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Trump on Gun Reform: It's OK Sometimes to Fight the NRA; Attorney: School Cop Acted "Consistent" With His Training. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:12] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin.

Teachers today are back at work at Florida's Stoneman Douglas High. This is the same day, of course, that Congress is also back in session. And while there is no question the teachers who survived the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history are forever changed, the big question, of course, is whether we will see change in Washington, a place where gun legislation has stalled for years.

Right now, there are no official plans to pass any stricter gun laws. Republicans, though, hearing days of pleas from students who survived the massacre are now looking to take the lead from the president.

Moments ago, President Trump talking about standing up to the NRA before a gathering of the nation's governors. He listed his goals. Among them, banning the device that lets guns fire rounds more quickly.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bump stocks, we are writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself, OK?



HILL: Let's get straight to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

So, Jeff, what did we learn? What more came out of that meeting between the president and governors?


The president did talk almost exclusively for about an hour or so with the nation's governors about gun policy measures. He said it is a time to do something. Of course, that is a big if, what that something will be, as the House and Senate also returning to Washington today. But the president did renew his call for arming school teachers. He

talked again and again about how he thought that would be something that would ward off a school shooter. It would harden schools, in his words. He even mocked and questioned the honor and valor of some of the Broward County sheriff's deputies and said if he was there he would have run into the school without a gun. Now, perhaps that's a moment of braggadocio there.

But the president also went on to say that mental health institutions also need to be strengthened and fortified. But I caught up with one of those governors, Florida Governor Rick Scott after that meeting to ask about arming school teachers. He opposes that proposal the president supports.


ZELENY: Governor, do you believe arming school teachers is not the way to go. Why?

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I believe you ought to make sure you have law enforcement. I think we -- what I'm going to do in Florida is I have a $500 million focus. I'm going to work with my legislature. We're going to make sure there's significant law enforcement presence in all the schools so that law enforcement is going to protect these schools, along with hardening rather than having the teachers. I want the teachers to teach.


ZELENY: So, Florida Governor Rick Scott obviously at odds with the president on that one proposal. But he said he does believe the president is committed to doing something on this.

Now, Erica, as you mentioned, the NRA at the beginning, that is a key question here. The president said he had a private meeting with the top leadership of the NRA over the weekend, a lunch here at the White House. He says that they are committed to doing something on this. But, Erica, time and time again in school shooting after school shooting, nothing has happened in Washington, largely because of the opposition of the NRA.

So, we'll see if that's different this time. Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill skeptical of that. We'll see if the president's leadership changes that -- Erica.

HILL: We'll be watching for that. Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it. Thank you.

So, in terms of action, will there be more action from the president to back up this tough talk on guns? What else can, should, needs to change in this country?

I want to bring in CNN political commentator Charles Blow who's also, of course, an op-ed columnist with "The New York Times."

And your piece "America is the Gun", and in that, you make the case that this was really a part of the American culture.


HILL: The violence, guns that go with it. The president today saying don't be afraid to fight the NRA. Does he get an ounce of credit on that?

BLOW: Well, if he demonstrates that he is. I mean, so I -- in all the discussions I always like to try to follow the money, right? If you took his proposal about arming school teachers which I think the NRA approves of, right, "The Washington Post" analyzed how much that would cost. Number one if they were new guns, assume you would issue them to teachers. That's 718,000 new guns in our schools alone, let alone what's in the private sector, right? The cost of that -- assuming they discount handguns like Glocks, and they discount it by half maybe, they give them a group discount, still -- basic rudimentary training, that's almost a quarter of a billion. If they do real training and don't discount the guns, that's a billion dollars. It goes right into the NRA's coffers, right?

If you don't do that, right, and you say this idea of like hardening schools and putting more resource officers, you are still getting a clocking tons and tons of money that goes on to the taxpayers' backs. So, right now, a conservative estimate of how much gun violence costs America which is largely on the shoulders of taxpayers, $230 billion -- with a B -- a year.

[14:05:04] That is everything from health services to police investigations to incarcerations.

HILL: Right.

BLOW: All this stuff.

So, all this money circulating around. So, they don't do any -- they're not proposing anything that's going to hurt gun manufacturers. And they are proposing a lot of things that's going to shift burden onto taxpayers' backs instead of dealing with the guns themselves.

