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Deal Reached on Background Checks; Interview with Larry Pratt; Background Checks Don't Always Work; Gun Control Debate; Stronger, Better, Tougher Gabby

Aired April 10, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a breakthrough deal on background checks that could let gun legislation move forward. But there's still plenty -- plenty of opposition in Congress and beyond. This hour, I'll speak with Gun Owners of America executive director, Larry Pratt.

So what's it like to go through the existing federal background check?

CNN's Chris Cuomo buys a gun himself to find out.

And she's a high profile victim of gun violence -- the former congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, and her husband, they talk about what their life is like right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, Guns Under Fire.

It's being hailed as a breakthrough, a bipartisan compromise that could possibly lead to expanded background checks on gun purchases. But after the slaughter of 20 first graders and six educators in Connecticut spurred an urgent drive to crack down on gun violence, is this what that effort now boils down to?

We're devoting this hour to the gun control battle and we begin with our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's got the very latest -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're exactly right. After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a lot of talk of an assault weapons ban, of limiting those high capacity magazines. But any way you cut it, that would be limiting lawful gun owners' ability to buy guns. And that kind of thing is very difficult to pass through Congress.

That is why supporters of this new compromise to expand background checks hope that this has a chance, especially if you don't call it gun control.


BASH (voice-over): Two senators with A ratings from the NRA appealed directly to their fellow gun owners.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: This is gun sense.

BASH: Their message -- expanding background checks on gun sales is common sense.

MANCHIN: We're not infringing on the rights of an individual citizen. So basically, if you're going to go to a gun show, you should be subjected to same as if you went to the gun store.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The common ground rests on a simple proposition, and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know, for example, from polling, that universal background checks are universally supported, just about.

BASH: Their bipartisan legislation falls short of the universal background checks the president is calling for. It would expand mandatory background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, but would not require background checks for any other private gun sales.

To enforce the expanded law, gun sellers would have to keep a record of the sale. But in a nod to some gun owners' concerns about civil liberties, it explicitly bans the federal government from creating a national registry.

Parents of children killed in Newtown have been lobbying senators for two days. The Sandy Hook tragedy had already spurred these senators to act.

MANCHIN: Nobody here -- and I mean not one of us in this great -- great Capitol of ours, with a good conscience, could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again.

TOOMEY: Background checks are not a cure-all, by any means. But they can be helpful.

BASH: Pat Toomey out front is considered critical for passage. Though he represents the moderate state of Pennsylvania, he is a conservative Republican, expected to bring others on board.

Gun rights and other conservative groups wasted no time blasting Toomey. One called him a, quote, "sellout," and the NRA issued a less personal statement, but one dripping with disappointment, saying, quote, "Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools."

Democrat Joe Manchin says he hopes his fellow NRA members will look beyond the opposition of its leadership.

MANCHIN: NRA has always been basically the benchmark. It's that one that we look toward. It's one I'm proud to be a member of.

BASH: But they're opposed to your legislation.

MANCHIN: Well, you know, that doesn't mean -- my wife disagreed with me the other day and I still love her.


BASH: Now to sweeten the deal, Manchin and Toomey added some things that gun owners and -- and those groups have long championed, things like loosening restrictions on interstate travel for people who have guns and also creating a commission to look into mental health and other things that might cause violence that people use guns with.

But the bottom line is, when you look at the numbers here, the votes, Manchin says that he does believe that they are going to have 60 votes. That is what is going to be necessary to pass this measure.

Then, of course, the next step is going to be passing the overall gun legislation in the Senate. And the big unknown is that, but also what happens in the House, which is led by Republicans.

BLITZER: Well, what does happen?

Let's just say it gets through the Senate and gets through the Senate impressively.

What happens in the House of Representatives, where the Republicans, Dana, as you know, have a significant majority?

BASH: Most people in the House are -- are sort of holding their tongues. They are not saying which -- which way it's going to go. And I think the reason for that is because of the word that you used, impressive. If there is a very large vote, ultimately, for gun legislation, whatever it looks like, it is going to be hard for Republicans who run the House not to bring that up. if it passes on a more partisan level, maybe just picking up a few Republicans, it will be -- it will be more of a question mark whether House Republican leaders will bring this up, or maybe even something slightly different.

