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Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch Remembered; Obama Pitches Plan To Curb Gun Violence

Aired February 4, 2013 - 14:29   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: The bottom of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Right now, President Obama is following through on his promise to take his thoughts, take the national conversation on gun control, straight to the American people.

What he's doing today is he's meeting with local leaders and police in Minneapolis. It's a city known for taking initiatives on the gun control issue. And he is expected to make a statement here just minutes from now. These are live pictures as we await the president, who will be first introduced by the chief of police there in Minneapolis. So stay tuned for that.

But first, the gun conversation certainly resonating all around the country. Last night, we were watching, before the Super Bowl here.

Look at these little boys and girls, along with Jennifer Hudson, singing "America The Beautiful" ahead of the big game.

Take a listen.


BALDWIN: Again, that is the Sandy Hook choir, midfield ahead of the game. But also here, Jennifer Hudson you know the story, her life has also been touched by gun violence. Her mother, her brother, and young nephew were killed in 2008 when her brother-in-law went on a shooting spree.

Also during the Super Bowl, of course, there were all kinds of ads and commercials, but this one in particular caught my eye.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The NRA once supported background checks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think it is reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: America can do this for us. Please.


BALDWIN: That ad aired in Washington, D.C., it was paid for by the group "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," and in this ad it features the NRA's Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre in a video back from 1999 in which he said that he supports universal background checks on gun purchases.

But last week, during a CNN town hall on gun control, the NRA made it very, very clear that the group's leaders do not support universal background checks. Listen to that.


SANDY FROMAN, NRA BOARD MEMBER: There is 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 checks of law abiding people who aren't the problem?


BALDWIN: That was Sandy Froman, an NRA board member. We can't talk about the gun debate, of course, without showing this photo. Take a look. This was released Saturday, White House releasing this photograph of the president using a shotgun.

Part of skeet shooting up at Camp David, an effort to show the president has, quote/unquote, "profound respect for America's hunting traditions" as he told "The New Republic" in an interview recently.

Wolf Blitzer joins me now. And, Wolf, as we await the president speaking in Minneapolis, let's just you and I chat for a moment here again. There are the live pictures. Look, I mean, there is a lot going on, obviously, nationwide, in terms of the gun debate. First, just in terms of the president speaking there today, what should we expect to hear?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I think we'll hear the president reiterate what he's been saying now for the last few weeks, especially since Newtown, Connecticut, the massacre there at that elementary school. He wants Congress to take action.

He's hoping Congress can come up with a bipartisan piece of legislation that will win passage. If it can't then he says he will introduce his own legislation and ask Congress, in effect, demand Congress put it up for a vote.

Here are the key questions that I think we have to look at. There are various components of what the president wants. As far as background checks, there is overwhelming popularity now for expanding background checks. There is also popularity for limiting the amount of bullets in these magazine clips, if you will.

And on those two areas, the president and the Democrats working with Republicans, they have a shot potentially of get something legislation to the president's desk.

When it comes to banning or limiting these military style assault weapons, that's a really uphill struggle for the Democrats, for the president, they know that. In the end, they may have to break these various components up, see what they can do, get background checks passed, maybe get some magazines passed as far as reducing the number of bullets or ammunition in those magazines.

As far as the assault weapons ban, that's a real problem because there is such widespread opposition including not only from Republicans, but from a bunch of Democrats as well.

BALDWIN: Before we talk maybe more specifics on the legislation and what is passable and what's not, I think it is important to point out, Wolf. Again, this is Minneapolis. When I read, of course, the president was in Minneapolis, I wondered, well, why the city specifically?

You know, I did some reading, I know that this is a reading that in recent years had been pretty tough on gun control. It was a city in the '90s that was known as murder-apolis and they have apparently come a long way, haven't they?

BLITZER: They certainly have. They have reduced that death rate from guns, if you will, in Minneapolis and elsewhere in Minnesota. The mayor of Minneapolis is going to be at this event with the president, both senators from Minnesota, both of whom are Democrats, they will be there, the governor, Mark Dayton, is going to be there as well.

