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Sandy Hook Shooting Skeptics; Guns and Video Games

Aired January 11, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with a story that is frankly hard to believe. Nearly one month to the day after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, tonight, we expose a number of people who claim that the Sandy Hook shootings were staged.

Now, there are always conspiracy theorists lurking online who come out with some horrifically outrageous claims. And, normally, we wouldn't dignify these kind of claims with our airtime. These claims are obviously sickening to many in Newtown who have spent the last past four weeks crying and consoling, burying friends and family members and trying to figure out how to restart their lives, if that is even possible.

As I said, normally, we wouldn't even mention these kinds of theories. But it turns out that at least one of the people who is peddling one version of this conspiracy theory is a tenured associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, a state university that gets taxpayer money. His name is James Tracy.

This is a picture of him. This is what he looks like. James Tracy is his name. He claims the shooting did not happen as reported and may not have happened at all. Here is what he wrote on his personal blog, and I quote: "One is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place, at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."

Tracy makes the case, if you want to call it that, that news organizations and the government may have worked together to dupe you, the public, in order to gain support for gun control laws. He even is suggesting that the government may have hired trained crisis actors to aid in this ruse. That's right, trained crisis actors.

He is not convinced the parents whose children were killed are really who they say they are. In his blog, Tracy, again, a professor, suggests they may have been, and I quote, "trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor-made crisis acting" -- end quote.

Tracy even cites a company called Crisis Actors that provides actors to use in safety drills and the like. Apparently, that is supposed to bolster his case. Now, by the way, there is such a company and they are appalled by his comments. In a statement, they said -- and I quote -- "We are outraged by Tracy's deliberate promotion of rumor and innuendo to link Crisis Actors to the Sandy Hook shootings. We do not engage our actors in any real-world crisis events and none of our performances may be presented any time as a real-world event."

Now, when a local reporter caught up with Tracy and asked him about this outrage his theories might trigger, here's what he said. Listen.


QUESTION: You had 20 families that were mourning that buried children. Are you concerned about that at all?

JAMES TRACY, PROFESSOR, FAU: Well, I think that the entire country mourned about Sandy Hook, and yet once again the investigation that journalistic institution should have actually carried out never took place as far as I'm concerned.

I think that we need to as a society look at things more carefully. Perhaps we as a society have been conditioned to be duped.


COOPER: Now, I don't even really know what that means, what he is saying, what the words coming out of his mouth mean.

To suggest that reporters on the ground didn't work to find out what happened there on the ground is beyond crazy. Everybody asked questions. That's what we do. Journalism isn't a perfect science, of course, but to suggest it somehow means the shooting didn't happen, that 20 children weren't killed, that families didn't suffer and aren't still suffering is beyond comprehension and obviously deeply offensive to many.

As we said, Tracy isn't the only one spinning conspiracy theories on YouTube and online. This is from a Web site whose name I'm not going to use because I frankly don't want to give them extra traffic. Some are even claiming that 6-year-old Emilie Parker killed in Sandy Hook didn't actually die.

As proof, they point to a dress, the dress she was wearing in a family phone before the shooting. It's the same dress that Emilie's little sister wore when President Obama met with victims' families. The people online, these conspiracy theorists are saying that's actually Emilie on President Obama's lap.

It's a sickening claim, obviously, there's no other word for it. There's another one on another Web site I'm not going to name either. They even use an interview that Noah Pozner's mother, Veronique, did on this program to make its point. Here's some of that interview before I tell you the absurd theory. Watch the conversation I had with her first.


COOPER: How are you holding up? I mean...

VERONIQUE POZNER, MOTHER OF NOAH POZNER: Most of the time, I'm kind of numb, you know. I think about -- and I think every mom out there can relate to the fact of how long it takes to create a baby, those nine months that you watch every ultrasound and every heartbeat, and it takes nine months to create a human being, and it takes seconds for an AR-15 to take that away from the surface of this Earth.