HILL: But let me ask you a question. I think we all know there are multiple levels on which this needs to be dealt with. There is not one solution that will solve everything. It isn't mental health. That's an umbrella, as we know. It isn't simply arming teachers.

But we just heard Florida Governor Rick Scott push back with Jeff Zeleny and say, no, I do not, I'm not in favor of arming teachers. Teachers should be there to teach. But yes, we could talk about better security at the schools.

Can you have that, too? I mean, look, at some point, if you need better security, somebody is going to have to buy the gun, right? And there's going to be money going somewhere. But if that's coupled with smart legislation, if it's coupled with better training, if it's coupled with more regulations, does that work?

BLOW: Well, here's the problem, this is what I point out in my piece. You make really an interesting distinction, smart legislation. The very fact that we refuse to allow the collection -- by law, refuse to allow the collection of data and to fund the study of gun violence in America like we do every other kind of health crisis in America means we can never really produce smart legislation. We are doing it in a vacuum, an information vacuum.

HILL: So, let me ask you, because this all goes back to the Dickey Amendment of 1996, which we know Jay Dickey before he died actually changed course and said, look, we should be looking at this like we look at traffic violations.

BLOW: Absolutely.

HILL: There are Republicans, though, who are stepping forward. Brian Mast in Florida is one of them, who wrote in your paper saying he's not afraid of becoming a political casualty here. And he has been a member of the NRA since he was a child. Is there enough movement now on the other side that that could happen?

BLOW: There was -- there was very -- the last couple of years, the last time they had a chance to remove the Dickey Amendment they didn't. So, they keep saying that they are willing to do this and that and the third, but they're not willing to do any of it because they don't want to even start with this very basic concept -- allow the CDC to study how we stop gun violence in America. But the NRA does not want that to happen because what they are inevitably going to find out is the proliferation of guns is a problem.

And that was the last -- and the reason they have the Dickey Amendment is because in 1993, they produced a report that said you are more likely to be the subjects of gun violence if there is a gun in your home. And the NRA freaked out about it, right?

HILL: Yes.

BLOW: And they pushed for this amendment. Until they are willing to do that and stop giving lip service, until they're willing to stand up and say, it's on the docket right now. We can do it. We can vote it. We can pass this.

HILL: So, you're saying that if they agree to that research, a lot would change?

BLOW: I think that's the basis on which you can build policy. But right now, we are building policy on our emotions, on what we think, what we guess. We guess the teacher if they had guns, they would do something. We don't know. We don't know any of that. We guess mental illness -- screening people with mental illness will help. We don't know because we don't let the CDC study it.

HILL: A lot that needs to be discussed, isn't there? Charles Blow, appreciate it. Thank you.

Here's a little bit more from the president. We mentioned what he said about the NRA. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I had lunch with Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox and David Lehman of the NRA. And I want to tell you, they want to do something. And I said, fellows, we've got to do something. It's too long now. We have to do something.

And we're going to do very strong background checks. Very strong. We have to do background checks. If we see a sicko, I don't want him having a gun.

Don't worry. You're re not going to get -- you won't -- don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. You guys -- half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of.

And you know what, if they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK. They're doing what they think is right.

I will tell you. They are doing what they think is right. But sometimes we're going to have to be tough and we have to fight them. But we need strong background checks. For a long period of time people resisted that. But now, people, I think, are really into it.


HILL: Joining us now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So, Dana, we hear from the president there. There's nothing to be afraid of with the NRA and sometimes you have to fight back. Is there an appetite for that in Washington?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends really on the president. I mean, it is -- there's so much on his shoulders right now. And the fact that he's still saying that, you know, 10 days or even almost two weeks after this horrible massacre in Florida, I think is significant.

Now, Congress was not in session last week. They were all home with their constituents or away on international trips. They are going to come back. And so, we'll see the kinds of discussions that they are going to have.

But the fact that you have a Republican president, Erica, who not only was helped in terms of the NRA's money, north of $30 million, but more importantly was helped with NRA members and with their votes. And the NRA was addressed by this president last April when he was in office around his hundred-day mark in office promising that the federal government was going to sort of be good to gun owners. Now you have a different kind of message.