BLITZER: There's going to be a fierce debate, as we know.

Thanks very much, Dana, up on the Hill.

If a compromise on expanded background checks does make it through Congress, it will be a pretty weak substitute for what the president of the United States originally proposed, a much more sweeping ban on all sorts of weapons.

But it's still too much for Gun Owners of America. The Gun Owners of America, that organization has been pressing lawmakers who may have wavered on this emotional issue of background checks.

Larry Pratt is the executive director of the organization.

He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Larry, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: All of the recent polls, including our latest CNN/ORC poll, asked -- when we asked, do you support tougher new background checks for gun purchases?, in our new poll just out, 86 percent favor it, 14 percent oppose. A Quinnipiac Poll, a CBS News poll, they had 90 percent saying they support expanding --significantly expanding background checks.

You oppose any expansion, don't you?

PRATT: Well, if a constitutional amendment, part of the Constitution is up for grabs for public opinion, that's one thing, perhaps. But we're not really talking about that. We're talking about polls.

BLITZER: But are 90 percent of the American people...

PRATT: -- we're talking about polls...

BLITZER: -- wrong on background checks?

PRATT: -- that have also said that something like 80 percent of NRA and GOA members are in favor of this legislation. When we polled our members, we got an overwhelming response.

BLITZER: You have 300,000 members in your organization.

PRATT: Three hundred thousand. We got a huge response saying...

BLITZER: All right, because these are the more...


BLITZER: -- your supporters, correct me if I'm wrong, they think the National Rifle Association is too moderate.

PRATT: Only 5 percent of the NRA members supported it when they were polled. So, when you actually ask the people involved, maybe we have a reason to suspect how these polls are put together (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Because there currently are background checks. And you don't believe the existing background checks violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution.


BLITZER: So, an expansion...

PRATT: We think they do violate the Constitution.

BLITZER: But the courts disagree with you. The Supreme Court disagrees with you. PRATT: The Supreme Court was wrong about Dred Scott. The Supreme Court has been wrong on other occasions in the past.

We're saying that this is gun registration. The federal government tells dealers, when they use an Internet portal, this information...

BLITZER: Do you...

PRATT: -- becomes permanent information...

BLITZER: Do you believe...

PRATT: -- of the federal government.

BLITZER: -- mentally ill people - do you believe criminals, felons, terrorists, should be able to go to a gun shop or a gun show or go to an individual and buy a weapon without any background check?

PRATT: No, we think they should be in jail or in an institution.

BLITZER: Well, what if they're not?

PRATT: Well, then that's the fault of a liberal...

BLITZER: What if they've never...

PRATT: -- criminal justice system.

BLITZER: -- committed a crime?

They've never committed a crime -

PRATT: Well, you mean like the dirt bag...

BLITZER: But they do have some...

PRATT: -- in Newtown?

BLITZER: They have some mental illness. They've never committed a crime.

How do you check that if you don't have a background check?

PRATT: You mean like the dirt bag in Newtown?

BLITZER: I'm asking you if they're...

PRATT: I'm answering your...

BLITZER: -- if they're...

PRATT: -- question with this set-up because the murderer of Newtown killed his mother, took her guns, didn't bother with a background check.

BLITZER: There's no one saying that background checks are going eliminate all gun violence in the United States.

But what's wrong with making it more difficult?

PRATT: Because the background check is national gun registration. And all that's on the table right now is to make that a more comprehensive gun registration scheme than we've already had.

BLITZER: Joe Manchin, who's got a pretty good record with the NRA, Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced this compromise legislation today, an excellent record with the NRA. They support the Second Amendment to the Constitution. They want to expand background checks.

Why are they wrong?

PRATT: It's so easy to say you support the Second Amendment. I've heard Senator Schumer say that. He wants more gun control, perhaps, than anybody on Capitol Hill. So their affirmation of the Second Amendment...

BLITZER: But you know you can support...

PRATT: -- is entirely...

BLITZER: -- the First Amendment to the Constitution, free speech, but you can't cry fire in a crowded theater. There are restrictions on amendments.

PRATT: Because that's committing an actual crime. That's not a prior restraint on the use...

BLITZER: Killing someone with a gun is not a crime?

