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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Holds Listening Session on Mass Shootings. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 21, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll solve it together. And you've gone through extraordinary pain. And we don't want others to go through the kind of pain that you've gone through. It wouldn't be -- wouldn't be right.
[17:00:18] So would you like to say something, please?
CURTIS KELLY, THURGOOD MARSHALL ACADEMY: Thank you, Mr. President.
My name is Curtis Kelly. I represent Thurgood Marshall Academy here in the District of Columbia. Thank you, Vice President, Madam Secretary, for having myself and Gregory Baldwin, who represent Thurgood Marshall.
My tragedy started September the 20th of last year. I have two twin sons that attend Thurgood Marshall, and they are elite athletes, Junior Olympics. One of my sons was the youth counselor member for the District of Columbia, Ward Five. And one day he was -- this was after school. And we need to -- I agree we need to protect our kids in schools, but we need to protect them on their safe passage ways home, as well. And their extracurricular activities and their parks and recreations and everything. That they try to go for their peace and -- so my son, Zaire (ph) Kelly, went to college bound right after school, to announce that he was declaring for his college to run track and to further his education and become mayor of District of Columbia or something like that.
On his route home, he got a text from my son Zion (ph) Kelly, who was going to make it, but when he found out there was press, he decided not to, because locally we were burnt by the press. Zion (ph) is texting Zaire (ph), "Watch out. There's someone in our passageway coming home." And in a split second, Zaire (ph) was just walking home, maybe from this distance to where that -- the curtains are, he was that close to home, when a thug came out to try to rob Zion (ph). And he tried to rob Zaire (ph). He tried to rob Zion (ph) 20 minutes earlier. Came back because he was upset, he didn't get them students: "Those fast-track kids, I'm going to come back and get them."
He went and caught my son, got in an altercation over a cellphone. Shot my son in the head. And now he's not here with us. That day I could have lost two sons.
But the tragedy that my family have to live with after losing Zaire (ph) is -- I have another son that attends Thurgood Marshall. He's -- we've been taking him to all types of family counseling, and therapy, and the school has been affected. The community has been affected. And local politicians.
So what we want to do is stand up for our students in the community. Give us some solutions as to what we can do. So myself, along with Helping Hands in D.C. came together and got with our attorneys and everyone else and said, "OK, we're going to do some research and find out what legislation can be found that can better serve to protect our students in their safety zones, in their school zones."
And it's been a fight, because everybody show up for photo-ops. All the politicians show up to say, "We're going to get it done. We're going to protect our kids." But just -- just a couple weeks later, school shooting. Just like we all hearing about all these experiences, at Ballou Senior High School. A kid gets shot at school. Dunbar, kid gets shot at school. In our schools, on their safe passageway home, their parks and recreations, extracurricular, our students have to be protected. Our students have to be protected.
One local legislator asked me, "How do you define students? How would a criminal define students?" He would -- you would define them after you commit a crime against them.
The students are crying. They're calling for National Stand Out Day April the 20th, in celebration of Columbine because the same incidents keep happening not just in our schools, in our communities, as well. To upstanding citizens, to those that's doing the right thing.
And we as parents, yes, we try to fight to pass legislation just like you, locally, but nationally, this campaign has grown. And it's affecting all of us, all our kids. This gun violence. Gun violence.
So I thank you. That's my story. And we're going to keep fighting, and we're going to keep trying to pass legislation. And we're going to keep fighting for our students. Thurgood Marshall, and here in the District of Columbia and across America, as well.
[17:05:12] TRUMP: Thank you very much. That's incredible. Very sad. Thank you very much.
Does anybody have an idea for a solution to the school shootings and the school shootings that we've gone through over the years, and we've seen too much of it? And we're going to stop it. And there are a lot of different ideas. I can name ten of them right now. Does anybody have an idea as to how to stop it? What would your recommendation to stop it? Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if I'm going to say something you haven't already heard. You know, I could tell you that, in addition to all of the sorrow that we're feeling in our community right now, there's also a lot of anger. Anger that the police can visit a person dozens of teams and not take action. Anger that the FBI could get at least two credible tips and not take anger -- not take action.
And one possible solution, which we discussed with Secretary DeVos over lunch, was if a tragedy strikes, can we wait for the first responders to get to the campus four or five or six or seven minutes later? And one possible solution, which may not be very popular, would be to
have people in the school -- teachers, administrators -- who have volunteered to have a firearm safely locked in the classroom, who are given training throughout the year. There are plenty of teachers that are already licensed to carry firearms. Have them raise their hands to volunteer for the training, and when something like this starts, the first responders are already on campus.
And if it's not the teachers, you could have people that work on the campus. A custodian could be an undercover policeman. Someone who works in the library or the lunchroom could be an undercover policeman. He serves lunch every day, but he also has a firearm at the ready. A guidance counselor.
