MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Even as we grieve, will we face the troubling questions about the place of guns and violence in our modern life?
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Sandy Hook is the latest and most deadly of a series of mass murders that mark our time.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them.
GREGORY: How will the country respond to the most obvious but most difficult question: How do we prevent these massacres from happening? Everyone has a role--political leaders, mental health experts, law enforcement, gun owners, schools, and parents.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.
GREGORY: This morning, the latest on the investigation. An exclusive interview with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who is calling for new gun restrictions.
Plus, a special conversation representing diverse views about the way forward: Senator Dianne Feinstein of California; former secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge; former secretary of Education, Bill Bennett; New York Times’ Columnist David Brooks; Sociologist Michael Eric Dyson; and the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest-running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: Good Sunday morning on a very difficult day for a small town in Connecticut and for the entire country as we all grieve over the loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary. This morning, we’re getting a first look at the names and faces of some of the victims: 20 school children, eight boys, 12 girls, all first graders, and the six adults who died trying to protect them; including this heartbreaking video of a six-year-old, Ana Marquez-Greene, singing a hymn with her brother last summer.
(Ana Marquez-Greene singing a hymn; Hartford Courant)
GREGORY: President Obama will travel to Newtown this afternoon to console victims’ families and attend a community vigil. The Washington Post’s headline this morning sums up where we are nearly 48 hours after the shooting, “Wrenching Details But Few Answers.” That’s where we want to start this special hour this morning here with our justice correspondent, NBC’s Pete Williams on what more we are learning about this investigation. And, Pete, do we know more about why it happened?
MR. PETE WILLIAMS (NBC News Justice Correspondent): No. I don’t think we do, and I think-- of course, I don’t think we can ever get a satisfactory answer. There’s no satisfactory answer to this, to such a monstrous act. There is some hope that evidence in the house where his mother was killed-- where he killed his mother they believe, will help illuminate what was in his mind. He had a computer there and they are analyzing that to see what they can get out of it.
GREGORY: What can you tell us now after a lot of conflicting information about what happened? What was the scenario?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, the scenario, it all starts Friday morning when he takes his mother’s guns. She had purchased them legally. This is a woman who grew up in rural New Hampshire, was comfortable with guns, like-- liked them, had collected them. He killed her. He takes three of those guns to the school, drives there in her car, forces his way in apparently by shattering a window. They had a buzzer system. And so he defeated that by forcing his way in. The principal and the school psychiatrist-- psychologist tried to stop him. He killed them. And then he concentrated his firepower on these two classrooms with devastating effect. And, David, I think the detail that was so shocking was that he used a-- an assault weapon, that’s a-- that’s a term that bothers some people, but an assault-style weapon, kind of like the combat troops use.
GREGORY: We have a picture of it. Yeah.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right, the Bushmaster .223, the same weapon that the Washington snipers used 10 years ago, and shot these children several times, some as many as 10 and 11 times, so you can only imagine the devastating effect that that had.
GREGORY: The shooter, Adam Lanza, who took his own life. We have an older picture of him. That’s the only picture that exists. What more do you know about him?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, he had a very troubled life. This is a young man who by all accounts had a mild form of autism and was always a person apart. Never really had any close friends. Never seemed to be a good fit anywhere. His mother took him in and out of school. Home schooled him for a while. His parents got divorced. He stayed with his mother. But obviously the neighbors say and friends of hers say that there was a great strain there. Many of his classmates say that he-- unlike the other kids who had backpacks, he always had a briefcase. He had trouble looking people in the eye. He had trouble fitting in or answering questions. So he was-- you know, it wasa very difficult time for him and his mother.
GREGORY: I would think in the-- in the days and weeks ahead, the immediate focus will be on what can be learned from the computers that they have taken from the mother’s home about Lanza.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right. To see if he-- if he left behind anything that would explain his actions. But they tell us that there was no note…
MR. WILLIAMS: …no letter, unlike some of these past school shootings where the people who committed them did leave detailed writings because they-- they wanted people to know some message.
GREGORY: And one other detail that struck me, you had a lockdown scenario in the school. He only visits this violence on two of the classrooms. Other teachers and the other children were all locked down in their classrooms or other places.
MR. WILLIAMS: And we don’t know why he chose those two classrooms.
MR. WILLIAMS: And there were some earlier misinformation that he chose the classroom where his mother taught kindergarten. I think this is a detail we still haven’t nailed down. Because while it’s clear she was never a fulltime faculty member, there are some people who say that at sometime in the past she did volunteer at that school. But what the connection is? Why that school? I think we still don’t know.
GREGORY: Right, no other connection that he actually had to the school.
MR. WILLIAMS: That we know of.
GREGORY: Yeah. All right, Pete Williams, thank you for your reporting.
MR. WILLIAMS: You bet.
GREGORY: I want to turn now to the Connecticut Governor, Dannel Malloy. Governor, welcome to MEET THE PRESS. I am profoundly sorry that we are doing this interview this morning. I have to ask you about the last 48 hours and what they have been like. Can you describe it?