COOPER: This Web site says that Veronique Pozner appeared way too composed, that she wasn't crying, her eyes weren't red, and that's not how a grieving mother looks, which I have got to say is just among the most ridiculous things I have heard.

I have interviewed so many people in grief. I have experienced grief myself. To say there's one way someone should grieve is beyond ignorant. Now unless you frequent these types of conspiracy Web sites, you probably never see them. And again we wouldn't mention them.

But James Tracy, here he is again, is, as we said, a tenured professor at a public university. Taxpayers pay part of his salary. In Newtown and beyond his comments are triggering intense outrage as you can imagine. In a statement, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra took aim at Florida Atlantic University, saying: "Shame on you, too, FAU, to even have someone like this on your payroll. I can assure you sadly that the events here in Newtown unfolded exactly as are being reported, with the horrible outcome the violent death of 26 innocent people, including 20 children."

Now we invited Professor Tracy to come on the program. He's a professor. He talks in front of students. We would think he would be willing to defend his thesis. He declined. Our invitation stands.

John Zarrella, our reporter, went to try to find him. John joins me now.

You went looking for this guy, this professor. Again, we like to offer people a platform. If they have an argument which is valid, we want them to express it and see if it actually holds up to scrutiny. You caught up with him. What did you learn?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Anderson, we absolutely tried again to get him to come on to your program live this evening or at the very least to give me an interview on camera to explain his positions.

Professor Tracy said he just wasn't willing to do it at this time. So we went to his house this afternoon and he respectfully declined to come outside and meet with me or talk with me at all today. He did say during two telephone conversations I had with him today -- during the first conversation I had with him he said that he would provide me an e-mail response to some of the criticism that he has been under, the fire he's been under.

He said in part in his e-mail response that his observations have been reduced to headlines and sound bites, placing him in a severely negative light. He goes on to say he's confident he's put forth questions befitting any decent and reflective citizen, journalist, or scholar.

And he concludes by saying: "I apologize for any additional anguish and grief my remarks and how they have been taken out of context and misrepresented may have caused the families who've lost loved ones on December 14. At the same time, I believe the most profound memorial we can give the children and educators who lost their lives on that day is to identify and interrogate the specific causes of their tragic and untimely demise" -- end quote -- Anderson.

COOPER: I know you also asked the president -- by the way, what is he a professor of? Is it like media studies or something?

ZARRELLA: Yes, yes, in communications, in the department of communications, that is correct.

COOPER: OK. Interestingly, a guy who's in the department of communications does not want to communicate to the media or address this in the media at all. When you asked the president of this college, of this university, FAU, about it, what did she tell you? Are they standing by him?

ZARRELLA: Right. We talked to president Mary Jane Saunders and they are clearly distancing themselves from Professor Tracy.


MARY JANE SAUNDERS, PRESIDENT, FAU: We want to make it very clear he was speaking as an individual. He was not speaking in his role as a professor at FAU. The university has a very different statement about the shootings, the terrible tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut.

The university does not support this position. I personally am heartbroken about the additional stress to these families at this time.


ZARRELLA: Now there's no word on what the university could or would do, Anderson. He is a tenured professor, as you mentioned, and, in fact, the blog that he writes on is not in any way affiliated with the university.

COOPER: People are free to express themselves as they want. But I think, you know, if he's a legitimate professor he should be willing to defend his statements.

Again, I just want to reread what he said on his personal blog, because in that sort of -- in that statement he gave, it's sort of kind of a non-apology apology, the old I'm sorry if I offended anyone for how my statements were taken out of context.

I'm sure what the context is of this. From his personal blog, he says: "One is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place, at least in the way law enforcement and the nation's news media have described."

Then he suggests there may have been So, "trained actors working under state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor-made crisis acting," as if -- I don't even know how that would work, that the news media would somehow meet with government officials and then somehow hire crisis actors, who I have never even heard of, to then go into Newtown, no else noticing, and somehow pretend to be, I don't know even know who, grieving parents, pretend to be law enforcement personnel. It's sort of is stunning to me.

