1. Headline
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updated 7/23/2012 10:26:25 AM ET 2012-07-23T14:26:25

Guests: Jennifer Seeger, Dave Cullen, Jordan Ghawi, Dennis Henigan, Matt
Cooper

RON REAGAN, GUEST HOST: Good evening. I`m Ron Reagan in Seattle,
filling in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight, tragedy in Colorado. It happens all too often
and the names have become so familiar -- Jonesboro, Arkansas, Virginia
Tech, Columbine, and now Aurora, Colorado. It happened at the Century 16
movie complex in Aurora, not far from Columbine, where a sold-out crowd had
gathered in theater nine for the highly-anticipated midnight opening of the
Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

Police and witnesses say a 24-year-old man, identified as James
Holmes, walked through an exit door dressed all in black, with a black
helmet, a bulletproof vest, a gas mask, a throat protector, a groin
protector and black gloves. Police say he was also carrying three weapons
-- a rifle, a shotgun and a handgun.

Witnesses say Holmes calmly set off some kind of device, perhaps
pepper spray or tear gas, and began firing randomly at terrified
moviegoers. Cell phone images captured the panicked scene as people
desperately tried to flee the theater, in some cases helping victims get
out, in many cases simply running for their lives. In the end, police say
71 were shot and at least 12 were killed.

James Holmes was arrested without a struggle at his car just outside
the theater. In addition, police say Holmes warned that he had rigged his
apartment with explosives, and in fact, police say, Holmes`s apartment has
been booby-trapped with sophisticated explosives and trip-wires.

Joining me now from Aurora, Colorado, is Chris Jansing, host of
MSNBC`s "JANSING & COMPANY."

Chris, thank you for being with us. I know you just got there, just
onto the scene. Is there anything new? And what is the mood there right
now in Aurora?

CHRIS JANSING, HOST, "JANSING & COMPANY" (via telephone): Well, as
you can imagine, especially for people who lived in this area back in 1999,
this is all too familiar. We`re just 12 miles down the road from the scene
of the Columbine shooting.

And it`s been a horrific day, so many people who came to the scene of
the shooting, trying to find out what had happened to loved ones, had they,
indeed, been in that particular theater, had they been injured, had they
been victims of the shooting.

And then you have a second scene there, high anxiety, as you mention,
this booby-trapped apartment and its very sophisticated crossed wires,
trip-wires attached to plastic bottles. Investigators don`t know what`s
inside those bottles. They`re obviously approaching this very carefully.

That`s all been evacuated. It`s not just a concern, obviously, for
safety, but they want what is in that apartment. Are there computers? Is
there other information that could be used as evidence? So they`re
approaching that very carefully, as well.

And we`re left with the lingering question -- and there`s no good
answer to this yet -- and that is, Ron, of course, Why did he do that? The
New York police commissioner, Ray Kelly, had reported that he had his hair
painted red and said he was the Joker. And since then, there has been
verification of that, that James Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect, did
indeed tell police he was the Joker. But why is the outstanding question,
Ron.

REAGAN: We`ve got 12 people dead, Chris, 71 reported wounded. Is
there any word on -- as far as the wounded go, how many of those 71 might
be critically wounded?

JANSING: You know, I just talked to some people who were actually
over at the hospital, and at least -- the major hospital where some of the
victims had been brought, and they said that they`re being very closed-
mouthed. You can understand why, and that is because a lot of the family
members are trying to be -- trying to be contacted. And so we really don`t
know.

We do know that some people have already been discharged, including a
baby who was less than a year old who was inside the theater. But as far
as how many may be seriously, how many may have life-threatening injuries,
I have not seen that yet, and we haven`t been able to find it, at least
going to the hospital.

REAGAN: One thing that occurs to me, one question that occurs to me,
is how did he get into the theater with this -- you know, the Kevlar vest
and the guns and everything else? Is it the case that he actually got into
the theater first, then left through a back door, got the guns and body
armor, and came back in through the exit? Is that the scenario they`re
looking at?

JANSING: That was the obvious question because, as you well know,
Ron, when you go to a movie theater, those exit doors at the front of the
theater are locked.

But yes, according to witnesses, he had a ticket. He came into the
theater. At some point, his phone rang, and he went outside looking like
he was going out to take a call, and then obviously, somehow, kept the door
open, propped the door open, put all this gear on him. You know, he had on
a helmet. He had on a vest. Some reports say he had on, you know, other
protective clothing -- a gas mask, obviously, before he threw that black
(ph) canister. Came back in and very quickly just started opening fire
with that assault rifle.