GOV. DANNEL P. MALLOY (D-CT): Sure. I have got a-- received a call at our office that a shooting had taken place at a school here in Newtown. Once we understood at least a portion of what had happened, got in the car and proceeded down to-- to Newtown from-- from Hartford. And then, you know, hours went by. And ultimately had to break it to the families, about 20 of the families were represented in the room at the firehouse that their loved one was-- was not going to be joined with them. And that obviously was a tough moment for me. And I think for everyone. And, by the way, I shouldn’t even say that. I mean, so much tougher for people who've lost a wife or a child. But it was-- it’s been a couple of tough days.
GREGORY: What do you know now-- as we talk to Pete Williams about the investigation, do you have any more information that you’re yet getting from your investigators that would explain why he targeted this school, why he went on this rampage at all?
GOV. MALLOY: You know, as I think was stated, he had a relationship to the school, had attended there. At least that’s what I’m led to believe. And-- but-- but beyond that, no, we really don’t know a whole lot. This is a very deeply-troubled individual. Obviously you can’t do the things that-- that this individual did without any obvious motive, without having been-- being greatly disturbed. And that’s what happened. And I heard…
GREGORY: Is there documented mental health history, Governor, that you’re now aware of?
GOV. MALLOY: Well, you know, if you play the description that you-- that you already did on the show, I mean, this is not a person who maintained normal relationships. And I think, you know, there will be more time for stuff to come out and for us to understand more directly what was going on in this young person’s life. But clearly he was mentally disturbed.
GREGORY: The president is coming to visit and to-- to share in the grief and to try to console those in-- in the community. Where would you like the national conversation to go in the most constructive direction now?
GOV. MALLOY: Well, you know, we are unfortunately a violent society. We have about 32-33,000 deaths by use of a gun each year. About 18,000 of those are self-inflicted. I mean, there is a certain reality that if you have a gun in your home the chances that that’s going to be used against you or against a family member, you know, just-- that’s what happens. And in this particular case, someone tried-- decided to take those three guns…
GOV. MALLOY: …and proceed to a school and literally slaughter people.
GREGORY: Would you like to see…
GOV. MALLOY: So I think it always-- well, I-- what I will-- what would I like to see? I think that there's certain problems that we have in our society that have to be addressed. We-- we don’t treat the mentally ill well. We don’t reach out to families that are in trouble particularly well. We allow the Assault Weapons Ban to lapse. There are lots of issues that need to be taken on as a society and have a reasonable discussion about how we help families in trouble, how we make progress in treating folks, how we intervene. Having said all of that, in our particular state, we have laws that are probably more aggressive than most states. The mere presence of this kind of weapon means that this kind of weapon can-- can be used in the way that it’s been used here or have been used in-- in other situations.
GREGORY: Governor, our thoughts and prayers are with you and with all of those families most directly affected by this. I really appreciate your time this morning.
GOV. MALLOY: Thank you.
GREGORY: I want to turn now to the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. Mister Mayor, thank you for being here.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I-Mayor of New York City): Thank you for having me.
GREGORY: I wish it weren’t under these circumstances.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Just tragedy. Terrible.
GREGORY: You’ve been an unspoken gun control advocate for many years, never more so than this morning. And we’ll talk about that. First, I--I The New York Post the morning after the slaughter of innocents. Describe your reaction when you saw this unfold?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: It’s-- it’s so unbelievable. And it only happens in America. And it happens again and again. There was another shooting yesterday. Three people killed, I think in a hospital. We kill people in schools. We kill them in hospitals. We kill them in religious organizations. We kill them when they’re young. We kill them when they’re old. And we’ve just got to stop this.
GREGORY: There is in this country incredible sadness, empathy, anger, and a sense of resolve. And the president speaking after this horrible tragedy really gave voice to that, Friday afternoon. Listen.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we’re going to have come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
GREGORY: A significant statement as far as it goes. You’re calling for immediate action. What precisely?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, I think the president should console the country. But he’s the commander-in-chief as well as the consoler-in-chief. And he calls for action, but he called for action two years ago. And every time there is a disaster like this, a tragedy like this, everybody says, well, now is not the time. Or if you had fixed the problem you can’t guarantee that this particular event would have been prevented. All of that is true. It’s time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do. Not go to Congress and say what you guys want to do. This should be his number one agenda. He is the president of the United States. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns. That is roughly the number of Americans killed in the whole Vietnam War.
GREGORY: So what do you do?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, there’s a number of things that the president can do and a number of things that Congress can do. And there are a number of things that you and I can do as voters. What the president can do is number one: through executive action he can order his agencies to-- to enforce the laws more aggressively. I think there’s something like 77,000 people who have been accused of lying when they applied for a gun permit. We’ve only prosecuted 77 of them. The president can introduce legislation even if it doesn’t get passed. The president campaigned back in 2008 on a bill that would prohibit assault weapons. We’ve got to really question whether military style weapons with big magazines belong on the streets of America in this day and age. Nobody questions the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, but I don’t think the Founding Fathers had the idea that every man, woman, and child could carry an assault weapon. And I think the president through his leadership could get a bill like that through Congress. But at least he’s got to try. That’s his job.