ZARRELLA: It certainly seems stunning and outlandish.

But he said also in the note, the e-mail that he sent to me that the news media failed to thoroughly investigate every aspect of what happened in Newtown. But clearly it seemed by his statement that we had there, his last statement, that he's at least attempting to back away some of what he wrote, those really strong remarks he wrote in that blog.

COOPER: Also, to say failure to investigate, yes, we don't have investigation to the crime scene so in that way you can't go in and measure things and take blood samples and things. So you are in some ways relying on government officials, law enforcement officials.

But you know I talked to grieving family members who heard from -- I mean, it's just -- it's very -- it's obviously upsetting to a lot of people who are there and spent a lot of time there and are still there dealing with the aftermath on this coming up to the one-month anniversary.

Again, we continue to extend an invitation to this associate professor, because it would be interesting to hear what he has to say. John, I appreciate your reporting and spending the day trying to track him down and get him to talk.

Joining me now is political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, who did the early reporting on this story, which is where we initially heard this stuff. Also Jonathan Kay of "The National Post" and author of "Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground."

Alex, it's hard for me to wrap my mind around these theories. It's not like they're coming just from one person or group. There are Web sites, YouTube videos, blog posts all devoted to these absurd theories.

ALEX SEITZ-WALD, SALON: There's really a surprising universe out there.

If you Google Emilie Parker's name, the girl you mentioned who the conspiracy theorist thinks is actually alive, the very first result that comes up, at least when I Googled it, was a conspiracy Web site. One of the most polished professional-looking videos was produced by a 9/11 truther company. They produced a video after 9/11 that got a lot of attention.

This one kind of ties it all together. And I just checked a few minutes ago. It has almost 200,000 views on YouTube. Alex Jones, who went off against Piers Morgan the other night, his Web site has a whole community forum session where there are just dozens and dozens and dozens of postings about these things.

If just Google Sandy Hook hoax, you can find all kinds of things out there. This is a real strain within the movement out there, these paranoid people that think the government is coming to snatch their guns.

COOPER: Off camera, we talked to a number of families today who didn't even want to come on camera because they are too upset to even address this. The fact that Emilie Parker's family if they Google her name or anyone that knew Emilie Parker Googles her name, the first one that would come up would be this sickening conspiracy theory based on the fact that her sister wore the same dress that Emilie Parker had once worn in a photograph to meet with President Obama, that is just adding insult to injury.

Jonathan, why do we see conspiracy theories pop up in the wake of tragedies like this? Is it that people can't wrap their mind around something, why this would happen, or is it just simply linked to the whole idea that these are people that believe that the government is trying to take their guns and this is just a way they are trying to take guns?

JONATHAN KAY, "AMONG THE TRUTHERS": Conspiracy theories are explanations for evil. Generally speaking, people hate the idea of random evil.

They like the idea that evil is focused in some cabal of people, whether it's -- who knows, whether it's Jews, or Muslims, of illuminati or Free Masons or the new world order. They love that there is one central order for all of the evil that is afflicting a country, causing terrorism, causing mass shootings. They're strangely attracted to that idea because once they have identified the evil, then they believe somehow they can fight it and expose it.

COOPER: The other thing, Alex, that is so -- I find idiotic about a lot of these conspiracy theories is nothing remains secret for very long.

The government can't keep things that are actually classified information secret for very long. There's so many people who leak stuff. The idea that somehow the news media is in cahoots with the government and that there were secret meetings to hire crisis actors to get them there is just so ludicrous.

Did you notice -- was there a common strain when you were looking into these conspiracy theories regarding Sandy Hook? SEITZ-WALD: Yes, there absolutely is, at least the vast majority of them.

There is different variations whether it was directly an Obama administration plot or agents loosely tied with the liberal movement or even George Soros. The common thread among all of these is that the tragedy was a false flag operation in order to make the country willing to give up their guns.

In other words, this tragedy would happen and then we would have a discussion about gun control as we are now and then it would lay the groundwork for the government to come in and take guns, possibly for some kind of future tyrannical regime.

