First of all, if you look at the perpetrators of these crimes, most often, there's not a diagnosable mental illness ultimately.

If you look at all violent crimes, only 5 percent are committed by someone who is mentally ill. Typically, they're more likely to be victims of these types of crimes as opposed to perpetrators. If there is violence, it's usually directed at themselves not at others.

So that's how you get rid of the stigma by presenting facts like that. You remember, Anderson, after Newtown, you and I talked about Asperger's syndrome and immediately it was thought to be a mental illness and one associated with violence.

Neither one of those things were true, yet that was the prevailing theory for a long time. So I think it's very hard to draw these two things together, but unfortunately, the stigma seems to last for a long time.

COOPER: I talked to so many parents who have tried to get help for their children before their children resort to violence, and they can't get help.

GUPTA: It's shocking, really because we always say as physicians, if you recognize these symptoms in your children or in a family member, why didn't you get them help? What did you do about it? The reality is a lot of them tried. They even take their children to the hospital, sometimes forced to be in a situation where they get their child taken home or they essentially criminalize the child.

COOPER: Dan?

DAN GROSS, PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: It's very important that we do what we can to identify the specific mental illnesses that do have a predisposition to violence. You hear conversations about severe depression, about schizophrenia.

And at the same time identify those. We can identify the ones that don't and then go through policy, things like background checks, and also through public education, we can tell if Mrs. Lanza has a son who might have one of those mental illnesses.

It appears that might not be the case with Asperger, we can tell those parents through clinicians or directly maybe it's not a good idea to have an arsenal in your house.

COOPER: Are you in favor of states sharing more information with the federal database on mental issues from Social Security Administration or from other information that states have access to, which right now, a lot of states aren't passing on to put into the database?

GROSS: Yes, in order to make any background check system work, we have to pass along the data. That's clearly not happening enough. The only time that we take exception to that conversation is when that is used as an excuse not to expand the background check system.

COOPER: That's what you're in favor of as well, providing the information from the states to the existing federal background check?

FROMAN: Yes, Anderson, because one of the things is we want to encourage people who have mental health issues to seek help, and not everyone who is mentally ill is predisposed to violence.

We have to distinguish, and that's difficult to do, and the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent and are not a problem. What we have to do is basically take people who are likely to commit harm to others, make sure their names are in the database and that the database works when background checks are done.

And then the people who need help and can't get it, a parent seeking help for their children that they have questions about, we have to have resources to make sure that they have a way to get help for their family so the children don't turn into murderers.

COOPER: I want to bring in Liza Long. You wrote an incredibly powerful blog post that went viral in the wake of the Newtown shootings about your experiences with your own child. What is it your child is going through, and how difficult is it to get help, financially, and also I'm told from a lot of parents, unless your child commits an act of violence. It's very hard to get people to intervene?

LIZA LONG, WROTE BLOG POST, "I AM ADAM LANZA'S MOTHER": That's very true, unfortunately, Anderson. My blog post was written when my personal tragedy of having to put my son in acute care facility, intersected with the horrible public tragedy of Newtown.

And I also have children in elementary school as well, so my first thought, when I heard the shooting was, my God, what if it's my son someday, but my second thought was, I have to hug my babies.

COOPER: How old is your son?

LONG: My son is 13 now. You know, it's interesting. We have been talking about first-person shooters. My son who struggles with mental health does not like to play first person shooters. He is a mine craft, dungeons and dragons role player type of person and he likes his stuffed animals.

So I'm really glad that we can focus on the stigma issue. It's something incredibly hard to talk about. You don't have access to resources. We spent a lot of time tonight talking about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. What if we could put those resources to making people less dangerous?

What if we could -- what if we could find ways to treat and diagnose and effectively manage what is a chronic condition. You know, Dr. Gupta mentions the parody act. In this country, we still treat illness from here to here differently than illness from here to here.

I just wish that we could continue to have this dialogue because it's a important one not only for the safety of our communities, but for the happiness and productivity of individuals, children, families and communities.

COOPER: If I could ask just emotionally, what is it like as a mom, seeing your 13-year-old son going through this and to not be able to get authorities to help?