GREGORY: But isn’t it significant that-- that he may only be able to try, that we have seen declining support since 1990 for stricter gun control measures? We’ve seen the Assault Weapons Ban come and go. Tremendous political cost to Democrats when they first got it passed. I mean…
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: (Unintelligible) what’s the political cost? The NRA’s number one objective this time was to defeat Barack Obama for a second term. Last time I checked the election results, he won and he won comfortably. This myth that the NRA can destroy political careers is just not true.
GREGORY: It’s not a myth that after the Assault Weapons Ban was passed there was a huge political price for Democrats to pay. And nearly 20 years later, they don’t want to touch the issue.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: After the assault-- well, it is true that they lost a lot of seats then. The cause and effect isn’t quite so clear. And what happened then isn’t what happens now. If 27 people killed, 20 children isn’t enough to change the mentality, the psyches, the desires of the American public then…
GREGORY: But let’s talk about this, Mister Mayor, because here’s is the reality. Let’s look at the weapons that were rec-- recovered from the scene of this disaster.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Sure.
GREGORY: You have this Bushmaster assault rifle. This would have been banned under-- under the…
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yeah.
GREGORY: …the Assault Weapons Ban. The pistols, the semiautomatic pistols, the 9mms where recovered. The medical examiner says they were not used. This information could change. But we also are now learning that these were weapons that were found and legally purchased by his mother at her home. She lives in a-- in a rural area and you have them for self-defense.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I can’t…
MATTHEWS: And this is what a lot of Americans agree with.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: David, I can’t tell you that if you stopped people who have psychiatric problems, who have criminal records, who have substance abuse problems, who are minors; if you stopped every one of them from buying a gun, I can’t promise you that this particular event wouldn’t have taken place. But this particular event is just one of a series that happens again and again and again. And a big chunk of those would have been placed. It’s like your argument is there’s no reason to have speed limits because it wouldn’t have stopped that one person when the cops weren’t around that they stepped on the pedal. That’s not true. They all-- the aggregate of all of this would be if we-- if Congress were to act, if Congress wasn’t so afraid of the NRA. And I think you can-- I can show you that they have no reason to be. But if they were to stand up and do what was right for the American public, we’d all be a lot better off. And Congress has the ability to do this. And the president, in my view, is the one who has to lead this. The president campaigned in ‘08 on an assault weapon ban. And the only gun legislation that the president has signed since then, one is the right to carry a gun in national parks where our kids play and one is the right to carry guns on Amtrak. I assume that’s to stop the rash of train robberies which stopped back in the 1800s. And this is ridiculous.
GREGORY: Did you talk to him about this before you endorsed him?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: He knows my views. I certainly-- I didn’t talk to the president or to Mitt Romney just before I decided to endorse Barack Obama. And I said in my endorsement that I endorse Barack Obama because I think his views on issues like this are the right views. But the president has to translate those views into action. His job is not just to be his well-meaning. His job is to perform and to protect the American public.
GREGORY: There is--and I’m not advocating the position, but I’m-- I’m playing devil’s advocate as you know--the position that when-- after a tragedy like this, the debate immediately seems to move in many quarters to gun control as opposed to looking at sort of wider causes. After the Aurora shooting at the movie theater this summer, I had Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado on the program. And he was making the point that, yes he used an assault rifle, but, you know, had he not had that, he could have had a bomb. This is a portion of our conversation.
(Videotape; July 22, 2012)
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO): I mean, if he couldn’t have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured? I mean, we’re in a time of an information age where there’s access to all kinds of information and he was diabolical, demonic in this twisted sense that he just-- I mean I-- I think of him almost as a terrorist.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I don’t think you can go to parents and say, I’m sorry, there’s always going to be some crazy person, so we as a society are not going to protect your children. You don’t really mean that. And I’m not-- I assume the governor didn’t mean that. There’s always going to be bad people and there’s always ways you can do-- you can strangle somebody with your hands. That doesn’t mean everybody should have an assault weapon. You’re-- you’re going from one thing to another. The bottom line is that if you-- people say-- oh, the other thing they said after Aurora was education. Don’t you remember that? The solution to all of this is to improve our educational system. I think that came out of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. My recollection is one of these guys was a Ph.D. student. Another one at Virginia Tech was an engineering student. Come on. The-- this is not a panacea for all of society’s problems. But this is one that’s easy to focus on.
GREGORY: So how do you change the leadership dynamic? Talk a little bit about your experience in New York where this year remarkably you’ve got the lowest crime rate since the 60s.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I don’t think it’s remarkable because I think we’re doing the right things. We have sensible gun laws. We have proactive policing. And we incarcerate people when they are dangerous to society with tough punishment.
