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Conspiracy Theorists Attack Florida Massacre Survivor; Shooting Survivors Take Gun Control Fight to State Capital. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:13] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Look, the good news is that that state rep's aide was fired right after this, because it was so appalling that he fell for this. I mean, what kind of lack of brain power and lack of critical thinking do you have to have if you're working in the state House and and you think to send that to a reporter. So he was fired. So people are taking action.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's one thing to be critical of policy positions. We're seeing a lot of that. But where it veers into conspiratorial thinking, what goes all the way down these roads into these sick ideas, these sick smears, that is a problem for our society, and I think we all have a role to play to solve it.

CAMEROTA: Brian Stelter, thank you very much. Thanks for the conversation.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you CNN "NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our NEW DAY.

One week after a deranged gunman turned a school into a war zone, about 100 of the survivors of that high school massacre are going to march to the state capitol in Florida and take their gun reform fight to lawmakers.

Now, there's already been a suffering of a setback here. The Republican-controlled House, listen to this, they voted to refuse to debate an assault weapons ban and instead, they voted to debate a bill that declares pornography a public health risk.

CAMEROTA: So President Trump tweeting his support for strengthening background checks for gun purchases and directing the Justice Department to draft a ban on bump stocks.

This comes as the president will hold a listening session at the White House today with mass shooting victims, though we don't know exactly who.

CNN will hold a special town hall meeting tonight with the survivors, the parents, and some Florida politicians to find solutions on gun violence and school safety. So will our nation's elected officials choose children over guns? That's what the Parkland students are asking today.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Diane Gallagher. She is live in Tallahassee with our top story -- Diane.

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, so we are inside the Tallahassee Civic Center. The kids are getting breakfast, about 100 of these Stoneman Douglas students, kind of waking up, getting some of this breakfast before a really full agenda.

I talked to a lot of the kids who said they might have gotten between an hour and two hours of sleep. They're excited, they're nervous, they're ready to take on these meetings with Florida state lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats.

A lot of them say that because it is the one-week anniversary, there's a little bit of sorrow in the day. But they're taking the memory of those students and their teachers who passed in that massacre and say that even though they've already suffered a setback, they feel that their message is going to resonate.


RYAN DEITSCH, STUDENT SURVIVOR OF SCHOOL SHOOTING: They just want to throw it away. They want to sweep it under the rug. We're hear saying that you can't sweep anything under the rug anymore.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Survivors of the Florida high school massacre voicing outrage after the state's Republican-controlled legislature voted against a measure to consider a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty-six yeas, 71 nays, Mr. Speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the motion is not adopted.

GALLAGHER: Students who survived the attack overcome with emotion as the bill was defeated.

SHERYL ACQUAROLI, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: The next step of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It's going to be on them, and it's going to be their fault.

GALLAGHER: Nearly all 71 lawmakers who struck down the bill have an "A" rating from the NRA. Instead of debating guns, lawmakers choosing to begin a debate on a bill that declares pornography as a public health risk.

Dozens of students from Douglas High traveling 400 miles to the state's capital by bus. The rallying cry, "Never again," as they hope to pressure lawmakers into taking action on gun control.

CHRIS GRADY, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Our message is at this point to the politicians, if you aren't with us, you're against us. We're trying to save the lives of innocent children. KAI KOERBER, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We're all here because

we need -- we need to strive for change, and the legislation needs to change. Because we've fallen victim to lazy legislation for far too long.

GALLAGHER: Republican Governor Rick Scott promising to unveil a legislative plan by Friday.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: My goal is to come up with something that is going to move the needle and make parents feel comfortable that their kid's going to go to a safe school.

GALLAGHER: President Trump tweeting his support for strengthening background checks for gun purchases after a new national poll shows an overwhelming number of Americans want it to happen.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump directed the Justice Department to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks, a process that has been ongoing since the Las Vegas massacre.