REAGAN: Yes, I imagine the police are interested in whether he had
any kind of accomplices -- you know, the phone call, for instance, or
things on his computer -- if anybody else knew about this.

JANSING: That`s an outstanding question right now. And one of the
things that police have said is that they don`t have any direct evidence
right now saying that there was an accomplice. It could be purely
coincidental. It could have been set up with someone who had no idea. You
know, he could have said to him, Call me at such a time, and he did, not
knowing.

REAGAN: Right.

JANSING: Police don`t know that yet. That`ll be something that`s
fairly easy to check, obviously, because as you reported at the top of the
show, you know, he surrendered. There was no issue. So presumably,
they`re able to get his phone and look and see the call was (INAUDIBLE)

REAGAN: Thank you, Chris Jansing, from Aurora, Colorado.

Joining me now is an eyewitness to this terrible shooting. Jennifer
Seeger was in the theater and saw the gunman firsthand. Jennifer, welcome
to the show. I`m glad you could be with us.

That must have been about the most terrifying thing you could ever
imagine. You really had -- you had a front row seat to a mass killing.
Can you describe what happened and how you first realized that something
was terribly wrong, that this wasn`t part of the movie, in other words?

JENNIFER SEEGER, EYEWITNESS (via telephone): Yes. As you know, at
the point where he took his first -- his first fire into the ceiling, I
knew that those were real bullets and he wasn`t messing around. That
wasn`t just for entertainment. At that point, he was out there to shoot
(ph) somebody.

And it was terrifying. You know, I go in there to watch a movie and I
come out with blood on me and dead bodies all around me and gunshots, and
all by one man`s influence, you know what I mean? It`s absolutely
ludicrous to me how somebody could do that to anyone. But it was
terrifying. I -- you know, the guy put...

REAGAN: How close...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: Jennifer, how close were you?

SEEGER: I was second row.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: ... and he was standing right there at the front of the
theater?

SEEGER: Yes, sir. Yes, he was, to my right. And he -- yes?

REAGAN: What was the expression on his face? What was his demeanor?
Could you -- could you discern that at all?

SEEGER: Yes, I can definitely do that for you. He -- you know, what?
You know, didn`t have an expression on his face because he had a gas mask
on. He was in full riot gear. He looked like he was from a SWAT team, you
know what I mean? He had a vest on. He had a belt on. He had padding,
and a rifle in his hands.

And at that point, he was four or five feet away from me, and the
gentleman -- oh, he`s not a gentlemen, but you know, he put -- he put that
gun in my face. And I at that point didn`t know what to do. And he stood,
you know, six foot tall, 185 pounds, with a gun in my face three feet away
from me and -- and...

REAGAN: He actually put the gun to your face?

SEEGER: Yes, sir.

REAGAN: He actually held the barrel of the gun to your face.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: But didn`t shoot you, obviously.

SEEGER: No, he was, like, three feet away from me. And yes, he held
it in my direction, towards my face. And he didn`t shoot me because I
moved out of the way quick enough to where I could duck for cover and pull
myself underneath a chair and hide with my best friend, and you know, try
to tuck ourselves underneath the chairs and hide and just stay still.

At that point, I told everybody to just stay calm and wait for him to
go up the stairs, and when he did that, just crawl as fast as you possibly
could to the other end of the aisle and try to make a run for it, as far as
that goes. When they did that...

REAGAN: How -- how...

SEEGER: Yes?

REAGAN: Yes, no, sorry. As you were hiding there -- I didn`t mean to
interrupt you, but as you were hiding there, were you aware that other
people were actually being shot and killed around you?

SEEGER: Yes. You know, when I was laying on the ground, waiting for
him to move up the stairs -- he had missed me and went on to other people
because his objective was to just kill as many people as possible, and that
was very obvious.

He shot people behind me. And the gunshots and the shells were
rolling down and touching my face and my best friend`s legs. And they were
still warm and you could smell the gunpowder in the air. And you could
hear the people moaning in the background that had gotten shot.

And as that happened, he just continued to walk up the stairs and kill
people in each aisle, you know, walking in the aisle, pushing people out
(ph). And anybody that tried to flee, he would just shoot at that point.

REAGAN: How long did this go on? Can you estimate how many minutes
this extended?

SEEGER: It seemed probably -- yes, you know, it seemed like a
lifetime, but if I had to put a guesstimate on it, it was probably about 15
minutes, maybe 20 at the most. But literally, I think 10, 15 minutes.

REAGAN: Yes. Yes.