COOPER: Jonathan, I guess the Internet has kind of allowed all this stuff to kind of ignite in a way it never has before. There have always been conspiracy theories. It goes back for very long.

This has just allowed more isolated people to find each other, right?

KAY: Yes, absolutely.

One of the chapters in my book I talk about how the Internet has turbo-charged the conspiracy theory movement, because the big challenge for conspiracy theorists used to be getting the word out, because respectable journalists wouldn't touch their stories.

But now conspiracy theorists usually don't even bother trying to go to the mainstream media. They just publish it on their Web site and they can create their own little echo chambers of paranoid individuals that all share the same distress.

By the way, just to correct something, it is true the majority of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories revolve around the idea of gun control, but there is a large contingent that believe that this was somehow an Israeli falsifying operation.


COOPER: How did the Israelis get involved in this, according to...


KAY: The idea is that is that it was a Mossad operation. It's the same people who believe that Anders Breivik was actually secretly somehow a Mossad agent.

These are people that have identified evil in the universe. They have picked who their evildoer is. They think it is the Jews, think it is Israel. So they find some way to trace any evil act, whether it is 9/11, whether it's the 2008 financial crisis, they find some way to believe that all the evil was caused by this one group of actors who they hate.

COOPER: You divide conspiracy theorists into two camps, cranks and firebrands. What is the difference?

KAY: The firebrands tend to be the younger folk, the ones that you see -- sometimes, 9/11, on the anniversary, you will see these people marching, the so-called 9/11 truth movement. It tends to be young people. You often see them on university campuses.

Cranks tend to be older types, people in their 40s and 50s. Often they are college professors, often they're computer scientists, often people with a very technical frame of mind that are drawn to these very intricate conspiracy theories. They are almost always men, for reasons I explain in my book.

Often these are very mild-mannered individual. For instance, one of the leaders of the 9/11 conspiracy movement was a teacher, a professor in California named David Ray Griffin, a very mild-mannered professorial guy who is actually a theologian. These people are drawn to the movement. Usually, they are very intelligent and they love the idea they are unraveling some huge puzzle, which -- and they get to the source of all the world's evil.

COOPER: It is just unbelievable to me.

Jonathan Kay, I appreciate it, and Alex Seitz-Wald, thank you very much.

Actually joining us right now just called in is Erica Lafferty, who is the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal who was killed in the shooting.

I assume you were watching our broadcast. What did you want to say?

ERICA LAFFERTY, DAUGHTER OF DAWN HOCHSPRUNG: It is just kind of amusing to me, honestly.

I was looking for a video online, I think it was last night, actually, and I found a 10-minute YouTube video about some actress that they were saying like played my mom in the shootings. And he was like Photoshopping like an arm from the sunglass band on her head and saying the crease from her hair matched the actress' sunglass crease, which is crazy because my mom had short hair.

She hadn't had long hair in almost a year -- actually more than a year at that point. Their lack of information that they are putting into this to like create this conspiracy theory, it is not even accurate information that he is using to formulate it. It is ridiculous.

COOPER: The idea -- again we wouldn't normally even kind of discuss these kind of conspiracy theories or give them airtime on this program. We are not naming these Web sites because I really don't want to increase their traffic.

But the fact that an associate professor from a university is saying or suggesting -- kind of throwing out the idea that maybe crisis actors were somehow hired to, I'm not even sure to do what, does that -- when you hear that, that's coming from an associate professor, Erica. What do you think?

LAFFERTY: I think it is a disgrace to the community of educators worldwide that someone would belittle the entire situation, belittle the 26 families, belittle the poor Sandy Hook staff members that had to live through that day. Honestly, it is disgusting to me.

COOPER: Do you think the university should do something or do you think it's just -- people should know about it and move on?

LAFFERTY: I briefly thought -- I think it was someone who from the university saying it didn't have any affiliation with them.

Hearing them speak out and saying that they're absolutely not supporting it is good to hear, but to have someone like that on staff, I know the university I worked for definitely wouldn't tolerate that.