TRUMP: We're working very hard. We're going to come up with solutions. It's been many, many years, and there have been no solutions. We're going to come up with solutions.

GALLAGHER: But Mr. Trump's only action on guns since taking office was to undo restrictions aimed at mental illness. And the president's proposed budget would cut millions from existing background check systems.

[07:05:04] This as the president's son, Don Jr., comes under scrutiny for liking two Twitter posts pushing conspiracy theories about Florida shooting survivor David Hogg and his father, who's a former FBI agent.

DAVID HOGG, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It's disgusting the fact that so many people think that this is true. And it's honestly pretty sad that people have lost that much faith in America. We have a right to live, just like we have a right to bear arms.


GALLAGHER: Now President Trump is going to hold a listening session this afternoon with parents, students, and teachers from past U.S. shootings. And the White House also indicated that he may be opening -- open to lowering the age -- excuse me, raising the age to buy an AR-15-style weapon, but they stopped short of saying that he would be in favor of instating -- reinstating that assault weapon ban.

The kids here say that that sounds great, but that's talk. They want action. And action is what they're going to be demanding when they leave in about half an hour to march to that state capitol and talk to those state lawmakers -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Diane. We see them getting ready there. Thank you very much for the reporting from the scene.

Joining us now to talk about it are CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory.

So David, those kids are going to march ten blocks very soon, and they're going to go meet with the governor who has suggested that he does want to come up with a proposal by Friday. He has said they're going to meet with state reps. Of course, they did have that setback yesterday. The kids were hoping that the state legislature would vote to even start debate on banning assault weapons. They did not do that.

However, today is a new day, and those kids are taking their message right to the lawmakers.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's a lot of activism. I do think it's different than we've seen in the past. And I think that those who want to see something done that's real at the state level or at the federal level have to recognize this is about achieving what's possible with those who may be less inclined to pass any kind of gun-control measures.

And it's also about harnessing power. This is about a longer-term strategy of creating enough energy and activism that isn't just about the immediate aftermath of a horrible event like this. It's about taking it into an election cycle and creating voters who become single-issue voters on this particular issue.

That's a longer-term strategy for change that we just haven't seen yet. You know, we've seen billionaires, you know, like Mike Bloomberg in New York saying that he'll go toe to toe with the NRA and spend in election cycles. We just haven't seen it have the kind of impact.

Now this is a new start with a kind of a, you know, a new group of activists who might have some impact.

CUOMO: Now, look, I like that point, actually. Because, you know, we are spending time doing what we should, which is calling out people who are attacking these kids. And there is a lot of B.S. going on to try to take the momentum out of these kids' efforts.

And it's not just about them. Right? Ninety-seven percent of people polled said they want something done to make this different. I've never even heard of a number that high on a policy level.

And this is on background checks. Right? That's an important question. It's not on gun control; it's not on an assault weapons ban. It's on background checks.

But his point is right: The NRA does kill you with money. There's no question about it. But they don't lead the league in donations. They lead the league in getting people out to go out to politicians and say, "John, you do what you do what you feel to do, but I promise you I will beat you in your next primary if you don't vote the way I want." If people who care about this vote on it, that will change things faster than anything else.

AVLON: And the most important words you just said are "in your primary." CUOMO: Yes.

AVLON: This is a play to the base strategy that benefits from polarization and hyper partisanship, and it's allowed the NRA to hijack a party and really move away from what is a clear broad consensus to the American people. This is a divisive issue. But 97 percent back background checks. We had an assault weapons ban in this country.

And these kids do have the opportunity to elevate the debate in a way that didn't occur after Sandy Hook. And it is cynicism versus hope in the political arena.

President Trump deserves credit for taking a step yesterday, apparently, on bump stock. Let's not--

CUOMO: And background checks.

CAMEROTA: And background. And saying he may be open to raising the minimum age.

AVLON: Let's -- let's stay tuned to see what the actual follow- through is.