If you can't stop it from happening, and with hundreds of millions of guns out there, I don't know if it will ever be fully stopped. But the challenge becomes, once it starts, to end it as quickly as possible. And unfortunately, you can't wait five or six or seven minutes.
And what my daughter said earlier, that there are 32 states that have laws that require the schools to prepare for this. And yet more than half -- and Broward County is one of them and our school was prepared, and thank God it was only 17 lives.
But when more than half of the counties won't spend the money out of their budget for the training, even though the law says they should, it will be that many more the next time.
So between having the schools train for lockdowns and possibly having armed personnel staff that are willing to do it -- anonymously. I don't want the kids to know who have the firearms. I don't want the shooters to know who have the firearms. I don't want people walking around with firearms on their side. But when that alert goes off, and they put the kids in the closets, and they put the kids under the desks, then I want the teacher to open that safe, pull out that firearm and be ready to do what needs to be done while you're waiting for the helicopters and the SWAT teams to come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also think that you need more deputies. You have a campus of Stoneman Douglas with, I think, what, 3,200 kids with one deputy. One. And if that deputy leaves for training, we need another deputy there.
The other thing is communication. The schools have to communicate with the police. The police have to communicate with child services. Child services, you know, maybe has to communicate with FBI. And for someone to bring -- to buy a gun at 18 to do what I understand, like, even a background in 15 minutes, you should be able to communicate with all of those other people that something is wrong and this child doesn't belong buying a gun like this. Or a...
[17:10:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President. Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary, thank you for having us.
I think what you're hearing today is there's not lack of solutions. I think what we've had to date is a lack of leadership. I'm confident that you will bring out that leadership that we need to finally take the action that needs to be taken. Because there's not one solution. There's many solutions. And you're hearing some of those here today to resolve, to address this.
Our schools are soft targets. We need to harden the targets by making them -- to increase our deterrence capabilities so that a potential murderer knows that that's not going to happen, that there's going to be people there to bravely respond. That -- that the minute something happens, our technology will pick up an incident has occurred, and and it will be responded to immediately. And also the children and the teachers know what to do in that instance. We have communicated with them effectively.
We need to identify where the mental health issues among the student population. The kids at the school knew this person. They knew he was an issue. Looking beyond, I think we need to close some of these loopholes in the background checks. We're not integrating effectively the mental health knowledge that exists at the state level and the local level into the federal background checks. And so fix the NICKS system. And that's an easy one.
So there's a lot of immediate stuff we can take right now, then are some longer term solutions. I think we need to get started right away, and I thank you for your help on this.
TRUMP: Well, thank you, too. And I will say, again, background checks are going to be very strong. We need that. And then after we do that, when we see there's trouble, we have to nab them.
You know, years ago we had mental hospitals, mental institutions. We had a lot of them. And a lot of them have closed. They've closed. Some people thought it was a stigma. Some people thought, frankly, it was -- the legislators thought it was too expensive. Today if you catch somebody, they don't know what to do with them. He hasn't committed the crime, but he may very well, and there's no mental institution; there's no place to bring them. And we have that a lot.
Even if they caught this person -- I'm being nice when I use the word "person." They probably wouldn't have known what to do. They're not going to put him in jail and yet -- so there's no -- that middle ground of having that institution where you had trained people that could handle it and do something about it and find out how sick he really is. Because he is a sick guy. And he should have been nabbed a number of times, frankly.
Your concept and your idea about -- it's called concealed carry, and it's -- it only works where you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many. And it would be teachers and coaches. If the coach had a firearm in his locker when he ran at this guy, that coach who was very brave, saved a lot of lives, I suspect, but if he had a firearm, he wouldn't have had to run, he would have shot, and that would have been the end of it.
And this would only be, obviously, for people that are very adept at handling a gun. And it would be -- it's called concealed carry. Where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They'd go for special training. And they would be there. And you would no longer have a gun-free zone.
Gun-free zone to a maniac, because they're all cowards, a gun-free zone is "Let's go in and let's attack, because bullets aren't coming back at us." And if you -- if you do this, and a lot of people are talking about it, and certainly a point that we'll discuss, but concealed carry for teachers and for people of talent, of that type of talent.
So let's say you had 20 percent of your teaching force, because that's pretty much the number. And you said it, an attack has lasted on average about 3 minutes. It takes 5 to 8 minutes for responders, for the police to come in. So the attack is over.
If you had a teacher with -- who was adept the firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.
And the good thing about a suggestion like that, and we're going to be looking at it very strongly, and a lot of people are going to be opposed to it. I think a lot of people are going to like it. But the good thing is that you'll have a lot of people with that. You know, you can't have 100 security guards in Stoneman Douglas. That's a big school. It's a massive school with a lot of acreage to cover. A lot of floor area.
And so that would be, certainly, a situation that is being discussed a lot by a lot of people. You'd have a lot of people that would be armed, that would be ready. They are professionals. There may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force, and they're very adept at doing that. You have a lot of them, and they would be spread evenly throughout the school.