SEEGER: Just enough time to be able...

REAGAN: That`s a long time, though, for this to be...

SEEGER: Right. And it`s just enough time for him to be able to get
what he came in there to do, that he planned to do done before anybody
could get in there. You know, and the...

REAGAN: Did he...

SEEGER: ... municipal building is down the street. So the cops were
there fast, but he just got (ph) a gun so quickly...

REAGAN: Right.

SEEGER: ... that there was nothing we could do about it.

REAGAN: Did he say anything at all while this was going on?

SEEGER: No, he never said a word. All he did was come in the door
and throw the gas canister, and then shoot the ceiling, and then point the
guy at me and then start, you know, just massacring people left and right.

REAGAN: How long do you think it was before the people, generally, in
the theater understood this isn`t some sort of publicity stunt for a movie,
this is the real thing?

SEEGER: I think that probably, you know, I mean, people started
noticing about a minute or two into it, after he had -- I mean, with the
tear gas, people still were thinking that it was, you know, a prank or
whatever. But the second that he lifted up the gun and shot it, and people
knew that sound of a real gun and saw the real bullets, I mean, that --
that was there (ph). And it only took two minutes to realize.

It went from calm and collected to entertaining to -- to massive
amounts of people being shot. It was just too short of a timeframe to be
able to adjust.

REAGAN: Jennifer -- Jennifer Seeger, you are a lucky young woman, and
I know you know that. But thank you for joining us very much tonight. And
you know, go home, rest, and you`ll probably want to talk to somebody about
this later. Jennifer, thanks so much.

SEEGER: (INAUDIBLE)

REAGAN: Also joining us tonight is NBC -- you bet. Also joining us
tonight is NBC chief justice correspondent Pete Williams.

Pete, thank you for being with us. I understand you`ve been looking
into the guns, in particular, that this individual used. What sort of guns
were they? Where did he get them? Could he have been prevented from
getting them?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, not under Colorado law. They
were all legally purchased. There were two handguns made by a company
called Glock. They are .40-caliber handguns, very commonly used throughout
the U.S. by gun enthusiasts.

Then a shotgun, a Remington 870 pump action single-barrel shotgun, and
then the rifle that probably, according to the police, fired the most
shots. That`s a Smith & Wesson AR 15 type rifle. It can have a high-
capacity ammunition clip. These are somewhat controversial. They`re often
called assault weapons. And they`re banned in five states. You can`t buy
them in five states, although none of them are in the West except
California. They`re banned in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and
Massachusetts.

Now, interestingly, Ron, they were all purchased within the last
couple of months. The first of them was bought in May and the most recent
one, one of the .40-caliber handguns, was bought just two weeks ago. So
that would indicate that -- that if Holmes, in fact, is the shooter,
whoever did this was -- was planning to do it since at least May.

And of course, we know there was lots of preparation here because the
police say he was extensively decked out in bulletproof everything when he
walked into the theater. He had these guns, at least three of them. We
don`t know precisely whether he was carrying both the handguns or he may
have left one in his car.

But he had them. He had the gas canister that he set off. He had all
this elaborate hell (ph) version of wires and boxes and fireworks and
everything else in his apartment. So you know, this was obviously very
well planned.

And I`ve talked to some authorities who are familiar with what the
apartment scene looks like, and he did at least tell police that it was
booby-trapped. That`s apparently about the last thing he`s told them. We
were told that he`s not really cooperating with authorities once he was
detained and taken downtown.

But they say that there`s bottles, glass bottles with liquids in it.
There`s containers of fireworks, of powder, of ammunition, and all these
wires that seem to interconnect everything. And it`s just a huge jumble
and a chore to try to figure out how to get in there.

REAGAN: Well, I suppose it`s a fortunate -- I don`t suppose, I know
it`s a fortunate thing that he at least told the police...

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

REAGAN: ... that he had the apartment rigged with explosives. Pete,
I know you`ve got a lot of work to do. Thank you for joining us.
Appreciate it very much.

Tonight, the country is watching as this tragedy unfolds in Colorado.
Share your thoughts and condolences by sending a message to MSNBC.com. And
stay with NBC News for continuing coverage of this breaking story.
There`ll be a special edition of "DATELINE" tonight at 9:00, 8:00 Central,
with Ann Curry from Aurora. And at 10:00 o`clock Eastern, MSNBC will have
a special on the Colorado shooting hosted by Chris Jansing.