CUOMO: At least he's not talking his typical nonsense like, you know, this didn't even really happens or it's not even that bad a deal. At least he's on the right side of momentum.

AVLON: Yes. Let's thank God for small mercies. But -- but I do think we don't want to default. This is going to be a long fight. But 97 percent, Chris, as you point out, that number is staggering. And this is going to be real politics that's going to get this done. It's not going to be wishing and hoping. But the door is open in a different way today.

GREGORY: Can I say something else? I actually think it's a waste of time to spend time on the Dinesh de Souza's of the world who are going after these kids.

CAMEROTA: These conspiracy theorists.

GREGORY: Yes. I mean, this is nonsense; this is ugliness. And guess what? It exists. It exists out there on social media every day.

But thinking people are going to reject that. There has to be a mutual respect on both sides.

[07:10:04] There has to be respect for people who are for gun rights who see this issue not only as a slippery slope but they see it as a proxy. These are small "C" conservatives. These are small-government conservatives. These are people who support populist politicians who want -- who believe in government overreach generally and see guns as a core American issue on which to fight. That's why they've been organized. And that's not a completely misguided principle, because there was an effort on the left to ban handguns for a long time. So there has to be some respect for that. And then go to work on things that make sense. Just like -- how about

seatbelts? You know, we made driving in a car a lot safer on the highways with seatbelts with those kind of regulations. There has to build on that momentum.

And why a kid with this kind of record with the law -- with law enforcement should be able to get a gun should be a problem for anyone who's a supporter of gun rights or not.


GREGORY: That's where I think the momentum's got to be.

CAMEROTA: I don't think he was part of the well-regulated militia that the Founding Fathers were stipulating.


AVLON: I appreciate the point that David's making, particularly as this gets legislative. You need to find a way to find common ground. There's going to need to be compromise on both sides. Absoluters need not apply.

We need to have reality checks. Like, you know, why should 18-year- olds be able to get access to a weapon of war when they can't buy a beer? And there needs to be an understanding that urban and rural communities tend to use guns differently. So all those things need to be said.

But I do think it's worth calling out the extremes. Because I think they can actually help consolidate the sensible center.

When you see an ostensible -- someone who once considered themselves a card carrying conservative intellectual like Dinesh de Souza descend to a kind of bitter ugly cynicism -- it's not even the same universe of "what would Jesus do" -- to denigrate those kids on social media. And I think it therefore actually helps clarify the debate and the terms of the debate. So I don't think we should simply dismiss that. I'm just treating it that way.

CAMEROTA: So the kids had a setback yesterday where they went to the statehouse, and they were in the gallery watching as the lawmakers decided not to even take up this debate.

CUOMO: Thirty-six, 71.

CAMEROTA: That was the debate? That was the bill?

CUOMO: That was the vote.

CAMEROTA: Oh, 36. I got it. So 71 of the state lawmakers decided not to even allow the debate on an assault weapon ban. And you can see the kids.

But I mean, obviously, guys, we've been talking about this. They have to be in this for the long haul. This was the first setback. There will be others. But there will also be steps forward. And so they're going to have to steel themselves that obviously the -- I mean, they started with the assault ban. That's a hard one. That's ambitious. That's hard to start with.

CUOMO: Yes, but what they're debating was also a slap in the face.

CAMEROTA: Oh. They chose to debate porn as a public health policy instead.

CUOMO: Yes. So these weapons aren't a public health policy. This background system isn't a health policy, but porn is, David. So that's demanded the attention with the kids in the audience.

GREGORY: Right. Right, exactly. But, you know, where I think the president has been constructive so far, and as John says, we have to give him his due with the caveat he was also constructive when it came to immigration. What happened? I still am looking around for what happened to the immigration debate. And I don't mean to be factious. I'm shocked and dismayed by that, because I thought there was a real opportunity there that this president had uniquely, when he complained about other people not doing things.