A lot of local officials, police chiefs, and others that are going to be participating in this roundtable and the president wants to underscore there are certain steps you can take in these major urban areas that will reduce gun violence if you will. That will be one of the themes in thinks remarks and in this conversation with these local officials.

BALDIWN: Wolf, do me a favor and stand by as we await the president there, speaking in Minneapolis. I have a photo. I know you've seen, I want to have a conversation about this photograph, the White House released over the weekend of the president skeet shooting in Camp David back in August. We're going to talk about this after this quick break.


BALDWIN: Back here live, let's go ahead and take a look here as we await the president speaking in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Any moment now, he's basically making good on his promise.

He wants to take this national conversation about gun control to the American people, and this is case in point of the president doing that today. So we will hear from the president in a matter of minutes.

Want to bring Wolf Blitzer back in as part of this conversation for me in Washington. Wolf, before the break, we were talking about this photograph. So Michael, go ahead and throw the photograph up on the screen of the president.

Here it was. This was a photograph that the White House released on Saturday. This was the president skeet shooting back in August, I believe, it was on his birthday. And, wolf, you know the back story.

So the president sat down, did an interview with the "New Republic," and "New Republic" basically asking the president, have you ever shot a gun? The president said, yes, he goes skeet shooting all the time at Camp David.

So there were skeptics. Those who said that, you know, does he really skeet shoot? There has been criticism ever since. You've covered the White House for years and years, just optics wise, are you surprised they released this?

BLITZER: I thought they should have released it right away as soon as the president mentioned it in that interview that he likes to do skeet shooting when he's up at Camp David and then there was, you know, I think Marsha Blackburn, the Republican congresswoman, from Tennessee, said, if he does that, why don't they release a picture?

They should have released the picture, said, here's the picture, you can see the president likes to do this once and a while. Look, White House officials acknowledge he's not a hunter, he's not a major sportsman as far as guns are concerned, but once in a while you go up to Camp David, I've been to Camp David, it is a huge, huge area.

You want to do some skeet shooting. Skeet shooting, you can do some skeet shooting. I'm sure he's not a pro at it. I'm not sure how good he is or how bad he is. Some asking questions is he really doing this, is this picture Photoshopped? What is going on?

Look, it is a picture of the president at Camp David having a little fun, doing some shooting. He had mentioned it. They'd released the picture, but you know, there are going to be cynics or skeptics out there wondering is this for real or not?

Is this just for show that the president is trying to show he's a sportsman, if you will? But you know, people will ask those questions and let's see if it goes anywhere. I'm pretty skeptical of this whole discussion, but that's just me.

BALDWIN: Well, it is sort of just part of the conversation. We just wanted to fold it in there, you know, just hearing --

BLITZER: I know. Look, that picture was on the front page of every newspaper in the United States on Sunday. It has been all over the place. As I said, I think the White House should have just released that picture right away instead of letting it drag on for a few days.

And now people -- experts are questioning is his hand in the right place, why isn't it being pointed up toward the sky if you're skeet shooting and all of this. I've read all those questions. I've seen all that. It is one still photo of the president with a shotgun, you know. Let's see if there are any more pictures or whatever.

BALDWIN: Let's move past the photo, Wolf Blitzer, and again, just remind our viewers that we are awaiting the president speaking in Minneapolis again. This is a city really that's really reinforced and made true to their word in terms of curtailing gun crime and gun violence in a city very much known for gun crimes and murders in the '90s. We're awaiting the president. Quick break. Back after this.


BALDWIN: And irrepressible icon, that is how New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Big Apple legend, former New York Mayor Ed Koch. A memorial service was held today for the outspoken leader who passed away on Friday.