If he pushes members of Congress in his own party and even red state Democrats and gives them political cover, maybe. If not, game over.

HILL: You bring up an interesting point, because when we look back, the president has been very vocal and supportive on a number of different issues. And then we have seen that change. And health care is a perfect example.

BASH: Yes.

HILL: We have this glowing celebration in the Rose Garden and then not long afterwards, it's all mean. So, is really that what hinges -- you point out he's been pretty consistent in the last week. He's stuck to some of his main points. Is there a chance? Is there some thinking in Washington that maybe -- just maybe he will stay and continue to tow that same road?

BASH: Well, I will tell you, there is a lot of skepticism in Washington. That's the real answer. Major skepticism that anything is actually going to happen despite the fact that you have a Republican president saying what you just played, despite the fact that you have had so many tragedies now because people who shouldn't have had guns had guns. So, it is an open question, whether or not things are going to get done.

I think it's more -- if you kind of poll people and give them truth serum in the halls of Congress, most of them would say nothing is going to happen. But it could if the president stays on it. I mean, I just think that he has so much political capital here.

But to your point, Erica, he's got to use his political muscle in a way he didn't on health care. He didn't on immigration. Tax reform was done from within the Congress. I mean, they wanted to get that done. This, they don't.

HILL: You know, you talk about polling within the halls of Congress. Of course, there is also polling the American voter and the recent polling from CNN done just last week finds seven of ten want stricter gun laws.

What's fascinating, Dana, is that immediately had me thinking of the polling when it came to Dreamers. That Quinnipiac Poll, 79 percent --

BASH: Exactly.

HILL: -- said Dreamers should be allowed to stay and given a path to citizenship. How much does what the American public think, the voters that lawmakers have to go home and face when they're on a recess like last week -- how much does that matter in this day and age in terms of what actually will get done?

BASH: That was such an interesting juxtaposition. I never thought of it like that. But you're exactly right. You have this huge -- not just majority issues, vast majority issues like the Dreamers, like curbing or having more gun control, if you will. The issue with both of these issues, particularly guns is that the minority, those who oppose are vocal, probably more vocal than those who support, and many of them are single issue voters, particularly on guns.

And they are very, very strong in the red states and red districts where these Republicans and again some conservative Democrats rely on these gun owners who are single issue voters. At this point it doesn't look like there's been a sea change among those voters. There could be, again, if you have a president who pulls them along. But so far, it's to be determined.

HILL: Dana, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Just ahead, President Trump criticizing the school resource officer in Parkland saying he, quote, choked by not responding. That Broward deputy has since resigned now telling his side of the story. Why he says he didn't run toward the gunfire.

The president for his part meantime saying if he were there, he would have jumped into action.


[14:18:23] HILL: New details and new defense today from the armed school resource officer who was on duty during the massacre at a Florida high school. Scot Peterson has been criticized for staying outside as the gunman was shooting in the Florida school. Well, Peterson's attorney in a new statement now saying the officer initially received a call of firecrackers and that once he heard the gunshots thought they were coming from outside. So, in that case, the attorney says he did exactly what he was supposed to do according to his training -- taking up a tactical position as he called law enforcement.

The president, though, continuing to criticize the officer even earlier today. Take a listen.


TRUMP: They weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners, all right? The way they performed was frankly disgusting. You know, I really believe you don't know until you test it, but I think I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon. I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too, because I know most of you. The way they performed was really a disgrace.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN law enforcement contributor Steve Moore. He's retired FBI supervisory special agent. Also CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, former FBI and CIA official.

Gentlemen, as we listen to what the president had to say and then we look at what we are hearing from Peterson's attorney, Steve, does this -- does this make sense that he was actually doing what he was trained to do?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you -- what -- the situation you described, he did not -- he did not execute the proper procedure for. So it wasn't what he was trained to do.

The other thing is I don't care if you are going to firecrackers, it could possibly be a gun, if you -- gunshots sound specifically different when they are in a building and out of a building. [14:20:08] That's number one.

Number two, if they are outside, why didn't he take cover inside? Number three, did he not hear screams from inside? That's a clue.

And number four, he said he had them look at the video inside the building to help with SWAT. Well, did you not see victims on the floor inside? Nothing makes sense.