GREGORY: There’re also some of the searching methods that have been controversial and have been criticized.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: That’s proactive policing. We send our police officers to problem places where there are problem people. We focus our efforts where there is crime and we make sure that the people who might commit those crimes know that there’s a high probability that we will find them carrying weapons and they’ll go to jail. We have the toughest gun laws in the country. Three-and-a-half-year mandatory sentence in jail is state law if you’re found carrying an illegal loaded gun. All of those things scare people from carrying guns. But the people that they scare are not the hunters, they’re not the people who want to have guns to protect themselves in their homes. Those things are guaranteed by the constitution and guaranteed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also said that you can have reasonable restrictions. Carrying guns on a college campus, for example, is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of in my life. I don’t remember what you were like when you were in college, but I shouldn’t have had a gun when I was in college nor should anybody I knew. We just don’t need guns every place. We don’t need people carrying guns in public places. That’s not what the founding fathers had in mind. It doesn’t add to anybody’s safety. Quite the contrary, it makes us have a much more dangerous society.
GREGORY: So how do you change the leadership dynamic? Connecticut’s got a very strong set of gun laws. An Assault Weapons Ban that ironically did not cover the-- the-- the weapon used in this case apparently. They tried to limit the-- the high capacity clips and…
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Okay.
GREGORY: …they faced tremendous pressure. They weren’t able to do that but they still have tough laws. So how do you change the dynamic? You say that this…
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, for--
GREGORY: …this does change it automatically.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: David, the first thing is having tough laws is one thing, enforcing those laws is something different. Legislators’ job is to come up with laws, to come up to agreements, get everybody into a room, form a bipartisan coalition, get everybody something, most of them get the-- the majority get the most of it. An executive’s job is to make a decision. An executive’s job is to take the law and go out and apply it in the-- given the intent of the law. And that’s exactly what we do in New York City. The fact that we have the lowest murder rate of any big city in the country says we know what we’re doing and we have it every year. We have had a reduction in murder rate virtually every single year for the last 20 years.
GREGORY: As-- as the leader of a huge city in America, New York City, what about the role of other people, our mental health professionals, law enforcement you’ve spoken about…
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: All have a place.
GREGORY: …what is the role? What about-- what about gun owners and gun right supporters? What role do they have in this-- if there’s a new-- to be a new dialogue?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I think gun owners really have spoken. When you do the polling, most gun owners-- gun owners think that an Assault Weapons Ban makes sense in this day and age. The-- that study has been done again and again by both Republican and Democratic pollsters. And the trouble is that the NRA is just never willing to have any restriction whatsoever, no matter how reasonable it is. The Supreme Court fortunately was. They said having reasonable restrictions is consistent with the constitution.
GREGORY: Does that dynamic change now? Does the NRA have disproportionate power? You argued a moment ago that-- that they-- they didn’t have the power they once had in-- in the presidential election.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Look, I’ll-- I’ll give you a good example. I don’t-- I’m not the kind of person to sit back and say, you know, the world is getting worse for my kids and when I’m gone, I don’t care about their lives. I do care about their lives. I’m going to do everything I can while I’m alive to make the world a better place for my kids but also for society. And if you take a look, one of the things I decided to do in this last election was to support some candidates that were running against those that had great records with the NRA, where the NRA was putting their money into one side. I decided to put my money into the other side.
GREGORY: Joe Baca in California, one of those Democrats that you-- you-- you’ve talked to.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I-- we won four out of seven-- four out of seven where the NRA supported every one of those four and we won with a small amount of money. There is this myth that the NRA is so powerful-- you go back to what happened back when the Democrats lost after the Assault Weapons Ban. I don’t know that the two were connected then. But today, the NRA’s power is so vastly overrated. The public, when you do the polls, they want to stop this carnage. And if 20 kids isn’t enough to convince them, I don’t know what would be.
GREGORY: So the top priorities in terms of gun control as of today are to reinstate weapons ban?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I don’t know that-- you keep saying control. I think that’s a-- a bad word. What about regulations? What about sensible gun laws that limit what you can do, when you can do it, make it consistent with the constitution but also doesn’t-- don’t jeopardize everybody? And that’s in fact what I’m trying to do.
GREGORY: So just tick off the-- the-- the ones that you’d fight for if you were the president.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, if I would fight for, I would-- number one, there is a loophole in the req-- federal law requirement that says you have to have a background check. The loophole is called the Gun Show Loophole. There was this concept that at a gun show, if you wanted to sell one gun and I just wanted to buy one gun, we wouldn’t go through a background check because it was too complex. Number one, it isn’t complex. Both of us could use a gun dealer. Ninety-nine percent of the gun dealers in this country do background checks, follow the law exactly to the letter. It’s not onerous and it really does work. But the gun shows have evolved from just you selling one gun to me to you having 500 guns and 10 or 20 like me come in to buy guns from you. It’s a ways to avoid the federal requirement for a background check. Number two, the background check database isn’t kept up to date. And the president, by executive order, could certainly do something like that. There was a disaster, a murder six, eight months, a year ago. A military guy. The military knew he had psychiatric problems, never put that into the database outside of the military, he goes and kills people. So populating the database, having-- making sure that you stop the Gun Show Loophole. Those are the kinds of things that Congress can do. And enforcing the laws. The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division hasn’t had anybody in-- in half a dozen years running it, four years. President hasn’t fought hard for somebody. I know it’s tough to get people with-- through Congress, approved in Congress. President deals with that all the time. This should be one of his number one priorities.