PRATT: That's a crime. But you're talking about prior restraint. You and I didn't have to go through a sensor before we went on this show. But what you're proposing is precisely that and then keeping a registry of it.

BLITZER: You Tweeted today -- and I'll put it up on the screen, "May Senator Toomey experience, in 2016, the same as he did to Senator Specter" - the late Senator Specter of Pennsylvania - "in 2010."

What kind of a threat is that?

PRATT: Well, it means that he ought to be held politically accountable. And the way to do it is in a primary...

BLITZER: But because he...

PRATT: -- just like he did in...

BLITZER: -- he supports expanding background checks, you think his voters should kick him out of office?

PRATT: We're going to be making that argument.

BLITZER: You're going to be going after him aggressively, politically?

PRATT: We're going to look for a viable candidate. And if we find one, then we will certainly -- we'll support him.

BLITZER: Even though 90 percent of American people are with him?

PRATT: I think we already had a discussion about how credible those polls are.

BLITZER: Those polls are very credible.

PRATT: Well, then we wouldn't have a...

BLITZER: These are national polls.

PRATT: -- a pro-Second Amendment Congress, either.

BLITZER: The CNN/ORC poll is very credible, the CBS News poll, Quinnipiac University poll...

PRATT: Not when it says that a huge majority...

BLITZER: They didn't...

PRATT: -- of Gun Owners...

BLITZER: -- they said...

PRATT: -- of America members...

BLITZER: -- they were talking -- they weren't talking about gun owners...

PRATT: And NRA members.

BLITZER: They were talking about...

PRATT: (INAUDIBLE) talked about NRA members.

BLITZER: -- the American public. Our poll asked...

PRATT: -- and only 5 percent...

BLITZER: -- the American public...

PRATT: -- Wolf, 5 percent.

BLITZER: -- where do they stand?

PRATT: Your polls are hokum.

BLITZER: So, let me just be clear. Any senator, Democrat or Republican, who votes for the Toomey/Manchin compromise, you will go after politically?

PRATT: Remember in 1994 - BLITZER: Yes or no?

Yes or no?

PRATT: Yes. Remember 1994. That's when the Democrats thought they could get away with it. They believed your polls and didn't it...

BLITZER: What about the Fox News polls?

PRATT: -- turn out differently?

BLITZER: Did you believe the Fox News polls?

PRATT: I'm not sure I believe any polls at this time. I don't think they know how to ask the right questions.

BLITZER: Larry Pratt is the executive director of the Gun Owners of America.

Thanks for your perspective.

PRATT: Good to be here.


BLITZER: We want to hear from you, our viewers, as well.

So do you support -- Larry, hold on. Don't go anyplace. Stand over there.

Do you support an expansion of background checks for gun sales?

Leave a comment on our Facebook page, or send us a Tweet, @cnnsitroom. We'll reveal some of your responses later this hour.

When we come back, 25 minutes -- that's all it took for our Chris Cuomo to undergo a background check and purchase a gun. We're going to go inside the process to explain what's a -- what it's all about.

And then, former congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, tells us how she's rebuilding her life after becoming a victim of gun violence. This is a CNN exclusive.

And by the way, in our next hour, the North Korean crisis -- as the world waits for a missile launch, the U.S. has a warning of its own.


BLITZER: So what's it like to go through the existing federal background check when making a gun purchase?

CNN's Chris Cuomo got some firsthand experience doing just that. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)



MARINELLO: What can I do for you?

CUOMO: I'm looking for home protection shotgun.

MARINELLO: OK. I'm going to bring you down to our shotgun section.

CUOMO (voice-over): Seemed simple, but there's more to it than you might think. Every purchase from a licensed dealer requires a federal background check.

(on-camera) Are you under indictment? No. Are you convicted of any felony? No.

(voice-over) Twenty-seven personal questions including criminal and mental health history all requiring government confirmation. Add potential state and city laws thousands across the country, and it could feel like an obstacle course.

MARINELLO: There's a background check for the rifle. Then, if you leave in the city, there's the rifle shotgun cart. Then, if you have a pistol, it's also pistol license.