We`ll be right back.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We talked to people on scene here. They have a
look of grave concern on their face. When we first got here, someone said,
It`s not safe for you to be here. There are explosives here. We`ve since
inquired more about that and we`re told that they are investigating whether
or not there are explosives here.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: The terrible events in Aurora, Colorado, have inevitably
revived calls for tighter gun control laws, though few believe the laws
will change soon.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranks states on a 100-point
scale. The higher the number, the more strict the state`s laws.
California has the strongest gun control laws, followed by New Jersey,
Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. On the other end of the scale,
Arizona, Utah and Alaska all get zeros. Colorado ranks relatively low on
the scale with a 15 rating.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever weapon he had, you know, that was -- I
mean, that was the time when we realized, you know, we need to run, we need
to run. So we just ran down the stairs and we just ran out of the theater.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`re learning more about the
alleged shooter, James Holmes, who opened fire early this morning in a
Colorado movie theater. That theater stands less than 20 miles from the
site of another horrific massacre, the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High
School in Littleton, Colorado.

Joining me now the Dave Cullen, who spent 10 years reporting on his
book, "Columbine," and Clint Van Zandt, NBC News analyst and former FBI
profiler. Thank you, gentlemen, both for joining me.

Dave, there must be an awful sense of deja vu here. When you first
heard the news out of Aurora, did you flash back to Columbine?

DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, "COLUMBINE": Yes, I did. And in particular, I
flashed back to the morning after, which was so much more painful than the
day it happened for me because the kids out there had really changed
overnight. And they had -- they had sort of frozen up emotionally. Nobody
was crying. There were sort of blank stares on their faces.

And they were aware of this. They understood their emotions had sort
of all been shut off overnight, and it was really, really disconcerting.
That was the scariest part for me.

That`s when it actually -- I hope this is OK to say that for me,
that`s where it changed personally from being distraught about the people
who had died. At that point, I was more -- I guess I really was worried
for the 2,000 kids who were still alive and wondering what was going to
happen to their lives.

And obviously, the dead is terrible, and in most ways worse, but then
you`ve got to think about all those people who were still alive. And that
was kind of overwhelming, actually.

REAGAN: I had that thought when I was talking with Jennifer Seeger,
one of the eyewitnesses, just a moment ago, Dave. And I was thinking she`s
going to suffer some sort of post-traumatic stress here, I would think. Is
that what the witnesses can expect at this point?

CULLEN: Well, luckily, not all of them.

And Chris probably knows more of the figures than I have. A minority
of people actually suffer from something -- post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most will have some sorts of symptoms or some difficulty, but most people
get over it.

And, you know, they`re going to have a rough couple of months or
years, don`t get me wrong. But I was really kind of surprised. When
Columbine first happened, it was the kids who seemed most shattered by it,
and really, really in bad shape, and the adults for the most part were
handling it better.

Over the years, that sort of -- they sort of gradually traded places,
where the parents got a little better, and the adults, but not that much,
and the kids were more resilient and really recovered better over time, but
it took many -- I`m talking like five to 10 years.

REAGAN: Yes. Yes. Sure.

Clint, you and I have had conversations after events like this before
and they`re never easy to -- never easy conversations to have. We don`t
know everything about this shooter, obviously, yet. We don`t know what his
motives were, at least what he says they will be, but we know some things
about him.

He prepared, for instance.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, MSNBC ANALYST: Absolutely.

REAGAN: This wasn`t a spur-of-the-moment thing. And what does that
tell us about him?

VAN ZANDT: Well, it tells us, as far as I`m concerned, Ron, he`s
responsible for his actions. This wasn`t just a psychotic break overnight.

This is someone, as Pete Williams just told us, who at least bought
these four weapons over the last couple of months. And it`s interesting.
When we look at the weapons, Ron, .40-caliber Glock pistols carried by
police and FBI, AR-15 rifles carried by police and FBI, .12-gauge 870
shotguns carried by police and FBI.

He wears a black tactical uniform, a bulletproof vest, a ballistic
helmet, a ballistic neck guard, ballistic leggings. This is a wannabe in
his own way, Ron. This is someone who wanted to look like law enforcement,
look like the military.

And when we say why did he tell law enforcement that he had his
apartment booby-trapped, this guy may have -- terrible as it is, he may
have had some special fantasy relationship in his mind with law
enforcement. He dressed like them. He carried guns like them. And even
though he was capable of shooting 71 people, he didn`t want to get his
fantasy brothers and sisters in arms wounded, perhaps, perhaps.

REAGAN: He also -- he did not choose to go down in a blaze of
ignominious glory either. He was wearing body armor. He apparently
surrendered to the police immediately.