And talk about a who's who of New York political heavyweights. They were in attendance. You see former President Bill Clinton there, long-time friend of Mayor Koch. Here is how the former president remembered this one of a kind mayor.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I sent him a note on his 88th birthday and he wrote me a nice letter back and he didn't typically mention his own illness. Instead he asked about Hillary's health instead. He had a big brain, but he had a bigger heart.

So Ed, how's she doing? She's doing fine, but she misses you. We're all doing fine, but we miss you. And we miss you so much because we all know we're doing a lot better, because you lived and served.


BALDWIN: As the casket is removed you see attendees giving a standing ovation as the organist played "New York, New York." Koch's casket was carried out of the synagogue. Ed Koch was 88 years old. He led New York City from 1978 to 1989.


BALDWIN: Want to get you right back to these live pictures here in Minneapolis. Here he is, the president of the United States, speaking in Minneapolis, taking the national conversation of gun control to the people.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So I've gotten soft over the last four years. When I was in Chicago, this was nothing. Now it's something, but I'm grateful for all of you being here today.

I want to thank Chief Hartow and the entire Minneapolis Police Department for having me here today. There are a number of other people I want to acknowledge here. First of all, a wonderful man and one of America's greatest public servants is here, Walter Mondale, former vice president.

Your outstanding Governor Mark Dayton is here. Two great mayors, Mayor Artie Rybak of Minneapolis and Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, and your outstanding congressional delegation Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Al Franken, Representative Keith Elson, and Representative Betty McCollum.

And I should acknowledge my outstanding attorney general. What's your name again? He does a great job every single day and I could not be prouder of Eric Holder for his leadership on this issue in particular.

Now, I just had a chance to sit down with some local police officers, but also community leaders, as well as folks who themselves have been victims or whose families have been victims of gun violence, to hear their ideas about how we can protect our kids, and address the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.

Because if we're serious about preventing the kinds of tragedies that happened in Newtown, or the tragedies that happened every day in places like Chicago, or Philadelphia or Minneapolis, then law enforcement and other community leaders must have a seat at the table.

All the folks standing here behind me today, they're the ones on the front line of this fight. They see the awful consequences, the lives lost, the families shattered. They know what works. They know what doesn't work and they know how to get things done.

Without that regard for politics, so we had a very productive discussion and one of the things that struck me was that even though those who were sitting around that table represented very different communities, big cities, small towns, they all believe it is time to take some basic common sense steps to reduce gun violence.

We may not be able to prevent every massacre or random shooting. No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe. But there is even one thing we can do, if there is one life we can save, we have an obligation to try.

That's been the philosophy here in Minneapolis, a few years back you suffered a spike in violent crime involving young people. So this city came together. You launched a series of initiatives that reduced the number of young people injured by guns by 40 percent, 40 percent.

So when it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you've shown that progress is possible, still got to deal with the 60 percent that remains, but that 40 percent means lives saved. Parents whose hearts aren't broken. Communities that aren't terrorized and afraid.

We don't have to agree on everything to agree it is time to do something. That's my main message here today and each of us has a role to play. A few weeks ago, I took action on my own to strengthen background checks, to help schools get more resource officers, if they want them. And to direct the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of violence because for a long time, even looking at the evidence was considered somehow tough politics. So Congress had taken the approach that we don't want to know. That's never the answer to a problem is not wanting to know what is going on.

So we have been able to take some steps through administrative action. Real change requires Congress to do its part and to do it soon. Not to wait. Good news is we're starting to see a consensus emerge about the action Congress needs to take.

The vast majority of Americans including a majority of gun owners support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun so right now Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one.

That's common sense. There is no reason why we can't get that done. That is not a liberal idea or conservative idea, not a Democratic or Republican idea. That is a smart idea. We want to keep those guns out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them.

Senators from both parties have also come together and proposed a bill that would crack down on people who buy guns only to turn them around and sell them to criminals. It is a bill that would keep more guns off the street, and out of the hands of people with the intent of doing harm.

And, by the way, in addition to reducing violence on the streets it would also make life a lot easier and a lot safer for the people standing behind me here today. We shouldn't stop there.