CUOMO: But this pales in comparison the pain the nation felt on December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut. The most vulnerable victimized by dangerous weapons in the wrong sick hands. CNN's latest poll shows people want it to stop. Calls to do something resulting in demands for expanded background checks despite the fact they wouldn't have stopped the Newtown shooter.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that background checks can work, but the problem is loopholes in the current law let so many people avoid background checks all together.

CUOMO: Gun control advocates want all gun sales not just those by dealers subject to background checks.

COLIN GODDARD, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: This background check law that we're talking about is enforcing the law.

CUOMO: Colin Goddard works for the Brady Center to prevent gun violence. He is a gun violence victim, shot four times at Virginia Tech six years ago.

GODDARD: How are you supposed to know if someone's got a felony record? How do you supposed to know if someone's got a restraining order or someone's got a dangerous mental illness without doing a background check. You supposed to, what, look at them really hard?

CUOMO: Gun rights advocates fear checking all sales could lead to a national gun registry and maybe confiscation. The larger concern, making it harder to buy a gun lawfully may not stop massacres and handgun violence. Before owning this Long Island gun store, owner, Mike Marinello, was a police officer for 11 years.

In your experience as a cop, did that hold true?

MARINELLO: In 11 years, I've never had a legal pistol licensee use his firearm in a crime.

CUOMO: Gun control advocates say the nearly two million people who've been denied guns is proof of effectiveness.

DAVID KEENE, NRA PRESIDENT: Most of those people, it turns out, were not on prohibitive lists. Most of them were false positive. Their names look like somebody else. There were records in there that were incomplete. The first thing you have to do is take the system you have and get it fixed and make it work.

CUOMO: Mike says the big issue isn't the law but enforcement.

MARINELLO: If somebody comes in and hell bent on buying a gun, we let them fill out the form and they failed. And then, in a perfect world, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will go arrest that person.

CUOMO: That's the big catch, right?

MARINELLO: Current laws on the books would make this state the safest in the union if they were enforced.

CUOMO: In my case, the system worked. After 25 minutes of completing forms and waiting for approval, I had my shotgun.

Thank you very much.

Chris Cuomo, CNN, Merrick, New York.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So, would background checks have stopped some of the more notorious mass shootings? The sobering investigation. That's straight ahead.

Also, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, she steps into the fight over gun control with a very emotional story about her own upbringing in a city racked by violence.


BLITZER: Minutes after today's compromise on background checks was announced, the National Rifle Association put out a statement complaining that they don't always work. We're talking about background checks. In part, it says this, "The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, or Tucson."

Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is looking into this claim for us. What are you finding out, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are some other gun control proposals that might have had more of an impact on the recent mass shootings like tracking ammunition sales or outlawing large capacity magazines, but from what we know about many of these worse case events, it just doesn't look like the new background check proposals would have helped a lot.


JOHNS (voice-over): Mass shootings like in Newtown, Connecticut have horrified the nation and spurred unprecedented support for universal background checks in gun sales.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the only issue I can think of where 90 percent of the American people agree.

JOHNS: But looking back at recent history, it's not clear that expanded background checks would have prevented the killings. Take the shooter in Newtown, Adam Lanza didn't own the guns he used.

KEENE: You had a guy who stole the guns from his mother. He got the guns. So, none of these things would have changed that.

JOHNS: And what about the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Alleged shooter, James Holmes, actually passed a background check. In Arizona, Jared Loughner passed a background check, too. He shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 other people, killing six. National Rifle Association president, David Keene, says you have to go all the way back to this murder scene in 2007 to show where background checks clearly should have made a difference.

KEENE: The one shooter that might have been prevented by background checks and was not was the Virginia Tech shooter, because he had, in fact, been adjudicated to be potentially violent.

JOHNS: The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, had been found mentally ill by a court and should have been denied sale but slipped through the cracks anyway. The state has since changed its laws to keep it from happening again. Still, advocates of universal checks say it would push more gun sales into the current instant check system, weeding out more dangerous buyers.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: This just takes that and carries to it gun shows, to internet sales, and to things, you know, like that. So, of course, it will have an effect.

JOHNS: But critics say the current background check system needs to be fixed before trying to expand it.