GREGORY: How much are you prepared to spend in the future to counter the NRA?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I don’t know how to answer that. But when I care about something, I care about something. I think I have an obligation as an American to-- and as a citizen, as-- as a human being, to help others. Smoking is going to kill a billion people this century. I've put six hundred million dollars from my own money into trying to stop the tobacco companies from getting kids to smoke and convincing adults that it’s not in their health. That’s one issue. Who’s-- who knows what this--
GREGORY: But you’re prepared to put a lot more money to support stricter gun regulations?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to do that? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody just said, okay, let’s just may-- have some common sense here? We don’t need assault weapons, military style weapons with big magazines on the streets of our city. And we’ve got to make sure that people who don’t have the maturity or the capacity-- mental capacity to responsibly handle guns don’t have them.
GREGORY: Mister Mayor, thank you.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: You’re welcome.
GREGORY: Appreciate it very much.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: It’s very tragic.
GREGORY: A note here this morning. We reached out to all thirty-one pro-gun rights senators in the new Congress to invite them on the program to share their views on this subject this morning. We had no takers.
Coming up here, big events like these often trigger a lively debate online. This tweet caught my eye from @MichelleLaw. One guy tries to use a shoe bomb and everyone at the airport now has to take their shoes off. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine, but no change. A provocative thought. And like Mayor Bloomberg just said, is what happened in Connecticut going to be a catalyst for change in this and other areas? We’ll talk about it with our special panel of key voices in this conversation, after this short break.
GREGORY: Coming up here, before Friday morning’s events in Connecticut, a heated standoff was brewing, as you know, on Capitol Hill over the fiscal cliff. That debate now seemingly on hold for the moment at least as Washington remembers the victims, lowering the flags at the Capitol and the White House to Half Staff. The question now for our nation’s leaders, mental health experts, law enforcement, gun rights supporters and opponents alike is what now? How do we move forward? A special discussion on how to stop these massacres, when we return.
GREGORY: And we are back with a special edition of MEET THE PRESS. Joining us for the rest of the hour, a special panel. A leading voice in the Senate for gun control for the past two decades, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, author and former secretary of education Bill Bennett, Georgetown University professor and sociologist Michael Eric Dyson, former governor of Pennsylvania and the Homeland Security Secretary under President Bush and also a member of the Virginia Tech shooting review panel Tom Ridge, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, and columnist for The New York Times David Brooks. Welcome to all of you. As my wife and I are trying to shield our young kids from news of this event, we realize that it’s futile, that this is not an exception, that we cannot wish these events away. And I mentioned this robust social networking conversation that unites the country. And if there is one feeling, it is enough. So, in that spirit, I want to have this conversation. Here is the recent history of school shootings in this country, public rampages, not all at schools. And the number of victims going back to Columbine in 1999 all the way through Portland, Oregon, at a mall. Three people killed there. So the context is just so alarming. Senator Feinstein, we talk about guns, it often overshadows the debate about mental illness. But in the vein of gun control in this country and presidential leadership, you heard from Mayor Bloomberg. This is how The Washington Post described the president’s leadership back in July. “I’m not going to take away your guns,” Obama promised in September of 2008. However, he advocated closing the loophole that allows for gun purchases without background checks at gun shows and for reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban. Obama kept his promises to gun owners but not to gun control advocates. The president signed bills allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak. He has not pushed for the reinstatement of the Assault Weapons Ban… Nor has he moved towards closing the gun-show loophole. Has the president failed to lead on this, Senator?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA, Judiciary Committee): Well, I’m not going to comment on that. I can tell you that he’s going to have a bill to lead on because as a first day bill, I’m going to introduce in the senate and the same bill will be introduced in the house--a bill to ban assault weapons. It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession, not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums, or strips of more than ten bullets. So there will be a bill. We’ve been working on it now for a year. We’ve tried to take my bill from ‘94 to 2004 and perfect it. We believe we have. We exempt over 900 specific weapons that will not be-- fall under the bill. But the purpose of this bill is to get just what Mayor Bloomberg said--weapons of war off the streets of our cities.
GREGORY: What makes you think it can pass that? We’ve had tragedies before and nothing happens.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I’ll tell you what happened back in ‘93 when I told Joe Biden who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee that I was going to move this as an amendment on the Crime Bill. He laughed at me. He said, you’re new here. Wait till you learn. And we got it through the Senate, we got it through the House, the White House came alive and the House of Representatives and the Clinton administration helped. The bill was passed. And the president signed it. It can be done.
GREGORY: Senator, we’re having a little problem with your microphone which we’ll remedy as we continue our conversation. David Brooks, we immediately go after a tragedy like this to the gun control debate, more than a mental illness debate. As we look at the faces of-- of these killers, in these recent incidents, what-- what is the common thread that you find throughout that they all appear to be young males, mentally-- at the very least mentally unbalanced. Why do we so quickly move to the gun debate?
MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Well, first on the profile, we've had enough of these cases and we don’t know the specific guy. But we’ve had enough of these cases to get a profile of typically what they’re like. They tend to be intelligent. They tend to have an extremely high estimation of their own significance. Something happens to them that damages that estimation. They feel they’re not being recognized by the world at large and they decide they’re going to do something to make the world recognize them. And so they go out and do these terrible things. And at the moment they’re doing them, this is the happiest moment of their life. They feel the world is uncontrolled and then suddenly they are in their-- they are in control. And they are the hero in their own life story. And so we should acknowledge A, they are extremely determined to do these things. And that it’s-- they are essentially-- they spend the months before lost in a black hole of their own festering. And I think it’s those black holes that we-- we, as parents, as mental health…
MR. BROOKS: …community, have to try to fill before they-- they turn into these monsters.
GREGORY: Bill Bennett, if the president is convening a task force and had everybody on this panel there to talk about solutions, as you heard Senator Feinstein say, does an Assault Weapons Ban, does that restorate-- does that have to be on top of the list?
MR. BILL BENNETT (Fmr. Secretary of Education (1985-1988)): Well, I think everything should be on the table. I mean, if you're going to talk about these things, you don’t delimit the range of inquiry. All-- all of these topics seems to need to be brought up. The Senator noted 940 exceptions. If you can get one of those 940 rifles, you can still do a lot of damage. I don’t know how effective the Assault Weapons Ban was from 1994 to 2004. Some-- some people suggest it was not-- not greatly effective, but I'm not in favor of armor-piercing bullets in these clips. I had my own argument back in ‘91 when I was ’91-- I was Drug Czar on this. But it seems to me we have to put everything out on the table. And as David said-- very well said, a lot of us are tired of hearing after the fact about the psychological problems that people had and the studies-- I mean, in some cases that’s much better documented as Tom Ridge can tell you, the Cho’s case in Virginia Tech. We saw this in Tucson, we saw this in Aurora. Can we do something before the fact, before these things take place? Well, there are privacy issues. Well, there are issues of civil liberties. If you have very troubled people, and now there’s a kind of new confessional in the land and it’s called the internet, there’s probably a record. This guy probably was saying some of the things that he was thinking to somebody. And we need to get a hold of that ahead of time.
GREGORY: Governor Ridge, what-- what is your-- your experience particularly with the Virginia Tech shooting aftermath? What does it tell you about where we need to start reacting particularly to-- to Senator Feinstein’s comment?
MR. TOM RIDGE (Fmr. Secretary of Homeland Security (2003-2005)): I think-- I think everyone has really focused on a word you used. I think the country needs to have it. Let’s have the conversation. Let’s start with the act and then pull back to the actors. And there’s-- there’s a profile here. And then it showcase-- it was really rather dramatic. The privacy laws intersected with the inferior mental health delivery systems. What we know about many of these troubled young men is that they often reveal their suicidal intentions. They often reveal their-- their desire to kill. And so there’s a-- we talk about mental health generically. But that’s not a conversation parents have with counselors and we run to it after the fact. And so I think the fact that we need a national conversation, it has to include-- it will include, it must include some arms regulation. It has to include mental health. It has to include the privacy law. This is a conversation that has to be reasonable, rational. It’s time for us to have that conversation. But we cannot exclude the mental health component.
GREGORY: Randi Weingarten, who you’re-- the folks you represent, the teachers you represent, were-- were in this town and at this school. It has to be very difficult this morning.
MS. RANDI WEINGARTEN (President, American Federation of Teachers): It’s-- well, I’m going up there this afternoon. It’s-- but, you know, this is the instinct of educators and public servants that in situations like this, they just serve and they protect and that’s what people have seen here. But let me just say three things really quickly. Number one, in terms of parents, we have a whole bunch of resources now on our website, aft.org and Share My Lesson, another platform we have, because you can’t hide or shield kids from this. You know, we have-- we have suggested to people don’t have your kids watch TV all the time right now. But kids will have questions and fears and we have to actually figure out how to reassure them in a-- in a-- in a reasonable way. But number two, I want to go back to what everyone else has said. It's I think that this is a turning point here. I could hear it and feel it around in the last 48 hours. Not just in the Northeast. I see it from our colleagues all across the country. But it has to be a conversation and action about both mental health as well as gun laws.
GREGORY: But, let me pick up on the gun laws Michael Eric Dyson. Just the politics of this, which matter. I mean, again you heard Mayor Bloomberg’s criticism of the president. He campaigned one way, but he didn’t push it. He didn’t lead. Is a second-term president prepared to make, what Bloomberg called for: gun control, more stringent laws, his number one agenda item?
MR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (Professor, George Town University): Well, you know, David, you don’t lead in a vacuum. You know, I’m-- I'm a Baptist preacher. You can just preach the same sermon to one church and then another church. And if the people are with you, so to speak, with the Amen chorus, you’re going to have a much better result. The president needs an Amen chorus in his congregation. I think that these public incidents acute, dramatic, instigate and inspire people to say, look, enough with the hand-wringing. Let’s get to some public policy that can reflect our moral consciousness about what we need to do. There’s no one at this table that would defend the ability of anybody to repeatedly shoot a child. We’ve got to talk about sensible gun laws that the Mayor spoke about. What about banning these assault weapons-- you know, the ban expired in ‘04. What about the way in which we had to have these background checks and mental illness is serious, why? We still have a stigma on what it means to acknowledge that I might be depressed, I might need a drug to help me out. I might need to go to somebody to talk to them, a priest, a rabbi. Can I talk to my psychiatrist or psychologist? We don’t need any cuts in Medicare and Medicaid that might prevent people from seeking those kinds of psychological reliefs. And we have to have the ability then to say to the president, the nation is now galvanized around this particular point. You must now use your bully pulpit to tell the story, the narrative that unifies us as a nation.