HILL: So, you're saying it doesn't add up at all?

MOORE: No. And I teach this stuff. This is not adding up.

HILL: So, Phil, when we look at this, and we have Steve saying this doesn't add up. And then there's also what we hear from the president in terms of the president's words that he would have run, that this was a disgrace in terms of how this officer acted or didn't act depending on the way you look at it. What's the impact of those words from the president on other security officers, on law enforcement officials who are out there on the job today?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I wish he would take a step back. I think people who are in this business look and these complicated situations as we were discussing a moment ago, there is a lot of he said/she said here. It looks like an officer didn't enter the building. He's got as an excuse that he offers through his lawyer.

Instead of pretending like this is an opportunity to be courageous, I think we should -- as the president should pretend that we are being questioned by those 17 souls, and they might have just three basic questions. Step back if you are the president and ask law enforcement professionals what is a better way to secure schools and what went wrong here? That's going to take some time. Step back, question two, and look at the mental health of people like this student and say, how do we deal with people who have both mental health problems and weapons? And you look at the third question obviously and step back and say, are there issues related to gun control in the United States that we should consider?

It's not an opportunity for -- less than two weeks in for the president to say, I would have been more courageous and they were. He should say we've got basic questions, let's answer them.

HILL: Inevitably, when we start to look through and as the investigation is ongoing, what happened, what didn't happen, there are going to be questions that arise. Jake Tapper in a lengthy interview with Sheriff Israel asking him to weigh in. Here's a little of what he told Jake and I want to get your take.


SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: I only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I have given amazing leadership to this agency.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Amazing leadership?

ISRAEL: You don't measure a person's leadership by a deputy not going into. These deputies received the training they needed.


HILL: Steve, does he bear responsibility here? Is that deputy's reaction in any way a measurement of Sheriff Israel's leadership?

MOORE: Well, you can't be sure. When the sheriff says I'm an amazing leader but only responsible for things that I know about, that's not leadership. Leadership is making sure that things happen just the way you want them to happen.

I can remember after Columbine, my SWAT team leader came to us and said, listen, if I find any that one of you didn't go into a building where shots are being fired, I'll shoot you myself. I mean, while it was facetious, it was serious. It is -- it is discipline. It is leadership, it is a measure of what's expected of you.

And while I can't tell you definitely that there were leadership problems in this department, I don't see anything that reassures me in any of these statements.

HILL: Phil, based on every conversation we have had over the past couple of weeks in dissecting what happened, what didn't happen, there is so much talk about arming teachers, the president bringing it up again today. Is that the right road to go down or should we look at better security before anything gets into the school? Where is --

MUDD: It's not the right way to go down. You haven't spoken to people who participated in the event. You could ask the major city chiefs, you could ask the National Education Association Teachers, you could ask the students. Those are the three key stakeholders here and I think they would tell you, including every teacher I have spoken with, teachers teach and security professionals carry weapons.

I think the first question is let's talk to people who are stake holders and come up with a solution instead of guessing that 10 to 20 percent of teachers want to carry a weapon as the president said, so let's arm them. I don't see that as a solution. We ought to let teachers teach and we ought to have a bigger conversation based on the school shootings in this country about things like whether we need metal detectors in schools. I don't think weapons for teachers is an answer.

HILL: Steve, you want to weigh in before I let you?

MOORE: No, I agree with him. The only thing that's possibly analogous is after 9/11, we let some pilots in airlines carry firearms. But that's a federally administered program, federal flight deck officers. They have to qualify at the federal academy. They have to meet stringent standards. And they have to prove they can do what they want to do and they are volunteers.

So, unless you want to start an entire situation like that for former military, or former police teachers, this is a nonstarter.

[14:25:01] HILL: Steve Moore, Phil Mudd, always appreciate your perspective. Thank you both.

MUDD: Thank you.

HILL: So, we just heard mention there, of course, about asking folks involved how they feel about arming teachers. What about students? How do students feel about the president's call to arm their teachers to fortify schools?

Just ahead, I'll ask one student who survived the shooting in Florida and who is also back in that school over the weekend following the tragedy for the first time.

Plus, will Congress actually tackle the issue of gun control as lawmakers head back to Capitol Hill today? How the becoming midterm elections could shape their response, next.