What does this tell us about him?

VAN ZANDT: Well, I have been involved in suicide by cop cases where I
have had individuals as an FBI agent shoot and kill other people trying to
get me and others to kill them.

This guy had ever chance in the world to force that to happen. When I
was an FBI hostage negotiator, I had a T-shirt somebody gave me one time.
It said, "Surrender or die." Well, really, in his case, that`s the choice.
Real cops with real guns gave him a real choice, and he chose -- he chose
to put his weapons down, meekly surrender.

And I think what`s interesting, does he have a message, does he have
some type of terrible rationalization for what he did that he really wants
to share with us? Because if he wanted to die, all he had to do was point
a gun at a police officer. They would have obliged him. But he chose not
to do that, Ron, so there`s more to come from this guy`s mouth.

REAGAN: Yes.

The alleged shooter`s mother spoke to ABC News by phone from her home
in San Diego. She said -- quote -- "You have the right person. I need to
call the police. I need to fly out to Colorado."

Dave, I don`t recall from the Columbine shooting, did any -- was
anybody aware that the shooter in that incident might be somebody who posed
a risk to people? Was there anybody there who maybe knew that something
like this was in the offing?

CULLEN: There were a few people who -- who understood, the Brown
family in particular, who had alerted the cops because Dylan Klebold, one
of the killers, had basically turned in the other killer to his friend,
Brooks Brown, who then his mom reported it to the police, and turned over
pages and pages of the Web site with all sorts of death threats.

And the police actually investigated that and then, for still somewhat
unclear reasons, stopped investigating apparently because of another murder
case and never followed up.

So, there were people who had an idea. Most people however, they
fooled, and particularly Eric Harris, who was a psychopath. He had just
about everybody fooled. So, for the most part, that was the exception, the
people who sort of did it coming.

REAGAN: All right.

Dave Cullen and Clint Van Zandt, thank you both for joining us on this
very difficult day.

And we will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN OATES, AURORA, COLORADO, POLICE CHIEF: As of right now, we do not
have any evidence of a second gunman. We were here immediately.

And, thankfully, thankfully, we apprehended a suspect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For one victim, last night`s rampage at the movie theater was,
unbelievably, not the first time she was present at such a horrific event.
Last month, she was inside a Toronto mall moments before a shooting rampage
began.

Still unnerved by it a few days later, she wrote a blog post about it.
It reads: "This empty, almost sickening feeling won`t go away. I noticed
this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before
someone opened fire in the food court, ad odd feeling which led me to go
outside and, unknowingly, out of harm`s way. It`s hard for me to wrap my
mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a
deadly shooting."

Tragically, Jessica Ghawi was inside the theater when James Holmes
began his deadly attack and she lost her life.

I`m joined now by Jessica`s brother, Jordan.

And, Jordan, let me just say to you and your family our condolences go
out to you. This -- what an awful coincidence, and you must feel just so
whiplashed and terrible about it.

JORDAN GHAWI, BROTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: Thank you, Ron.

Yes, those same feelings that she expressed in that blog post is what
my family and are experiencing now.

REAGAN: Tell me a little bit your sister. What was Jessica like?

GHAWI: She was -- her own moniker assigned to her by herself was the
feisty redhead. And that says a lot right there. She was passionate. She
was curious. She was boisterous. She was well-loved. Her passion showed
everywhere and in everything she did.

REAGAN: I don`t imagine that anybody, not Jessica, not you, certainly
not her family would have imagined that, having survived one shooting in
Toronto, that really, incredibly, she would find herself in the midst of
another shooting just a few weeks later and lose her life.

How is your family coping with this right now?

GHAWI: They`re devastated. We`re all devastated, our friends,
family. We have a wide network of people across the world.

I have been getting condolence e-mails from Nigeria, from Edinburgh,
you name it. They`re trying to strengthen my family, which is what my
family needs right now. I`m just trying to be some sort of pillar for them
and focus on celebrating my sister`s life.

And if I can actually address -- I know you -- I believe you had a
psychopathologist or a forensic psychiatrist. And there`s a lot of
speculation on the shooter`s -- I have actually refused to learn his name,
because this man was a coward. Simply put, he was a coward.

And this isn`t about him. This isn`t going to be another Columbine,
where we remember Eric -- Klebold. This is not going to be another Norway
incident, where we remember the names of Anders Breivik and his manifesto.

This one is going to be known for the victims. And those are the
names that need to be put in the media right now. Those are the names and
those are the lives that we should be focusing on...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: I know exactly what you...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: I know exactly what you -- yes, sorry, I didn`t mean to
interrupt, Jordan. I know exactly how you feel, having gone through
something similar when my father was shot by a person.