Now he says he wants to do it on guns. But it is smart to say, "How do we strengthen background checks?" You know, "The Wall Street Journal" this morning talks about strengthening the federal background check system that is an existing bill that Democrats opposed on principle grounds, because there were concealed carry laws that were part of that across state lines that they oppose. And so there's ways to remedy that. Bump stocks is a way to remedy it.

We have to remember: the debate over banning assault weapons is one that will have to be joined again. And that has a troubled history. Remember the 1994 midterm elections and the -- and the shellacking that the Democrats took. It was because of that assault weapons ban. There is a deep history politically of how much they want to take on.

CUOMO: I remember my father. He ran and lost in 1994. He would not shut up about how the ban was the right move. You know, death penalty was big then, also. People vote on this issue. And they will vote against you. The question is will people vote for you, people who are doing the same thing?

CAMEROTA: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

CUOMO: All right. So we're talking about the kids this morning. Because to have a group of survivors like this is unique in what we've seen so far. They are old enough to make the case for themselves. And that's exactly what's going to happen tonight. You're have some of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. They're going to be face to face with lawmakers of their state at a CNN townhall.

Kaylee Hartung is live in Sunrise, Florida, with a preview. This should be a very important night.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It should be, Chris. How many times over the past week have we thought, something feels different in the wake of this school shooting. And that's been in large part, as you mentioned, because of the outrage and the passion that the students, the survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School have shared with us.

Many will bring that emotion here to the BB&T Center tonight at a chance to begin a conversation with elected officials and hopefully effect change.

Thousands are expected to attend. We're talking about students from Stoneman Douglas, their parents, teachers, and administrators who will have the opportunity in this town hall format to confront lawmakers.

[07:15:10] Among those lawmakers here tonight, Congressman Ted Deutch, the Democratic representative of the district that includes Parkland. Many students telling me he has been a tremendous resource to them over the past week. Also, the state's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson as well as Republican Marco Rubio.

Rubio comes here with a spotlight on him. Teenagers have not been afraid to call him out for the millions of dollars he's accepted from the NRA. I wouldn't expect them to hold back with him tonight.

There will also be a national spokesperson for the NRA for them to question, as well.

We should mention President Trump and Florida's governor Rick Scott were also invited to attend but declined the invitation or the opportunity to be here via satellite. Alisyn, we expect this to be a moving and a powerful evening.

CAMEROTA: And you know, Kaylee, good -- good for Marco Rubio, for Senator Rubio, for agreeing to go and confront these students. As you point out on, not everybody did. So it will be fascinating to see what happens tonight. Kaylee, thank you very much for the preview.

So just minutes from now, about 100 students who survived the deadly attack, will begin their march towards the state capital in Florida. One student tells us about their "never again" message that they're bringing to lawmakers, next.


[07:20:21] CAMEROTA: OK. So just minutes from now, about 100 survivors of the Florida high school massacre will begin their march to the Florida state capital. They will spend the day meeting with dozens of lawmakers, including their governor, Rick Scott, as they push for a change to gun laws.

So joining us now is shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv and Florida state senator Lauren Book. They are just two of the organizers of this trip to Tallahassee.

Thanks so much for taking the time. I know you have a busy day. So Kyle, just tell us what message are you bringing to the governor today? KYLE KASHUV, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I ultimately want to

accomplish to make sure that we have mental health restrictions in place so people who are not mentally stable cannot acquire weapons. And I'm 100 percent sure going to make sure we have deeper background checks.

And I want to tell them that--

CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.

KASHUV: -- as a fellow -- as a fellow Republican, that it's really -- I really understand the concern that it's a slippery slope for legislation and that quickly legislation can become worse and worse and worse for a situation and that we really have to find the line in the sand for this issue.

CAMEROTA: I think that's really an important point. So let's just underscore that. You consider yourself a Republican. And you understand the slippery slope.