SHERIFF RICK STANEK, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: There are literally tens or hundreds of thousands of additional folks who have been adjudicated through due process through the courts that should never, ever, ever possess or own firearms due to mental illness.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS (on-camera): But that still is the biggest debate over the dangerous mentally ill. In the Colorado shooting, a psychiatrist has said James Holmes was a danger to the public but no court had declared him mentally ill and it never came up in the background check. By the way, this latest Senate proposal, Wolf, would likely not stop another James Holmes because it doesn't change the legal standard for red flagging dangerous mentally ill people.

BLITZER: But, potentially, it would make it more difficult, not perfect by any means, but a little bit more difficult for bad people to get weapons.

JOHNS: And that's the bottom line. If you make it a little bit more difficult and you bring more names of more people trying to buy guns into the system, then there's a greater chance that you're going to be able to catch the individual who needs to be caught.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us. All right. Thank you.

Up next, the first lady, she tearfully recalls the shooting death of a young Chicago girl and her own upbringing in an often violent city.

And a high-profile victim of gun violence, the former congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, and her husband, they tell us what their life is like right now. This is a CNN exclusive.


BLITZER: Happening now, the first lady, Michelle Obama, talks gun violence and she gets very emotional. She's choking up. Why she says one Chicago teen killed in a shooting could have been her?

Also, a CNN exclusive interview with Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman and her husband, Mark Kelly, may tell our Dana Bash about their new normal two years since the Tucson massacre.

And the Pentagon warns North Korea is, quote, "skating very close to a dangerous line." Our special report on the crisis in North Korea. That is just ahead at the top of the hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It is President Obama's ambitious gun control agenda now being reduced to a deal on expanding background checks. Even that bipartisan effort isn't guaranteed to make it through both Houses of Congress.

Joining us now are chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, our chef political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the host of CNNs "State of the Union." What are you hearing from the White House? They issued a nice statement about this compromise on background checks, but they certainly must disappointed they're not getting a whole lot more. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly, Wolf, they are OK with this compromise because the president has been the one pushing Democrats to cut a deal and not let the enemy be the perfect of the good, so to speak.

The line that I found noteworthy in the president's statement is he said, "This is not my bill. If I had done something, if it were mine, I would have done something different." Giving Republicans the ability to vote for this and not make it be a vote for an Obama proposal because it gives them a lot of cover. If it's an Obama bill, they are not going like it.

One thing I'll tell you is the president has personally gotten on the phone and dialed Republican senators and some Democratic senators who are fence-sitters to press them to be a vote to break this filibuster.

BLITZER: He's having a dinner with a dozen Republican senators. We'll see if this comes out.

But Candy, you know the president, he didn't just want to have expanded background checks. He wanted a ban on assault-type weapons. He wanted a reduction of --

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But they always knew that was a reach.

BLITZER: -- high-capacity magazines. None of that looks like it's going forward.

CROWLEY: They went for the moon, but they knew that was a reach. Right now, the sense you get from the president's public statements, from what aides say privately is, send me something so I can sign a bill. They don't want to spend forever -- they want this bill. I'm sure he would have loved the whole thing. They know realistically what they get, and they need to get this off the table.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And look, there are Democrats who want to get this off the table, too, because there are half a dozen Democrats who are in the Senate who are up for re- election in pro-gun states. And so, if you have a compromise like this that they can vote for with the cover of someone like Pat Toomey, a Republican, they want to vote for it and then they want to move on. And so if I were at the White House as Jess says --

BLITZER: Declare a victory and vote.


CROWLEY: Because the window's closing.


BLITZER: -- this is a step, from the White House's perspective, a step in the right direction. But it's not everything clearly they wanted. Here's some poll numbers in our brand new poll. Should the federal government use background checks to create a list of gun owners? Forty-four percent said yes, 55 percent said no. If government creates a list of gun owners, will it use that information to take away guns? Sixty-six percent said yes, 32 percent said no.

Clearly, Candy, there's a fear of government in all of this by a majority of Americans.

CROWLEY: I think it's a mistrust of government. Not so much fear, but just a total mistrust about what they want to do. It's a slippery slope. It's the camel putting his head under the tent. This has been the argument all along. It's not the background checks. By law, those background checks that are done by the federal government have to be destroyed, deleted, whatever they have to do to them -


CROWLEY: Well, the background check, right? So the background check that they asked about -- destroys that information. What gun owners are afraid of is the paperwork of the sale that takes place at these gun shows. Now it already takes place in gun shops, licensed gun dealers. And so what they don't like is that now this also creates more paperwork. And there is, yes, this concern that this is just the beginning and that eventually, even though it's not federalized, so it's not hooked up in one big information system, that it could pretty readily be done.