I didn`t want to say his name either. And if I had gotten my hands on
him at that time, I probably would have torn him limb by limb with my bare
hands, so I understand the emotions that must be roiling up in you and your
family.

And, Jordan, thank you so much for joining us today. I really
appreciate it.

GHAWI: Thank you, Ron.

REAGAN: And our sympathies, of course, again go out to you and your
family.

We leave you now with some of Jessica`s thoughts. Toward the end of
her blog post about the Toronto shooting last month, she wrote: "I say all
the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So
often, I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family
member, every laugh we share with friends, even the times of solitude are
all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday
evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am
given."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are going to be
other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and
reflection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney gave brief statements today on
the tragedy in Colorado. But there was one word neither candidate
mentioned: gun. And that doesn`t come as a surprise to many political
observers.

If the fallout from this mass shooting follows the pattern of other
similar acts, there likely won`t be much of a debate among politicians on
gun violence. And that concerns proponents of gun control.

Here was New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: You know, soothing words
are nice, but maybe it`s time that the two people who want to be president
of the United States stand up and tell us what they`re going to do about
it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.

Instead of these two people, President Obama and Governor Romney,
talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place,
OK, tell us how.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Why is it that tragedies like this don`t ignite more of a
national political debate on gun control?

Matt Cooper is managing editor of White House coverage for The
National Journal Group, and Dennis Henigan is the vice president of the
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Let me start with you, Matt. There seem to be some numbers that came
out fairly recently here. In 1990, for instance, 78 percent of the
American public said that gun laws ought to be stricter. That number --
and 19 percent said they should be less strict. By 2010, those numbers
were almost completely reversed, only 44 percent of Americans saying laws
should be stricter, and many more of course saying they should be less
strict.

Why -- why is that happening, do you suppose, in the United States
right now?

MATT COOPER, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": I don`t think we know all of the
reason, Ron, but one may be those elections way back in 1994 that brought
Newt Gingrich and the Republicans the control of Congress.

You know, that came after Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress
passed some modest gun reform measures. And they just got their clocks
cleaned. Now, there were other issues in that campaign, but that was
really an important one. That one really scared Democrats. That was a
soul-changing moment for them.

And I think, since then, you just have not seen Democratic politicians
get out in front on gun control the way they used to.

REAGAN: And, Dennis, as somebody who is devoted to sensible gun
control, those numbers would seem to indicate that your side is losing the
argument here in the United States.

What do you make of that?

DENNIS HENIGAN, VICE PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN
VIOLENCE: Well, I would contest that. And polls show very different
things.

For example, the polls show that a lot of Americans think we have a
lot stronger gun laws than we actually do. Frank Luntz, the Republican
pollster and messaging maven, has found that a majority of Americans
actually believe we have background checks on all gun sales, when in fact
we don`t.

We only have background checks on sales by licensed gun dealers, and
we need to extend those background checks to all sales. When Frank Luntz
and other pollsters have asked the American people, do you support specific
changes in our gun laws to make them stronger, they overwhelmingly support
those changes.

Over 85 percent of the American people support extending Brady
background checks to all gun sales, including over 80 percent of gun
owners. We actually have a consensus in this country that we ought to make
our gun laws stronger.

What we don`t have is politicians who are listening to the people. We
instead have politicians who are cowering in fear of the gun lobby, doing
their bidding, and not doing what is necessary for the safety of the
American people.

REAGAN: Well, speaking of politicians like that, here was Texas
Congressman Louie Gohmert today and his thoughts on the tragedy in
Colorado. Listen to the congressman.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: It does make me wonder if, you know,
with all those people in the theatre, was there nobody that was carrying
that could have stopped this guy more quickly?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

REAGAN: Matt, I know you`re a reporter, so you may not want to weigh
in on this. But I`ve been around guns all my life and when I hear somebody
talk like that, about gee, if only more people had guns, they could have
done something. And then I imagine a crowded theatre, with smoke, flashing
lights, gun shots going off, people panicking and screaming, and then I
imagine what would happen if a bunch of people stood up and just started
firing, even if they were firing towards the assailant here. Those bullets
would be going through walls and hitting people, real chaos would break
out.

How does somebody like Louie Gohmert say something this foolish?

MATT COOPER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, I can`t speak to that, Ron.