[17:15:13] So the other thing, I really believe that, if these cowards knew that that was -- that the school was, you know, well-guarded from the standpoint of having, pretty much, professionals with great training, I think they wouldn't go into the school to start off with. I think it could very well solve your problem.
So we'll be doing the background checks. We'll be doing a lot of different things. But we'll certainly be looking at idea like.
You know, a lot of people don't understand that airline pilots now, a lot of them carry guns. And I have to say that things have changed a lot. People aren't attacking the way they would routinely attack. And maybe you have the same situation in schools.
So does anybody like that idea here, does anybody like it? Right? Yes? Meadow, beautiful meadow, we talked about that. And do people feel strongly against it, anybody? Anybody? Strongly against it? All right. Look, we can understand both sides. And certainly, it's controversial. But we'll study that along with many other ideas.
Anybody else, something to say? Yes, go ahead. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been in thousands of schools across America,
and I've noticed in Israel, they have one entry point, and it's very well-guarded. I'm not asking for us to -- I'm not saying we should turn our schools into prisons, but I've been in some of these schools where I'm speaking, in an auditorium. And I'll go outside to call my wife or to just get a breath of fresh air, and it is so easy for me to get back into that school.
I'm an unknown adult to many of those students. I can tap on the window, and they'll open the door for me. Or I can catch someone coming out the side door and easily get in. So one of the things that I have thought a lot about in seeing this around the country is we have really soft entry points into schools.
TRUMP: That's true. And we've been talking about that. Yes, go ahead.
BRANDON TOWNSEND (ph), DEAN OF STUDENTS, FRIENDSHIP TECH PREP: Good afternoon. I'm Brandon Townsend.
First, my heart goes out to everyone who's experienced this tragedy right now. I'm currently a dean of students at Friendship Tech Prep in the heart of southeast D.C., which is in Ward Eight, which is one of the most impoverished wards in D.C.
However, at our school, just a solution, we actually have checkpoints. When a student walks in the door, we actually have metal detectors, and I oftentimes see that in urban education. And we actually have an X-ray machine that students put their bags through.
And an extreme -- an activist, as it happened, a parent who didn't so much agree with that at first, sent me an e-mail saying, "Thank you, because now I see exactly what's happening."
And so we oftentimes use that TSA model. When a student comes in, we have somebody at the door to greet them, to do a check-in just to see how they feel. And we have certain point people. I know this person is not feeling so well, so they won't get past point one. They go through the metal detector. Their bag goes through the machine.
And so at the end of the day, just talking to my students riding over today, they all say, "Well, I feel safe." And you come outside and you say, talk about mental hospitals. Our school is right across the street from a shutdown mental hospital. We have -- you know, if you were to come over to the streets, you'd be like, "Oh, my God." But once you get inside the building, we have that family feel. We have those check-in points. We have it where every visitor that comes through out building has to go through these checkpoints to ensure that our students get home safe, to ensure that our staff members get home safe.
And these are just he minor solutions. Like, I will say, I'm against having a teacher with a gun in a building. Teachers are emotional. People are emotional. So I think that is a huge factor.
However, but having students and you may have to go to staff members going through these check points to ensure that, one, it's on point and, two, that we're talking about they don't have any physical metal on them and/or even in our building, our students don't even carry cellphones, because we consider that's a threat. It's taking away from them learning. So they actually turn in their cellphones.
And so those things of ensuring our kids are there at the moment to live the moment to enjoy school. They get that joy factor. They get that family feel. And they're able now to connect with one another and able to communicate and not have to worry about, you know, looking over their shoulder when they walk, you now, out in the end of the building because they know every person that comes through the building has been through a metal check. They have -- bags have been checked.
And so that's just a solution.
Once again, my heart goes out to everyone who's been through this tragedy.
TRUMP: Very well said. Very well said. Yes.
[17:20:04] NICOLE HOCKLEY, SON KILLED IN SANDY HOOK: Mr. President, thank you for being open to -- to hearing all forms of solutions. I truly appreciate that.
One point on the mental health issue, and I think it's important to note. That someone with a mental illness is highly unlikely to ever commit an act of violence. It's a very, very small percentage. What we're really dealing with here is more of a lack of mental wellness. If this is around anger and fear, and that's not something that you can diagnose and put in mental health hospitals.
This is more about funding for mental health services to help these individuals that are at risk, especially when we think about suicide. Teen suicide, suicide it is the No. 2 killer of our children, as I understand right now, and a lot of these suicides are performed with firearms, which makes them, you know, unsaveable.
So the idea of mental health and being able to identify who's at risk, who is considering these issues, who's going into crisis, that is incredibly important.
I appreciate the point on arming teachers. It's not personally something that I support. Rather than arm them with a firearm, I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first players. How do you identify the kids in your class that are most at-risk? And then, most importantly, within a school, how do we have a safety assessment program so that schools know how to deal with all these threats? Have established protocols to deal with them and get underneath the surface of what's going on in that child's life. Find out why they're on this pathway behavior and intervene.