MR. BENNETT: Just a couple of things. There is such a thing as the black hole of the deranged mind. I don’t know how much we have studied Cho but we don’t know anything. We still…
GREGORY: At Virginia Tech.
MR. BENNETT: Yeah. Cho at Virginia Tech. We know that he had these-- these very serious problems. I do want to say one thing. There’s something to be said for what we’re doing now as a nation before we go to the task force. By the way, if the president wants me on it, I’ll be glad to serve, which is-- which is-- we are mourning. The-- the whole nation is mourning. That’s an-- it’s an important moment. Let the tears dry before we head off into all these directions at once and let’s not head off at once. The other thing is, let’s remember the good things here--the heroism of those teachers and that principal. And I’m not so sure--and I’m sure I’ll get mail for this--I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing. The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. Has to be someone who’s trained. Has to be someone who’s responsible. But, my God, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think-- I think-- I think we ought to…
GREGORY: Yeah. Go-- go ahead David and then the Senator on that point before we take a break.
MR. BROOKS: Can-- can I just say one thing about the-- the debate we need to have? This has become-- one of the problems for this debate is it’s become a values war. It’s perceived as urban versus rural--
MR. BENNETT: Yeah.
MR. DYSON: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: And frankly, it’s perceived as an attack on the lifestyle of rural people by urban people. And I admire Mayor Bloomberg enormously--there’s probably no politician I agree with more but it’s counterproductive to have him as the spokesperson for the gun law movement. There has to be more respect and more people frankly from rural and Red America who are-- who are participants in this.
MR. DYSON: But, you know, can I say something about the urban? But Isn’t it interesting, not as dramatic as an incident as this but it’s not as, you know, dramatic in the sense of what happened but the-- it’s not as massive but it’s far more devastating, the constant urban drama that we deal with our children as well who are losing their lives, who have-- who are victims of profiling-- racial profiling and police profiling. So that profiling doesn’t seem to work. It seems to hype up our vigilance to say we’re going to-- we’re going to find out what were these problems are and then we focus on them. But the result is not what we see with these kids. Look at what happened with other people who don’t get profiled. And they murder our children.
GREGORY: I want to get a break in here but Senator quickly I just want you to respond to that. The aspect of more guns being introduced into this equation. There will be a natural response of people to say, part of school security needs to be armed guards on campus.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, is this the way we want America to go? In other words, the rights of the few overcome the safety of the majority. I don’t think so. I think America is ready. They’re going to have an opportunity with this bill. I’m going to ask and spend my time and create a committee across this nation to support it.
GREGORY: Will the president speak out on it in favor of it, you believe?
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I believe he will. Look, we crafted the last bill. It was right out of my office. And we’re crafting this one. And it’s being done with care. It’ll be ready on the first day. I’ll be announcing House authors. And we’ll be prepared to go. And I hope the nation will really help.
GREGORY: This is certainly a news development this morning. Randi, let me take a break. We’ll start with you when we back. I want to come back, continue this but also introduce the other aspect. It’s not just access to guns, it is a culture in which violence is routine and is considered routine. We’ll discuss that as well with our group right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back with our roundtable. As I said, we've been monitoring social networking, and on Twitter, Rupert Murdoch said on Friday, tweeted this, “Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons?” Senator Feinstein, maybe there will be more allies than-- than you imagine. And from Tom Brokaw, our colleague who tweeted on Friday something that has been shared thousands of times, his thought, “It’s not enough to talk about access to guns. We also have to address a popular culture that treats graphic violence as routine.” Randi Weingarten.
MS. WEINGARTEN: So let me just go back to Secretary Bennett’s point. There-- there are so many ways, access points into schools. Schools have to be safe sanctuaries. And so we need to actually stop this routine view that just having more guns will actually make people safer. So we are opposed to having in a safe sanctuary like an elementary school, having someone who has access to guns. And I would actually ask Governor Snyder to actually veto the bill that’s on his desk right now that says concealed weapons in schools would be okay. But, you know, the-- this notion of we can actually do things in schools, we can actually have more guidance counselors, we can have more social workers, psychologists, all of whom have been cut because of the cuts. We can do wraparound services. We can do more of these things, as Professor Dyson said to destigmatize mental illness and to have more access as well as a whole package of sensible gun laws.
GREGORY: But governor, while you were homeland security secretary, what was the point of counter terror? It was to harden the targets.
MR. RIDGE: Yeah.
GREGORY: To limit damage.