LONG: Well, it's really frustrating. I think is the best word to use. On Monday, I got a text from our new mental health provider. She went through stacks and stacks of reports that go back several years on my son and I said, what is it? She said, well, it's mental illness.

Let's throw another drug at it, let's try an anti-seizure medication. You know, that's basically -- children are getting diagnoses based on whether they react to the medication or not, whether the medication is effective.

And in a lot of cases, medication is not effective. So I just feel like there's no transitional space between that acute care facility and jail. And that's certainly been the case with my son. He's 13 years old. He's already been in juvenile detention four times.

COOPER: Sanjay, when you hear that, what do you think?

GUPTA: I have kids so I immediately think of my own kids. You can't help, I read Liza's blog. I think that we put people in very, very tough choices here. They have to decide whether they're going to essentially call their child a criminal or you have to -- there's not that facility.

That sort of place people can go to get treatment. Sometimes it's medication, sometimes it's not. There are a lot of resources that are necessary, and I think mental health is just not treated the same. Despite what we have done even over the last decade, here now in 2013, we're at real risk of it continuing to sort of get drift as compared to everything else.

COOPER: Liza, I appreciate you having the courage to speak, especially in a public forum like this. Thank you and I wish you the best. We're going to take another quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. You see the figure there. We mentioned at the top of the hour, more than a quarter billion firearms. We tried to look at what can be done to curtail the violence in this country.

There are certainly no easy solutions, no single answer. We know well the divisions that exist and the arguments surrounding this issue, but I want to end tonight with Dan Gross and Sandy Froman and the question of common ground.

We tried to get at this a little bit earlier. From all you have heard today, Dan, where do you see common ground?

GROSS: I think the common ground clearly exists from a policy perspective, certainly when talks about universal background checks. The reality is more than 9 in 10 Americans, 80 percent of gun owners, 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of danger --

COOPER: You have the president of the NRA, a board member who doesn't agree with you.

GROSS: Yes, the board member of the NRA, but the board member of the NRA also doesn't agree with the members of the NRA.

COOPER: Is that true?

FROMAN: No, and I think if you talk to most Americans, what they'll say is the problem is not law abiding gun owners. The problem is criminals. Anytime you regulate, any objects rather than the behavior of people who intend to be violent. You're wasting your time. You're wasting your energy.

One more gun control law is just going to be obeyed by the law abiding. It's not going to be obeyed by criminals. So every time you try to regulate criminals, it's useless. What we need to do is arrest those people, prosecute them and put then way where they can't hurt anybody.

COOPER: If you're not doing background checks on everybody buying guns, how do you know who is a criminal and who is not?

FROMAN: We had 72,000 people who were denied checks and only 44 of those people were prosecuted.

COOPER: You both agree those people should be prosecuted for lying. But again, how do you know if all of the other people who may have lied when they did a so-called private sale.

FROMAN: But my point is if you're not enforcing that law now, how is adding more background checks going to make things any easier. All you're going to do is overburden an already overburdened system.

GROSS: The Brady bill, now the Brady law since 1993, has prevented 2 million people from buying guns, felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill. The problem is the same people can go down the street to a gun show or go on the internet and buy a gun.

It's just an utterly untrue argument to say that passing a quote/unquote "gun control law" like universal background checks would make it easier for criminals to get guns. It's exactly the opposite.

It would make it harder for criminals to get guns and reaffirm the second amendment rights that law abiding citizens who haven't broken any laws and are intending to use their guns lawfully.

FROMAN: They're not going to go to the gun store and fill out a form and go through a background check. They're going to steal their guns, get them on the black market.

GROSS: Two million people tried and were turned down.

FROMAN: Only 44 were prosecuted. What does that tell you about our ability to deal with that?

GROSS: You refuse to acknowledged there's more we can do while we focus on that. That doesn't even represent what your members think.

COOPER: The question was about common ground. This is clearly not an issue of whether it's common ground. I appreciate both of you being on and having this discussion. It's an important one. We want to continue that. Thank you very much. Also want to thank all of our guests, to everyone here at the George Washington University and everybody watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now -- Piers.