KASHUV: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: You don't want all guns taken away, as far as I understand your position.

KASHUV: Uh-huh.

CAMEROTA: But these two things you think, what, could have stopped the tragedy at your school?

KASHUV: One hundred percent sure if we had these in place he would never have been able to acquire a weapon. One hundred percent. And these are just logical and rational things that have to be in place. And there isn't really an argument against it at this current point in time.

CAMEROTA: And just tell us a little bit more about that. You want, what, a counselor or a school guidance counselor to be able to flag a gun seller? I mean, how are you going to connect the mental health problem with gun sales?

KASHUV: Here's what I think. I absolutely think that we have to come and set with specific and very, very, very set guidelines as to what entails someone who's not mentally stable. And this is a discussion we have to have.

CAMEROTA: Senator, tell us what your role is with all of these kids today.

STATE SENATOR LAUREN BOOK (D), FLORIDA: I am the facilitator. These incredibly bright, eloquent children and I connected right after the vigil on Thursday. And I asked them, "What is your vision for change and how can we help make that happen and help you heal?"

And so they said they wanted to come to Tallahassee. And so we set to work to set up meetings with legislators, getting buses, food, all of the things that they needed to come to Tallahassee to bring about their message for change. And some of the -- you know, different students here have different point of view. And that's really important.

And so we're going to be working the process and working to bring forward some significant change in Florida law.

CAMEROTA: Kyle, were you there in the gallery yesterday as some of the students were watching the state lawmakers vote not to take up a debate about banning assault weapons?

KASHUV: I was not there, but I heard about it and I read about it. And I don't know. I think the Republican Party, they simply didn't want to have a discussion about the topic, which I think isn't very -- is very faulty. Having a discussion will never hurt. And that's, like, the first step to change. And if there is an issue, then we have to move forward and we have to at least talk about it.

CAMEROTA: Senator, how do you explain fellow lawmakers not even wanting to have a discussion?

BOOK: I think that that was a procedural issue. And I think that there are discussions that are being had. And I understand that there is still a lot of feelings on both sides of this issue.

And so I am working to try to make sure that we have a product in these next 11 days that I can bring home to these students, to their families. And so I am going to continue on that -- on that footing.

And as we embark on this journey today, we're meeting with Senate leaders, Republican, Democrat, House leaders, Republican and Democrat, the executive branch. And that is, I think, the message. That sometimes you're two steps ahead. And within this process you can, you know, take a step backwards. But it's keeping that end game in mind.

And so we're -- we're going to walk over to that building in a positive frame of mind today and have some of these conversations, you know, in these offices with members and really work to -- to talk about these issues.

[07:25:06] CAMEROTA: Kyle, did you understand what happened yesterday in terms of their priorities? I mean, look, access to pornography online can be seen as a public health problem that lawmakers should tackle. But did you understand them prioritizing that over gun violence?

KASHUV: I think it was just -- it was a procedure issue. At the end of the day, it happened, and we just have to move forward and make sure that we -- we're here to make a change. And that we really have to hit home specifically on what we can reasonably accomplish. And I think that 100 percent definitely, you have to be mentally stable to acquire a gun, and you have to have deeper background checks. And I think that that is 100 percent accomplishable.

CAMEROTA: And very quickly, do you think the governor is open to hearing that and to taking action on on those things?

KASHUV: I really think he is. I really think -- if he's in favor of the American people, he will definitely take into account all sides of the argument, look at it fairly and then choose to do -- choose to move forward with what he comes to -- what he believes.

CAMEROTA: Kyle Kashuv, Senator Lauren Book, thank you both for taking the time. We will be watching all of your actions today. Thanks for being with us.

KASHUV: Thank you.

BOOK: Thank you.


CUOMO: All right. So he says Republicans and President Trump have blood on their hands after the Florida massacre. Up next, Connecticut's governor, Dannel Malloy, joins us live, next.