BORGER: They essentially believe the government is not going manage it properly, which is why when you had this -- this compromise today on guns -- specifically they had, to they spelled out what the bill will not do. And one of the things the bill will not do is it will not create a national registry and makes it illegal.


YELLIN: The big fear is if there's a national registry, the government can then knock on everyone's door who has a gun.

CROWLEY: Right, and confiscate your gun.

YELLIN: There will be no national registry, so that cannot happen.

BLITZER: I know the White House is making a major push this week. The president, vice president, the first lady. Is this going to continue, because the debate will go on for a while, and then move on the House. Will the president continue to be out front, even though he knows he's not going to get some of those big-ticket items he wants?

YELLIN: Yes. For as long as this is out there and waiting to - the vote to be final, the president and the White House will continue pushing, Wolf. We can try to ding the president on other issues. On this issue, I've talked to very aggressive pro-gun control groups. They say he has been 100 percent - BLITZER: Gloria, there's a divide in the country among those who have guns and those who don't have guns. I'll put up another number from our poll, our new CNN/ORC poll. Do you favor stricter gun control laws? Among those individuals who do have a gun in their household, 32 percent favor, 66 percent oppose. If there's no gun in the household, 71 percent favor, 28 percent oppose. There clearly is a divide.

BORGER: There's a divide that way. There's a divide geographically. If you live in a more rural area, you're a little bit more worried about this because you're more likely to own a gun. And it goes back to the point that Candy was making earlier about this question of government overreach. And if you have a gun, you tend to believe okay, the government then is going to get involved in everything else. And I don't trust them, I don't want that registry --

CROWLEY: Well, listen also to the rhetoric in some of these politicians. Governor Malloy after Connecticut said this is the beginning. Listen to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who isn't likely to get her assault weapons ban put back in place who says, well, we'll just keep at it. So, they hear this --


BLITZER: At least for now they won't get it.

BORGER: And Wolf, let me point out about a third of American households are gun owners. So it's not an insignificant group of people.

BLITZER: Three hundred million guns out there in the country right now. All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in as usual.

Just ahead, a Democrat who may become a political casualty of the gun debate. Our special report, by the way, also coming up at the top of the hour on the Korean crisis. That begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern with a new U.S. warning that North Korea right now in the words of the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel -- and he's not one to exaggerate -- threats skating dangerously close to a very dangerous line.


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following a developing story in suburban Atlanta. Yet another incident involving a gun. A SWAT team now is on the scene of a barricaded gunman, gunman's home, apparently, or at least a barricaded gunman someplace who has taken five firefighters hostage. It's happening in Swannee, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.

We're told the fire department responded to a residence for some type of medical call. We're getting more information from our local affiliates. We're getting some reporters and producers on the scene as well. We'll update you with more information once we get it.

Across the country, there may be a groundswell of public opinion in favor of expanding background checks for gun purchases, but politics is still very, very local. And when you're a vulnerable Democrat, gun control can be a risky political business.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM with one specific example to share with our viewers.


Facing a tough reelection in a red state, Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, told CNN in an exclusive interview, it really doesn't matter roughly 90 percent of Americans want universal background checks. In a remarkably honest admission from a politician, Landrieu flatly said she's more focused on the poll numbers in her own state.


MIKE MAYER: But just right now, I want you to point and shoot.

ACOSTA (voice-over): At this Louisiana gun range, Meredith Timberlake is learning how to aim and shoot. She says lessons, not new gun laws, will keep her safe.

MEREDITH TIMBERLAKE, NEW GUN OWNER: The bad guys just looking to have guns, well, I'm going to have a gun, too.

ACOSTA: Her trainer, Keith Moody, is all about the Second Amendment, too. But after the recent rash of mass shootings across the country, this retired Marine would like to see background checks expanded to gun shows and Internet sales.

KEITH MOODY, FIREARMS TRAINER: I think that, you know, we should be doing that anyway.


MOODY: That's part of our responsibility. I don't think...