These -- this is about prevention. There are some fabulous solutions being talked about today which would still go to imminent danger. Let's talk about prevention. There is so much that we can do to help people before it reaches that point. And I urge you, please, stay focused on that, as well. It is the gun. It is the person behind the gun, and it's about helping people before they ever reach that point.
TRUMP: Yes, go ahead.
SAMUEL ZEIT, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: So thank you. I fully respect all of our amendments, including the Second. But in Maryland, they have proven that the Second Amendment does not protect these kinds of weapons. They have banned over 45 different kinds of assault weapons, including the AR. Including the AR.
They have banned -- they have limited magazine sizes. They have proven that it's not like we have to lose our Second Amendment. You know, these -- the Second Amendment, I believe, was for defense. And I fully respect that, like I said. But these -- these are not weapons of defense. These are weapons of war. And I just -- I still can't fathom that I myself am able to purchase one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to talk, Mr. President. I couldn't agree. I'm not here to debate. I lost my sister. And like Mr. President said, if you could find 20 percent of maybe retired law enforcement officers or teachers you could go through discreet training to carry a firearm on his waist, it could have been a very different situation.
Like he said, law enforcement, it takes them 7 minutes, 8 minutes to get there. If a teacher or a security guard has a concealed license, and the firearm on their waist, they're able to easily stop the situation. Or the bad guy, I'll put it that way, would not even go near the school knowing that someone can fight back against them.
Also, I believe that it is insanity that they would even open the gates up 20 minutes before school ends. They are supposed to protect us and the children. So in the future, we need more security. We need more firearms on campus. We need better background checks, and we need to study more our mental health.
And I want to thank everyone for their condolences, and that's my only argument. Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you. Yes, go ahead.
CURTIS LAWRENCE, PRINCIPAL, FRIENDSHIP COLLEGIATE ACADEMY: Thank you Mr. President, Vice President, Madam Secretary, for having us here. My deepest condolences to those who have -- those who have lost family and friends. My name is Curtis Lawrence. I'm principal at Friendship Collegiate Academy.
And like Mr. Brandon had said, we have security, and we also have MPD on staff that we hired to make sure that things aren't coming into our school. And also, immediately in the mornings and during dismissal immediately around the school to protect our kids as they leave.
[17:25:07] But last month, we did suffer a loss. One of our ninth graders was gunned down in walking distance from the school. And so when we talk about safe passage, I think in looking at what's happening with gun violence with our scholars and with our students, I'm saying taking a double approach. Right? You have to protect kids that are in schools. So as a president, you have different laws in different states.
And so definitely where they don't have the necessary security as we may have getting in, then we have to think of what are those solutions for the kids in Florida that are going to those schools with that to make sure that they're safe in school. And then places like here in D.C., what are those solutions to make sure kids are able to get home and to school safely?
So I think it's a two-pronged approach. And I know you have a specific position to, as you meet with the governors and they have their different laws and coming from these different perspectives, to make them own that two-pronged approach to protect them in school and protect them, as well, out of school going back and forth.
MARK BARDEN, SON KILLED IN SANDY HOOK: Mr. President, thank you so much, and thank you, Vice President and Madam Secretary, for convening us and allowing us all the opportunity to speak about this very serious problem.
And my heart absolutely breaks for the families of Parkland. I have a sense of what you are going through now. I've been going through it for five years. This is my son Daniel. He was 7 years old when he was shot to death in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just a little over five years ago.
My wife Jackie could not be here today, because she's a schoolteacher, and she takes that job seriously and sent me as the ambassador. Jackie is a career educator, and she will tell you she has spent over a decade in the Bronx. And she will tell you that schoolteachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life. Thank you.
Nobody wants to see a shoot-out in school. And a deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of -- of murder in a school with the outcome -- knowing the outcome is going to be suicide is not going to care if there's somebody there with a gun. That's their plan anyway.
I am going to build on what my friend and colleague, Nicole Hockley, said. We tried this legislative approach. I've been in this building before many times wringing our hands, pleading with legislators, what can we do? Until we finally said we have to go home and do this ourselves.
And we built something. Sandy Hook Promise has built something that works. We train students, and we train teachers and we train educators with the tools how to recognize these people and with the tools of how to intervene and with the tools that get them to the help that they need before they pick up a gun or any other weapon and commit a horrible tragedy.
It works. We don't charge for it. We're not asking for money. We've already stopped school shootings. We've already prevented suicides. We've already captured other social issues like bullying and cutting. We know that it works. We have a solution right here. We're asking for you to please help. We need to do this nationally. Now.
TRUMP: Thank you.
BETSY DEVOS, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Mr. President, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you and the vice-president and to thank everyone here for joining us today, for telling your stories, for sharing your perspectives.
And please know that this is the beginning of a long conversation. We are committed to seeing a solution to this very, very tragic and horrible situation. And so know that our hearts will continue to be with all of the families affected here, and thank you again for being with us today.