The only thing I do know is just to go back to what we were saying
before, I think part of the reason Democratic politicians are kind of
cowering on this issue and they just don`t want to touch it is there are
these misperceptions out in the public as Dennis said. You know, there are
lots of people who think President Obama has passed gun control or has an
agenda in his second term to confiscate guns. You know, he`s done nothing
on guns and there`s no sign he really wants to do anything on gun control.

I think the, you now, rumors run rampant and even back in 1994 when
Clinton passed the assault rifle law that he pushed through, he was
constantly saying look, I`m not coming after your hunting rifle. I love
deer season as much as anyone. I don`t want to stop you from hunting.

I think fighting misperceptions is very hard.

REAGAN: Dennis, I put matt in a tough position there as a reporter.
He wouldn`t want to venture an opinion as I did there, but you`re not a
reporter. You can weigh in on this.

What Louie Gohmert said was just frankly stupid. I mean, anybody who
knows anything about guns would not imagine that would be a good scenario
to have going on. How do you respond to something like that?

HENIGAN: You hear this kind of insanity all the time from the other
side and I would turn the clock back to the horrible shooting that
victimized your dad and victimized Jim Brady. I mean, those were two
public officials who were surrounded by well-armed, well-trained people and
it didn`t stop that shooting.

And as a matter of fact, Colorado as a state, unfortunately, has made
it easier for people to get concealed weapons and that didn`t stop this
shooting. So this is a fantasy that more guns means less crime, less
violence. What we need are common sense measures to keep guns out of the
hands of these dangerous people in the first place. That`s what the
American people want and the problem is this debate always gets so
polarized.

People saying, well, if President Obama were to do anything to show
some leadership towards common sense measures to prevent these shootings,
it would be an attack on the Second Amendment and that`s not true.

REAGAN: I`ve got to leave. We have to leave it there. Thank you,
Matt Cooper and Dennis Henigan. Appreciate you both coming in and being
with us.

And stay with NBC news for continuing coverage of the tragedy in
Colorado. There will be a special edition of "Dateline" at 9:00, 8:00
Central with Ann Curry from Aurora. And at 10:00 Eastern, MSNBC will have
a special on the shooting hosted by Chris Jansing.

We will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, we feel not only a
sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness, but there is something we
can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-
laden and we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado. This morning,
Colorado lost youthful voices, which would have brightened their homes,
enriched their schools, and brought joy to their families. Our prayer is
that the comforter might bring peace to their souls that surpasses our
understanding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: We`ve heard from Mike Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle
Giffords. Kelly tweeted, "Gabby and I were horrified to hear of the
tragedy in Colorado last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the
victims and their families."

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, we woke
up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united
as one American family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: We are back.

The president and his Republican opponent both canceled their
campaign stops today and they pulled their negative ads from television
stations in Colorado.

For an assessment of how candidates handled the news and what impact
it could have on the campaign, we`ve got John Heilemann, national affairs
editor of "New York" magazine, and Mark Halperin, editor-at-large for
"Time" magazine, both are MSNBC political analysts.

John, both of you, but John first, this is a tough thing for a
presidential candidates. They`re out there in the midst of a hard fought
campaign. A tragedy like this happens. How did the two men handle it, do
you suppose?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it is, Ron,
it`s always a tough thing to do. Certainly, they`re in high gear and they
have been in high combat the last couple of weeks in particular. So,
you`ve got a down shift and change tone pretty quick.

Both of these candidates, both President Obama and Governor Romney,
had very skilled speech writing operations around them and very sensible
advisers.

I think they both handled it with what I expected it to be, the kind
of grace and a fair amount of dignity, and they did what they needed to do
today, which is strike the right tone of grief and condolence for the
victims and the victims` families, sound that kind of national -- sense of
national sympathy and national mourning, and get themselves out of that
state of kind of cheap political combat as quickly as possible.

REAGAN: Mark, I believe the president was apprised at about 5:45
this morning that the shooting had happened. How does an incident like
this effect a campaign? What happens in the immediate aftermath? What are
the advisers looking at? What things are they weighing?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: We all continue to be
concerned about the families and the victims particularly of the ones
hospitalized. And you saw it in both Governor Romney and President Obama
today, a real human response.

Behind the scenes, though, remember 24 hours ago although we`re in
July, there was intense political back-and-forth going on with both sides
thinking they had issues that they could score political advantage on, lots
of negative ads, press releases galore. All that comes to a halt.

These are operatives in both the senior levels in the White House in
the Chicago campaign and in Boston who get the rhythms of politics very
clearly. This was not a hard call, neither man had events today that
couldn`t be changed or scrapped, and same with surrogates, Mrs. Romney and
the first lady, Vice President Biden all very easy call to cancel their
events. And then watch and see -- watch and see as we head into the
weekend.