MR. RIDGE: Well, you-- you always try to re-- reduce the risk and I think that’s what Bill is referring to. And I think that some form of gun regulation is to reduce the risk. But I think-- I think the conversation should start with the premise that our children-- no child is born violent. And so what are the experiences, pressures, whatever, during the course of that child’s life that lead them to the path that they’ve taken at Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook? We know there’s mental health problems. But we got to peel away the different layers. I mean-- let me say this respectfully, because I-- I voted for your assault weapon ban, that’s a start. But there’s still so much more that needs to be done. Mental health is a component of it. We haven’t even started talking about the corrosive influence of a violent-oriented world--TV, video games, shoot to kill video games. When you’re in the military you learn that your target may shoot back, but you get in this digital world, this fantasy world, that I think-- you take a look at the folks…
MR. RIDGE: …at Columbine, Aurora, et cetera, suddenly it’s-- it’s a different personality type.
GREGORY: But you…
MR. RIDGE: And I think we need to understand that.
GREGORY: --you’ve taken this on, David. You don’t think this is corrosive-- as corrosive of an effect as people may think?
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, I had thought video games have played a role, too, but this has been studied. There have been hundreds, unfortunately, of these shooters over the decades and very few of them had any contact with violent video games and generally tend to be older, it tends to be not part of who they were, it tends to not have driven them. So I don’t think this is a sociological problem primarily. I think this is a psychological problem. And there are millions of moms and dads in the country now who are dealing with mental health issues in their own families…
MR. RIDGE: Right.
MR. BENNETT: Right.
MR. BROOKS: …and they don’t know-- there’s not-- say you’re the mom of this kid, you don’t know immediately where to go. There are places you can go which are the police or an institution. But that’s like stepping off a very steep chasm. Where do you easily go for help? I think that’s the gap.
GREGORY: Look-- look at this report. National Alliance on Mental Illness put out a report in November of last year that said in part, “States have cut more than 1.6 billion dollars in general funds from their state mental health agency budgets for mental health services since fiscal year ’09, a period during which demand for such services increased significantly. These cuts translate into loss of vital services such as housing, Assertive Community Treatment, access to psychiatric medication and crisis services.
MR. DYSON: I mean it’s stunning. Look-- look, and here’s the thing. What do people do when they don’t have access to it? They self medicate. The drug race-- the drug rate rises. People’s addiction to violence that we speak about is exacerbated. But here is the interesting point. We would rather talk about somebody rapping about, singing about, portraying in a film about violence than the actual source of the violence itself. So while we demonize and stigmatize those people who replicate patterns of violence that are horrible in pop culture, we do nothing about access to guns. It’s the ready access to guns that led to this devastation. And until we get the guns removed all of the imagination, the erotic intensity that is connected to violence, will not be dissuaded…
GREGORY: But, Senator…
MR. DYSON: …from having a-- a negative impact.
MR. BENNETT: You’re not-- you’re not-- you’re not going to get the guns removed. You may have careful legislation proposed by the Senator, which may-- which may pass.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well…
MR. BENNETT: You’re not going to get the guns removed.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: You know…
MR. BENNETT: Well, you-- you do have this problem called the constitution. There is a Second Amendment…
MR. DYSON: But look, the Second Amendment…
MR. BENNETT: Wait, let me-- let me finish my thought.
MR. DYSON: Right. Okay.
MR. BENNETT: Yeah, I know, it doesn’t-- it doesn’t say anything about assault weapons and that wasn’t the founders’ intent and I agree with that.
MR. DYSON: Hm--Mm.
MR. BENNETT: But it’s not just right-wing senators who wouldn’t appear on television or zealots or the NRA, it’s circuit court judges, it’s Supreme Court judges saying this is a right. You have more freedom in America. You just have more freedom and there’s more abuse of freedom in America.
MR. DYSON: But I-- I don’t deny that but you got to have ability to say that look, there’s a-- there’s a wide gulf between repeal of the Second Amendment, Aaron Burr and…
MR. BENNETT: Sure.
MR. DYSON: …Alexander Hamilton can have a fight but they-- they didn’t have an assault weapon to do it.
MR. BENNETT: Absolutely. That's correct.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I think it’s interesting. The National Rifle Association never brought the ‘94 assault weapons legislation to court. They knew it would be sustained from the beginning. And I believe this will be sustained as well. You know, all of the things that society regulates, but we can’t touch guns, Bill. That’s wrong. We can’t.
MR. BENNETT: We-- did we get rid of assault weapons, Senator, did we?
MS. WEINGARTEN: But if you…
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yeah.
GREGORY: All right. Let me-- let me--
MR. BENNETT: I don’t think we did.
GREGORY: We’ll get another break here-- we’ll get another break here. We’ll come back in just a moment.
GREGORY: This conversation and debate will go on. I wish we had more time. Thank you all very much for beginning it. And I want to close with this--we were preparing our discussion this morning and monitoring what has been, as I said, a robust conversation across social media, including so many words of sympathy and comfort. And we came across the widely shared advice from none other than Mister Rogers of PBS. He said when he was a boy and he saw scary things on the news, his mother would say to him, look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping. So this morning when any word seemed so small and inconsequential, we offer our prayers to the families most directly hit by this unspeakable pain. May God give you strength and at least you can know there is a country full of helpers here to catch you when you feel like falling. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, It’s MEET THE PRESS.