TRUMP: Thank you, Betsy and thank you, Mike, and thank you everybody, for being with us. We're going to work very hard, and it's very difficult. It's very complex, but we're going to find a solution. We have been looking at this issue for a long time -- too long, as far as I'm concerned. And you'll be back, and you'll be back in a much more positive light. We will -- we will get there.
If you have any suggestions, if you have any feelings as to what we should do, because there are many different ideas, some, I guess, are good; some aren't good. Some are very stringent, as you understand, and a lot of people think they work, and some are less so. But in addition to everything else, and in addition to what we're going to do about background checks, we're going to go very strongly to age, age of purchase, and we're also going to go very strongly into the mental health aspect of -- of what's going on, because here was a case where it cried out, this person, who was sick, very sick, and people knew he was very sick. And I know law enforcement's also, I think, really learned a lot from this event.
We're also going to look at the institutions. We're going to look at where -- what you do when you find somebody like this. Because again, right now, we're not equipped like we were many years ago. So we're going to look at that whole aspect of what's going on.
I want to thank everybody. I know you've been through a lot. Most of you have been through a lot more than you ever thought possible -- more than you ever thought humanly possible. And all I can say is that we're fighting hard for you, and we will not stop. We will not stop 'til we get there. And I just grieve for you. I feel so, just, to me, there could be nothing worse than what you've gone through.
Again, thank you for your ideas. Thank you for your thoughts. Thank you for pouring out your hearts, because the world is watching you. And we're going to come up with a solution.
God bless you all. Thank you.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You've been watching and listening to President Trump and survivors of the Parkland massacre as well as others affected by mass shootings at Sandy Hook and Columbine.
Tonight here on CNN, of course, young survivors of the shooting one week ago today will get an opportunity to talk face-to-face to their senators, a congressman, a spokesperson for the NRA and the Broward County sheriff. That's this evening.
Joining me now are three students who survived the shooting. We have with us Sawyer Garrity, Ashley Paseltier -- Paseltiner and Isabela Barry. All three of them huddled together in a closet with 60 of their classmates during the massacre.
So Isabela, let me start with you. I sensed, when I was sitting here watching this with you three, you don't really think very much of the idea that arming teachers is the solution.
ISABELA BARRY, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I feel like arming teachers is just fighting fire with fire. I feel like we won't get anything done if we just continue to pile on the amount of firearms that we're selling and giving out to people. I just think that -- I just feel like that's just not even...
TAPPER: Ashley, you said it's like if a kid in a sandbox threw a rock at other kids, the idea would then -- you don't give a rock to every other kid in the sandbox.
ASHLEY PASELTINER, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Yes, I mean, that whole idea kind of just self-contradicts itself. You don't want to give the thing that hurts other people to more people.
TAPPER: Although Sawyer, you did say that the idea of having more security at the school, as Meadow Pollack's father talked about, that that was something that you didn't have any issue with and thought might be a decent idea?
SAWYER GARRITY, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I do think that we need more security. Because right now at this time in our school, in our community, we feel unsafe. So I think the only solution right now would be to raise the security.
But I think that that doesn't even need to be needed in this world. We shouldn't have to need more security in our schools. We should feel safe already in school.
TAPPER: But you don't, Ashley. And that's because -- because there are all these weapons out there, or because there are all these crazy people out there? What is it exactly that makes you so unsettled?
PASELTINER: I think it's a mix of both. I think it's the fact that young people are able to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction that really don't have any place in society.
TAPPER: So Isabela, one of the things you would support is not raising the limit -- the age limit, right now it's 18 for a semi- automatic weapon, although it's 21 for a handgun. You think it should be 21 for everything?
BARRY: I think that would be smart. But I just don't see any reason for us to need semi-automatic weapons in the first place. But I know that the age limit would be a helping factor.
TAPPER: Before we go, I do want to ask you all, how are you doing? How are you doing, Sawyer?
GARRITY: We're all feeling very traumatized. I think is a good word. We're feeling scared. I know that we all had a sleepover last night and none of us could sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and I stared at Ashley and she was awake and we were both just -- we woke up, because we had nightmares of someone killing us with a gun.
[17:35:16] Like, children shouldn't be having these thoughts. Children shouldn't be scared of these things. It's not right.
TAPPER: You're right. You shouldn't. How are you doing, Ashley?
PASELTINER: I mean, I guess we're doing as OK as we can in this situation. I think that the thing that's really helping a lot of us is how well our community is coming together.
I think that we all have to just keep in mind while we're doing all of these types of discussions and everything is that we're doing it for the kids who passed away. The kid who got injured. And I think it's helping a lot of us heal to fight for them. Because they don't have a voice as of right now or any more.
TAPPER: Isabela, how are you doing?