ACOSTA (on camera): That doesn't infringe on anybody's rights?

MOODY: Not mine. I -- I don't feel it does.

ACOSTA (voice-over): All of that may explain why, in gun-loving Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, a Democrat up for reelection, is not quite ready to pull the trigger on background checks.

(on camera): But you haven't decided one way or the other...

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Well, I haven't seen the bills. I have...

ACOSTA: You...

LANDRIEU: -- until I see the bills and then I will decide how I'm going to vote. But there's no question about my support for the Second Amendment. ACOSTA (voice-over): Landrieu is one of a handful of endangered Senate Democrats in 2014. Their votes in favor of background checks could cost them their seats and hand the Senate to Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've owned a gun all my life.

ACOSTA: Which is why one top gun control group has been airing this ad in Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell Congress, don't protect criminals.


ACOSTA (on camera): When 90 percent of the American people say we want universal background checks, how can you be against that? LANDRIEU: I'm not against that.

ACOSTA: Well, you're not against it, but...

LANDRIEU: I'm not...

ACOSTA: How can you...

LANDRIEU: -- against it, but...

ACOSTA: -- how can you be undecided about it?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, you know, I'm not the president of the United States, I'm a senator from Louisiana. And so I really will follow what the people in my state, you know, want me to do on that issue.

ACOSTA: When you see so much support out there across the country for this one provision, doesn't that give you pause?

LANDRIEU: You know...

ACOSTA: When you...

LANDRIEU: -- I don't know if you understand as a senator from a state...


LANDRIEU: -- senators really look at what their state is saying. And that's what our job is.

ACOSTA: So the numbers may not be the same in Louisiana?

LANDRIEU: The mon -- I don't know what the number is in Louisiana. I do know...

ACOSTA (voice-over): She has good reason to worry about the numbers. Take it from Mike Meyer, the owner of the gun range. MAYER: And we definitely love our firearms. And any vote against that is definitely going to affect her reelection abilities. There's no doubt.

ACOSTA: You've been regarded as one of the endangered Democrats in red states in 2014. Do you see yourself that way?

LANDRIEU: No, I don't. I'm targeted every time.


ACOSTA: And she's won every time. Landrieu has yet to weigh in on the bipartisan background check proposal from senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin. But she's voted in favor of closing the gun show loophole. In the past, a vote she defended to us, Wolf.

BLITZER: She's got a delicate political situation. A bunch of other Democrats have a delicate political situation. They are up for re-election in 2014. As you point out, they are nervous.

ACOSTA: They are nervous, and Mary Landrieu maybe most of all. I mean, she represents Louisiana. On one side, you have New Orleans with a very high crime rate, violent crime rate. On the other hand, very rural areas of her state. After all, it is the sportsman's paradise, as they call it down there in Louisiana. It's no surprise she's undecided on this issue. And she is undecided for right now on this bipartisan proposal that came out earlier today. No word yet from her office.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thanks for that report.

The first lady stepped into the gun debate today. Stay right here. You'll hear what Michelle Obama had to say to an audience in her hometown of Chicago. She got very emotional.

And later, the defense secretary of the United States issues a tough brand new warning to North Korea. Our special on the Korean crisis, that begins right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: One of the major architects of this latest compromise on expanding background checks is a gun supporter from a pro-gun state. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia grew emotional today as he talked about meeting with families of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre victims up on Capitol Hill.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What impact do these families, these citizens, their presence this week?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Let me tell you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have on your (INAUDIBLE). MANCHIN: I'm a parent. I'm a parent. Let's all share. I can't imagine. Just -- just sad.


BLITZER: Obviously very, very moving for the senator. Everyone else in that room totally, totally understandable given what the horrors that those folks have gone through and there was more emotion today from the First Lady Michelle Obama. She told a deeply personal story of her own upbringing in a city that struggled with gun violence.

In Chicago today the first lady compared her childhood to that of Hadiya Pendleton. She's the young woman -- the young teen who was murdered a week after returning from a visit to Washington during the president's inauguration.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We all know Hadiya's story. She was 15 years old. An honor student at King College Prep. She came from a good family. Two devoted parents, plenty of cousins, solid godparents and grandparents, and adoring little brother.