My guess is because these two guys have been running more negative
campaigns than they`d really like to, my guess this could have a residual
effect at least for a few days into next week. But before too long, I
think we`ll be back to where they were once they get a better feel for
where the country is regarding the kind of negative campaigns both have
been running.

REAGAN: Yes. You hate to be cynical about this sort of thing, you
guys, particularly on a day like today. But some of us were chatting here
before the show, and we all kind of agreed that by the end of the weekend,
you know, beginning of next week, you know, whatever penumbra of good
feeling and, you know, togetherness arises from this, it will probably
start wearing off.

The president today spoke about the tragedy in personal terms, as a
parent. Take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had
been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I
will be fortunate to hug our girls a little tighter tonight. I`m sure
you`ll do the same with your children.

But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace
them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: John, this is a test in a way for a president or a potential
president. Presidents of the United States are consolers in chief. I
think of my own father in the Challenger disaster, for instance. It`s a
tough note that you have to strike, isn`t it though? Politics of course
goes out the window, but you have to hit just the right note. Again, do
you think that both of these men did a pretty good job with that?

HEILEMANN: I think they did, Ron. In President Obama`s case, he has
some experience in this case obviously with the Gabby Giffords shooting,
another incident where he rose to the occasion. You know, it is, as you
say, it`s tough to strike the right note. But what it calls upon in a
politician is a largeness of spirit and then the one thing you need to stay
away from is to in any way kind of cheapen the thing with kind of --
infecting it with politics in any way.

It calls for a human response and it calls for a soft response. And
as I say, President Obama has had this. He`s been in office now almost
four years. He`s had other occasions he`s had to do this before. He`s
done it very well in the past.

Governor Romney has not obviously been president and has not been
called on to play that role in quite the same way. But I thought his
response today was equally graceful and hit the right notes just as well.

I said before, and as Mark noted, these are the people around both
these candidates are experienced. They have some very, very good speech
writers and good political strategists around them who can help them find
their way to the right place rhetorically and in terms of their human
aspect.

REAGAN: We only have a few seconds left, Mark. Both men mentioning
family and that`s really a note that you want to strike there. That these
are family men and they can identify with a tragedy -- that is a family
tragedy for, of course, the relatives of the victims.

HALPERIN: They can. And it was totally genuine. Both these guys at
times in public are not particularly emotional or emotive when they talk
about their families. And when things happen that are tragic that make
them think of their own families, which is where both of their thoughts go
instantly in the case like this.

You do see a more human side of them. One thing this campaign has
lacked is a certain measure of humanity on the part of everyone involved,
including I hate to say the candidates. So, I hope it gets them focused on
what`s important and perhaps rein in their campaign operatives a little bit
as we go forward and try to have a civil, a more civil campaign than we`ve
had over the last couple of recent weeks.

REAGAN: Well, we`ll see how that goes.

Thank you, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: Let me finish tonight with this: guns don`t kill people, as
the saying goes, people kill people. True enough. But people with guns
end up doing most of that killing.

In the wake of this most recent tragedy in Colorado, the National
Rifle Association and its minions are no doubt bracing themselves for an
assault on their constitutionally protected obsession with firearms.
That`s not going to happen. Never has. Likely never will.

But let me advance what I consider a sensible proposition around guns
if for no other reason than to annoy the NRA. Let`s start treating guns
more or less like cars. I know, I know.

There`s no constitutional right to drive an automobile, but neither
are there any constitutional restrictions. After all, when cars first
arrived, they were nothing more than noisy versions of the horse and buggy.
No one was required to obtain a license, pretty much anyone could drive as
they please. Chaos predictably ensued, sensible laws were soon enacted.

Let`s do the same with guns and gun ownership. Here`s the deal.
Guns particularly semiautomatic handguns are designed to kill. When you
purchase one for self-defense, you are announcing your intention if
threatened to kill another person.

That`s serious business. So let`s take it seriously. Let`s require
gun purchasers to prove they know how to handle a gun properly. Just as we
test new drivers` ability to maneuver an automobile. And let`s test their
knowledge of when and how they can legally use their weapon in self-
defense, just like we test drivers` familiarity with traffic rules.

Pretty simple -- no one loses their right to own a gun. They merely
have a demonstrate competence.

Americans -- many of us anyway -- will not soon abandon our fetish
for firearms. That doesn`t mean we can`t be more adult about it.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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