BARRY: I'm just lost. I -- I'm, like, a teenager. I shouldn't have to deal with grief. I shouldn't think about if my friends are OK. I shouldn't have to call my friend and not get an answer. I just -- I don't know what do with myself. All I know is that I'm putting myself into all this work and all this just trying to live for them. And I think, hopefully, that will help. But honestly, like, I'm a kid. And I don't know what to do.
TAPPER: I know that there are a lot of grief counselors here. There are going to be a bunch here tonight, and obviously, I know you'll avail yourselves of them if you need to.
One of the things I noticed when we were watching this, and there were very -- some very emotional moments, very hurt people in that room with President Trump. And one of things I noticed was the three of you were holding each other's hands. You were -- you were there for each other. And that was a very beautiful thing. And don't stop being there for each other.
I'm going to throw it back to you, Wolf. Thanks so much.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very, very powerful indeed. Anderson, don't forget -- Jake, don't forget that Jake will have a special town hall later tonight, a special town hall, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action." That's at 9 p.m. Eastern, 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern. Jake will be moderating this, and it will be a very, very significant, powerful moment for all of us.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You saw a truly extraordinary event unfold over the past hour and a half or so over at the White House.
I quickly want to go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us right new. Jeff, this was very powerful, very emotional. A listening session for the president, and he heard a lot.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he heard a lot, indeed, from students from Parkland, Florida, from parents from Parkland, Florida. And of course, schools that are etched in our collective American memory: Columbine and Sandy Hook. These stories that have been going on for longer than the students in Parkland have been alive.
But Wolf, it was the testimonials directly from these students, from the families, from the parents that certainly gave the president an earful as he decides whether he will take a lead on this issue.
But Wolf, let's listen to the story, the testimonial from Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed one week ago today in Parkland, Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW POLLACK, DAUGHTER KILLED IN PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING: My daughter has no choice. She was murdered last week, and she was taken from us. Shot nine times on the third floor.
We as a country failed our children. This shouldn't happen. We go to the airport, I can't get on the plane with a bottle of water. But we leave it -- some animal can walk into a school and shoot our children. It's just not right. And we need to come together as a country and work on what's important. And that's protecting our children in the schools. That's the only thing that matters right now. Everyone has to come together and not think about different roles (ph). We need to come together as a country, not different parties, and figure out how we protect the schools.
It's simple. It's not difficult. We protect airports. We protect concerts. Stadiums. Embassies. The Department of Education that I walked in today, that has a security guard in the elevator. How do you think that makes me feel? In the elevator, they've got a security guard.
I'm very angry that this happened. Because it keeps happening. Nine- eleven happened once, and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here with this administration and me. I'm not going to -- I'm not going to sleep until it's fixed. [17:40:15] All the school shootings. It doesn't make sense. Fix it.
Should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I'm pissed. Because my daughter I'm not going to see again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Wolf, you can hear the emotion in that father's voice. You can see the emotion on his face, and the president was only feet away from him in the state dining room of the White House here, listening to his stories and the stories of other students from Florida, other parents, other educators here.
Now, the president listened, and he acknowledged that he said this country has not done enough to prevent this very American carnage. He said not enough has been done. But of course also highlighted the deep contradictions here in solving this problem. The president went on to say that he believes that school officials, even teachers, perhaps, should be armed.
But then a mother of a Sandy Hook student said no, she believes that that is not the answer, arming students. She said that -- the problem should be stopped before it reaches that point.
Another student from Parkland was talking very specifically about AR- 15s, looking directly at the president, asking why he should be able to buy that type of weapon of war as he said.
So Wolf, the problem, sadly, all too clear here. The solutions, of course, are many and complicated politically in this town. But it is clear the president is listening. He convened that meeting in the White House behind me. Those officials and families are still talking to him. Wolf, a very emotional, intense day here, a listening session at the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The president also repeated that he's open to greater background checks for those who want to purchase a weapon. Are there specific details White House officials are releasing precisely what he wants?
ZELENY: Wolf, the White House is not releasing any specific details of expanding background checks. We do know the president has sounded supportive -- struck a supportive note of one piece of bipartisan legislation that is being discussed in the Senate. It is a first step, if you will, that Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, have gotten together for a very small step here. The president said he would potentially support something like that.
But Wolf, that is one of the issues here. There are no specifics in terms of what the president will get behind. But his advisers here say he is exploring and looking at this issue.
So background checks certainly on the table. Addressing mental health and mental illness also on the table.
The president spoke pretty directly, saying at one point in this country's history, there used to be places for the mentally ill and others to go. He said that sometimes lawmakers haven't given enough money for that. Well, indeed that is one of the things he has been criticized for, perhaps not putting enough money toward mental health.
So Wolf, so many issues and challenges on the table in terms of addressing this. So today was a time for airing grievances. It is a test of this president's leadership to see where he goes from here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.
Let's go to CNN's Alisyn Camerota. She's in Sunrise, Florida, where less than a few hours from now, CNN will hold this very significant town hall, 9 p.m. Eastern. Alisyn, students there out in force today. They're demanding action on gun reform. Update our viewers.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my gosh, Wolf. Well, first of all, what a remarkable event we just saw at the White House, that listening session. And that's just a taste -- a small taste of what we're going to get tonight.