We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons, and a ten-round limit for magazines. And that deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers.

Our law enforcement officers should never be outgunned on the streets. But we also know that if we're going to solve the problem of gun violence, then we have got to look at root cause is as well. That means we should make it easier for young people to get access to mental health treatment.

We should help communities like this one keep more cops on the beat. And since congress hasn't confirmed a director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm your U.S. attorney from Minnesota, Todd Jones, who is here today, and who has been nominated for this post.

These are commonsense measures supported by Democrats, Republicans, and independents, and in many of them are responsible gun owners. We're seeing members of both parties putting aside their differences and work together to make many of them a reality.

But if there is one thing I've learned over the last four years, it is that you can't count on anything in Washington until it's done and nothing is done yet. There has been a lot of talk, a lot of conversation, a lot of publicity, but we haven't actually taken concrete steps yet.

The last week the Senate held its first hearing since Newtown on the need to address gun violence and the best way to move forward. The first people to offer testimony were Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.

They talked about how a complex problem like this has no single solution, but still had a ten-round limit on magazines, for example, the gunman who shot Gabby may never have been able to inflict 33 gunshot wounds in 15 seconds, 15 seconds, 3 rounds fired.

Some of the six people who lost their lives that day in Tucson might still be with us. Changing the status quo is never easy. This will be no exception. The only way we can reduce gun violence in this country is if the American people decide it is important.

If you decide it's important, if parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sports men, Americans of every background stand up and say this time it has got to be different. We have suffered too much pain to stand by and do nothing.

And, by the way, it is really important for us to engage with folks who don't agree with us on everything, because we hope that we can find some areas where we do agree and we have to recognize that there are going to be regional differences and geographical differences.

The experience the people have of guns in an urban neighborhood may not be the same as in a rural community. But we know, for example, for polling, that universal background checks are universally supported by gun owners. Majority of gun owners, overwhelming majority of gun owners think that's a good idea.

So if we have lobbyists in Washington, claiming to speak for gun owners, saying something different, we need to go to the source and reach out to people, directly. We can't allow the filters to get in the way of common sense. That's why I need everybody who is listening to keep the pressure on your member of Congress to do the right thing.

Ask them if they support common sense reforms like requiring universal background checks or restoring the ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Tell them there is no legislation to eliminate all guns.

There is no legislation being proposed to subvert the second amendment, tell them specifically what we're talking about, things that the majority of Americans, when they are asked, support and tell them now is the time for action. That we're not going to wait until the next Newtown or the next Aurora. We're not going to wait until after we lose more innocent Americans on street corners all across the country, not going to wait until somebody else's father or son are murdered. Some of the officers here today know what it is like to look into the eyes of a parent or a grandparent, a brother or a sister who has just lost a loved one to an act of violence, to see that -- the pain and the heartbreak and wondering why this precious life, this piece of your heart was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It changes you. You're not the same afterwards. And, obviously, whatever that experience is like is nothing compared to the experiences that those families are actually going through. And it makes you realize that if there is even one thing we can do to keep our children and our community safe, if there is just one step we can take to prevent more families from feeling what they feel after they have lost a loved one, we have got an obligation to take that step.

We have got an obligation to give our police officers and our communities the tools they need to make some of the same progress that has been made here in Minneapolis. There won't be perfect solutions. We're not going to save every life, but we can make a difference. That's our responsibility as Americans.

That's what I will do every single day as long as I have got the honor of serving as your president.

So, thank you. God bless you. God bless these United States of America. Thank you.



BALDWIN: The president of the United States flanked by law enforcement making the point that, as he said, law enforcement has to have a seat at the table when it comes to enforcing gun legislation, gun rules, you know, citing the city of Minneapolis as a perfect example, talked about the spike of violent crime among young people a number of years ago and because of the youth initiatives they were able to reduce the crime by, as he pointed out, 40 percent, using that sort of as perhaps a microcosm of what he would like to see nationwide -- so the president there in Minneapolis.