The Pendletons are hard working people. They're church going folks. And Hadiya's mother did everything she could for her daughter. She enrolled her in everything activity you could imagine, cheerleading, majorettes, the Praise Dance Ministry, anything to keep her off the streets and keep her busy.

And as I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya's funeral, I couldn't get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya's family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up and go to Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and have a career and a family, and the most blessed life I could ever imagine.

And Hadiya, oh, we know that story. Just a week after she performed at my husband's inauguration, she went to a park with some friends. And got shot in the back. Because some kid thought she was in a gang.

Hadiya's family did everything right. But she still didn't have a chance. And that story, the story of Hadiya's life and death, we read that story day after day, month after month, year after year, in the city and around this country. So I'm not talking about something that's happening in a war zone halfway around the world. I am talking about what's happening in the city that we call home. The city where we're raising our kids. The city where your businesses operate.

This kind of violence is what so many young people like Hadiya Pendleton are dealing with every single day. And those two boys charged with her shooting, this is the violence they were facing as well. And you have to wonder, what if, instead of roaming around with guns, boys like them had access to a computer lab, or a community center, or some decent basketball courts. Maybe everything would have turned out differently. Maybe they would be doing their homework, or taking jump shots or learning a new program instead of looking for trouble. Maybe if these kids saw some kind of decent future for themselves instead of shootings, there would just be fist fights. Some angry words exchanged.

And then maybe, just maybe, today more of our young people would be in classrooms and at jobs instead of in custody, facing even worse odds than they started out with. See, at the end of the day, this is the point I want to make. That resources matter. They matter. That what it takes to build strong, successful young people isn't genetics, or pedigree, or good luck, it's opportunity.

And I know from my own experience, I started out with exactly the same aptitude, exactly the same intellectual, emotional capabilities as so many of my peers. And the only thing that separated me from them was that I had a few more advantages than some of them did.

I had adults who pushed me. I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed. I had a community that supported me. And a neighborhood where I felt safe. And in the end, that was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother, and first lady of the United States, and being shot dead at the age of 15.

We need to show them, not just with words, but with action, that they are not alone in this struggle. We need to show them that we believe in them, and we need --


BLITZER: Powerful words from the first lady of the United States, indeed. She's getting emotional.

A lot of people are getting very, very emotional as far as gun violence if the United States is concerned. And we're just getting this information in from the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. Take a look at this. This just coming in. Harry Reid saying, there will be a vote to break the Republican filibuster on gun control tomorrow morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. They will need 60 votes to break the Republican filibuster, from some Republican senators that vote 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Widespread expectations that there will be 60 votes, when you add the 55 Democrats and a few Republicans who will vote to break that filibuster. They expect that filibuster will be broken. Much more on that coming up.

When we come back, here this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have a CNN exclusive. The former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords tells our own Dana Bash about life since being shot.

And at the top of the hour, a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, the North Korean crisis.


BLITZER: Let's get to our exclusive right now. Dana Bash spent two days with Gabby Giffords.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In your recovery process, do you want to find and discover the old Gabby Giffords, or do you want to sort of rediscover another new Gabby Giffords?

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE: Stronger. Stronger, better, tougher. Stronger, better, tougher.

BASH (voice-over): For Giffords and Kelly, a retired astronaut and space shuttle commander, this is the new normal.

MARK KELLY, GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE: It's different in good ways, too. In a lot of good ways.

BASH: Like living and working together now.

GIFFORDS: Just looking forward to making a change this fall.

BASH: Before she was shot, they had a commuter marriage. She jetted between her congressional district in Tucson, Arizona, and work in Washington, D.C. He lived in Houston, Texas, where he worked at the space center. This is the first home they've bought and lived in together.

Another plus, before Giffords was shot, she had a rocky relationship with Kelly's two teenage daughters from a previous marriage.

(On camera): But the sort of tense relationship that you had with your daughters, that's changed.

GIFFORDS: Yes, changed.

BASH: So that's -- that's a positive.

GIFFORDS: Yes, yes.

KELLY: Yes, a lot better.

GIFFORDS: A lot better.

KELLY: Yes. They've -- well, they've also grown up a little bit, too. And, you know, as a family, we've evolved. Because of certainly -- you know, because of what happened. But it's brought us all closer together.