So something very extraordinary is going to happen in this arena behind me. In less than half an hour, the doors are going to open, and 7,000 people are going to fill these seats. There are going to be students. There's going to be parents. There will be teachers. There will be victims of this Parkland massacre. And by that, I mean the students who hid behind desks and watched their classmates and loved ones get slaughtered. We're going to see lawmakers here, Democrats and Republicans. We're going to see the National Rifle Association here. So everybody is going to be in one room. People on all sides of this gun debate.
I mean, as you know, Wolf, sometimes after these tragedies, people retreat to their corners and they dig in; and they never have to interact with each other. But that's not going to be possible tonight. They all have to confront each other. They're all looking for solutions. And it's going to be a remarkable moment.
It's already been a remarkable day. We've seen all sorts of student advocacy across the country. There was a staged walkout in Parkland. There are all sorts of students who are standing in solidarity with the kids of Douglas high school.
And then we saw -- I mean, on my show, on NEW DAY, we watched as these 100 kids left from Parkland, all go to Douglas High School, and they took a bus last night to Tallahassee to the state capitol. They slept on cots. And this morning they marched to the state capitol.
They slept on cots. And this morning, they marched to the state capitol, and they demanded that their voices be heard. They went in to meet with lawmakers -- state lawmakers and the governor.
We also saw a demonstration outside of the White House in Washington, D.C. So all around the country, we're seeing students who are taking action. And, you know, Wolf, I mean, look, I've covered way too many of these
school shootings as I know that you have, but something does feel different here. Somehow, these kids, very quickly, turned their deep grief into action.
I don't know how they've had the strength to do it, but you'll see that on display tonight. They are coming here with a message. They want to be heard.
They want their lawmakers to hear them. They want their senators -- we just watched Senator Bill Nelson already got a walk-through here on stage.
Senator Marco Rubio will be here, who, of course, made some comments that the students felt were sort of defeatist, that these things have to keep happening. They don't think so.
And so, tonight, they are going to make their voices heard, and it will be a remarkable thing to watch, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Alisyn, you were there right after the shooting. You were reporting from Parkland from that high school. You spoke to a lot of the surviving students, the family members, the teachers. You're back now. Give us a little sense, if you can, what's it like a week later.
CAMEROTA: Look, I mean, again, these kids have somehow just sprung into action. They channeled their deep grief into a movement, basically. I mean, they just say, never again.
I just ran into some of the girls that Jake was talking to in the green room. You know, they wrote a song. They are going to perform their song. It is called "Shine." They are part of a drama troupe.
At the end of this town hall tonight, they're going to perform it. I just read the lyrics that they showed me. It is about their deep pain and their sense of resolve. They are feeling both at the same time.
And it will be a must-see moment, I have to tell you, when they perform this because I think it captures somehow how these students are dealing with both of this, the deep grief and their sense of purpose now.
BLITZER: Alisyn, I know you're going to be with us here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll get back to you, but I want to bring our correspondents and our analysts for some analysis of what we're seeing.
And, Gloria, it is truly remarkable what we saw, these young people pouring out their hearts all day talking about guns, talking about what they survived and then this listening hour and a half that the President had at the White House.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, what we've seen today, I think, is really the beginning of a mass movement. And, you know, we've seen that in history in the past where the
idealism of young people drives a mass movement. We saw it in civil rights. We saw it in the Arab Spring, for example. And I think what we are witnessing today is very much like that.
And what we saw in the White House was a real variety of views, I'd have to say there, from the President talking about concealed carry to the parent of a Sandy Hook child saying, no, no, no, you can't make teachers -- you can't make the teachers do that, that is not their job, to the president talking about mental health and how you deal with mental health issues.
And as -- but what we didn't see in that room was rancor. I mean, you know, we saw people trying to -- and led by those kids. We saw people trying to deal with a very complicated, complex issue, but what was missing was all of the vitriol we see from people attacking, you know, the NRA, or I'm a Second Amendment person --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank goodness.
BORGER: -- or whatever. Thank goodness is right.
BLITZER: That's why, Dana, it was so extraordinary to see that unfold.
BASH: Absolutely. Look, at the beginning, it was really unclear how it was going to go.
BASH: But then once Mr. Pollack stood up and talked about the fact that he had three sons there and he would have to visit his daughter at the cemetery from now on, it was just extraordinary. And the fact that he is expressing his anger, understandable anger, in the White House with the President listening, it is amazing.
I mean, it is a moment, frankly, I think for the history books. And I do believe that as much as sort of intellectually all of us who have covered these horrible events over and over again have seen the call for doing something and then that -- for that to subside quickly.
So intellectually, a lot of us think, OK, well, that could happen again and maybe, based on recent history, should happen again, in my gut -- and maybe I'm just being overly optimistic because I feel like we all need to be -- this does feel different.