COOPER: Erica, I'm sorry that -- coming up on the one-month anniversary. I know how difficult anniversaries are -- that you and to family members have to even hear about this kind of stuff and deal with this kind of stuff. I appreciate you taking the time to call in. I wish you the peace. I wish you the best.

LAFFERTY: Thank you very much. And thank you for voicing the truth.

COOPER: Thank you, Erica. Appreciate it, Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, who is the school principal at Sandy Hook.

Let us know what you think. On Twitter, we're talking about this. I tweeted this earlier @AndersonCooper. Do you think this guy -- is this just free speech or should the university do something? Let us know what you think.

Again, our invitation stands to this associate professor. We would give him a fair hearing. We would like to have him on the program.

Up next, is there a link between gun violence and violent video games? It's an old question. It's been around. We will actually look at the research and talk to a former top FBI profiler when we come back, "Keeping Them Honest."


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" on the notion that gun violence has more to do with video game weapons than real ones.

Vice President Biden met today with representatives from the video gaming industry. The Newtown killer was reportedly obsessed with violent games, as other killers have been, of course. People are concerned that bloody games, gory movies, brutal TV shows are doing bad things to our kids. You can see why culture would be part of the conversation about preventing another Sandy Hook.

Now, pro- or anti-gun, Republican or Democrat, a lot of people do agree on that. Take a look.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Viscous, violent video game with names like "Bullet Storm," "Grand Theft Auto," "Mortal Combat," and "Splatterhouse."

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: The violence in the entertainment culture.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What about the violence in our video games?

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: The depiction of these assault weapons again and again.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Violence, the realism that you find in games and movies.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: The corrosive influence of a violent-oriented world.


COOPER: You get the idea.

"Keeping Them Honest" though, there's not a lot of good science behind it. Because of that different studies have reached different conclusions. Two headlines of comprehensive reviews of all the available research tell the story. First, from Iowa State University -- quote -- "ISU study proves conclusively that violent play makes more aggressive kids."

Here's one from the technology news site tech Ars Technica -- quote -- "Meta-analysis uncovers no real link between violence and gaming."

Two headlines, two reputable research psychologists each looking at many individual studies and arriving at a totally opposite conclusion.

Then there's this. As video games have soared, violence by males age 10-24 has actually been going down, plummeting. That is according to the Centers for Disease Control. There is also the fact that many other countries with big sales of violent games also have very low rates of violent youth crime.

Given all that, is focusing on links between violent media and bad actors even useful and if so under what circumstances?

Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole joins us now. She is the author of "Dangerous Instincts: Use an FBI Profiler's Tactics to Avoid Unsafe Situations."

Mary Ellen, you actually think there is a link between violent games and violence? How so. MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I do.

For a small group of troubled adolescents or young men, in my experience, with these kind of cases and in my research as an FBI profiler, I have found that there is not a cause and effect. They did not cause violence but for these young people who are already contemplating carrying out acts of violence or acting out towards others in a violent way, these videos and very violent Web sites and violent movies can actually fuel what's already there.

And in doing that, it can help them desensitize to acting out violently. It really eroded away at their sense of empathy and at their sense of compassion. It really turns human beings into objects. But again it is for this small group of people already considering acting out violently.

COOPER: Just to push back on this, just to play devil's advocate, if there is this group of disturbed people that you are describing, if there weren't violent video games, isn't there something else that might push them over the edge as well?

O'TOOLE: Sure.

I wouldn't suggest these videos are pushing them over the edge. When we do a threat assessment on someone, we don't look at just whether or not they are looking at violent videos, because violent behavior is very complicated. But we look at, for example, are they saturated in a world where all they do is consider violence?

In fact, in the research that we did in the bureau back in the late 1990s and in 2000 was, was there a constant preoccupation with violent themes in every aspect of their life? But that was one of many variables that enabled us as threat assessors to say this threat that they are posing really elevates it to a high level of threat. It is one of many. We don't think it causes it, but for that troubled group who is already thinking about it and thinking about acting out violently, it can fuel it.