[17:50:04] And that's not a gun issue. That's not anything. I mean, that's just about protecting students, and it is because these young people have such a voice.
I also just think that it is interesting that the President who was invited to CNN's town hall tonight declined to come but then had his own. And it was very -- obviously very powerful event to have that free flow of discussion not in a vitriolic way, in a very important, productive, constructive way inside the walls of the White House, with cameras there. JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, and
this is a president who wants to be seen as a man of action. He wants to be seen as someone who can make a difference. And perhaps this is driving some of the meeting that he had.
That said, this is not going -- I don't mean to be the naysayer here, but this is not going to stay out of the political realm for long.
KUCINICH: This will -- it's something big.
KUCINICH: It's going to have to go to Congress. We've seen the last time Congress passed anything having to do with background checks or guns was 2007 after Virginia Tech.
This added 2 million people to the background check system, felons, people with mental illnesses. But the problem was, it was never fully funded.
KUCINICH: So it will come to whether this is will be window dressing, whether this will just be feel good, or whether they're actually going to put their money where their mouth is and make sure. If it's just background checks, if that's as far as they can get, whether they fund the effort that the President pushes.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what did you think of the White House event?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I thought it was very interesting, and I think Gloria is right, that there was no rancor and there was no vitriol.
Personally, I'm pro-rancor. I'm pro-vitriol. I am pro someone doing something about this rather than being polite. When you hear the President of the United States say the answer is to give every teacher in America a gun, that is insane. That is an insane idea.
As Mark Barden, one of the fathers of -- who lost a child in Sandy Hook, whose wife is a teacher -- I mean, seriously, did anybody go to school here? Does anybody remember their teachers? Do you think we should give all of them guns? Do you think they want guns?
BORGER: No, they don't.
TOOBIN: I mean, it's just -- what kind of country do we live in when we're talking about giving every teacher in America a gun?
BASH: But the fact --
TOOBIN: And that's a solution to this problem?
BASH: But the fact that you had two people stand up as part of this dialogue and say, Mr. President, not the way Jeff just said it, but in a respectful, very clear way, really bad idea. The fact that they were able to do that, I think, is really noteworthy.
BLITZER: Shawn, the --
TOOBIN: I --
TOOBIN: You know, one of the great things about our country is that we do have freedom of speech, and I'm glad it was exercised in the White House.
But, you know, for anybody to get their hopes up when we have an entire political party -- I mean, look at the vote yesterday in the Florida House of Representatives. Every Republican voted against this bill. To limit assault weapons.
I mean, you know, I think it's fabulous what these kids are doing. I think it's intensely admirable. But, you know, the idea that we are on a verge of some change, anybody remember the Million Mom March?
TOOBIN: Similarly impressive, nothing happened.
BLITZER: Shawn, the President said, you know, he wanted teachers potentially to have a concealed weapon, a gun, maybe 30 percent, whatever he said, and they would have to go through special training. And maybe they could hire, you know, former military personnel to be involved as well.
You spent 25 years in the Marine Corps.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. No, look, I think this is a monumentally bad idea. I mean, this is not to say -- not to disparage teachers in any way, but the truth is, you know, throughout my military training, you know, one of the things I learned is that speed matters.
In these cases where we have people walk in with firearms and if they're on a mission to open fire and to hurt people, you know, yes, a teacher may, at some point, be able to get a gun and stop this, but that's not going to happen before we see people who have been killed or harmed.
And you know, look, Wolf, you know, I agree that this feels different, but I think that there has been a pressure that's been building in this country for a long time. I remember Sandy Hook like it was yesterday. And I'll tell you, if I ever thought that something was going to change in this country, it was after Sandy Hook.
BORGER: Yes, me too.
TURNER: And so I think that we are at a moment where we know that something is going to change, and the question is if it's going to be these students, you know, right now who are going to make it happen or it's going to be the next shooting.
BORGER: Or if it's going to be this president. Because with Barack Obama, there was always that political line, oh, he wants to take away all your guns, he's anti-Second Amendment.
Donald Trump, pro-Second Amendment. So maybe Donald Trump -- and again, I don't want to be Pollyanna here -- would have some more success in saying, OK, more stringent background checks or, you know, maybe raging -- raising the age limit.
[17:55:12] I mean one of the students there was saying, you know, I can't buy a beer, I shouldn't be able to buy this kind of a gun.
Maybe that will change. You know, maybe it gets nibbled at around the edges. Donald Trump is not going to propose an assault weapons ban. That's not going to happen.
BASH: No, it's got to be somebody like Donald Trump who had the benefit of more than $30 million from the NRA.
BLITZER: Let's see.
BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.
BLITZER: Let's see what, if anything, emerges. A truly extraordinary moment in American history right now. We'll see what happens.
As we count down to CNN's town hall tonight on guns and school violence, students are demanding lawmakers take action now. We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.