COOPER: It's not just video games you are talking about. Somebody who is a disturbed individual might be drawn more to violent video games more violent movies or TV shows.

O'TOOLE: Yes. But it is very difficult to at this point certainly say if someone is obsessed with violent videos, it is predictive. It is not predictive.

We have to use it as one of many variables that we take into consideration when we're determining this person over here is one we are more concerned about because of all of these factors. This person over here we are less concerned about because of all of these factors. Their preoccupation is one of many things.

COOPER: Interesting.

Mary Ellen O'Toole, I appreciate you being on. Thank you very much. In a somewhat awkward choice of words, Vice President Biden said today there is no silver bullet when it comes to curtailing gun violence, no seat belt you can put on. There are however plenty of steps you could take. The question being, which ones work and, as always, which ones, if any will Congress actually agree on.

A number of otherwise hard-line NRA supporters have really signaled their openness to regulating high-capacity magazines, but not however military-style rifles.

With me now, two "New York Times" columnists, liberal Charles Blow and conservative Ross Douthat.

I appreciate both of you being with us.

Ross, this focus on video games, does it feel like it might be more of a stand-in for the bigger debate who think the biggest problem is that criminals can get their hands on deadly weapons and others who think the problem is actually a culture that produces those criminals?

ROSS DOUTHAT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think in the case of Joe Biden and this task force, it's a situation where they are trying to give the impression that they are sort of covering all the cultural bases. Right?

I think obviously the most polarizing debate we're having right now is about guns. And there's sort of a -- I feel like there is almost a general consensus on the video game question, where a lot of people would agree with the profiler you just had on and say it is not surprising to see an association in particular cases between video games and violence.

But that doesn't mean that, in the aggregate, the spread of violent video games are causing murder rates to go up, because, pretty obviously, they're -- they're not, neither here nor around the world.

I mean, I think the video games, too, it's similar to the debate we had in the '80s and '90s over hard-core pornography and its link to sexual violence and rape and so on.

There may actually be something where those kind of things, be it pornography or video games, end up serving as a kind of outlet for people who are depraved and disturbed to act out fantasies in sort of -- in fantasy rather than in real life.

And it's a situation where, as a society, we almost need to be able to say, well, you know, violent video games, hard-core porn, whatever, these things are bad, even though they aren't necessarily causing the crime rate to go up or the rate of sexual violence to go up. We're always looking for more direct connections.

COOPER: Charles, I mean, do you see a link? What do you make of this?

BLOW: I mean, I think that the profiler was right in the sense that it probably adds to a person who's already disturbed, already pushes that person a little bit further.

But I do think that the idea that it desensitizes us as an entire culture is a very important point to make.

And I think that another point that's important to remember when we look at shootings and killings, and even though murder rates have gone down, the actual number of shootings continue to rise. And the reason that the murder rate goes down but the shootings go up is that we have -- we are better able to respond to shootings now. That is more, better 911 calls, better medicines and trauma centers and things like that.

So we need to take the focus off of who's getting killed and why that -- you know, why that number keeps going down and look at how many people are actually getting shot and whether or not those shootings, which are on the rise, can be pinned to anything, whether that be a proliferation of guns or whether that be a violent culture or whatever.

COOPER: Do you think anything will change? Do you think that there has been some sort of a tipping point?

BLOW: I think that there absolutely will be changes. And I think that -- but what's important to remember is that -- to look at this not like the health-care debate where you have some giant bill that covers most of the bases. Look at this as a first step that should be a step among many steps.

And so that whatever comes of this, whether you get the assault weapons ban or not, whatever you get is a push closer to something that is a solution that you do absolutely nothing.

COOPER: Russ (ph), do you see this as more of a setup -- these talks as more of a set-up for the elections in 2014 and 2016?

DOUTHAT: In part, yes. I think the White House is going to try and hit a sweet spot on this with whatever policy proposals they come up with.

They want something that is sort of moderate enough and in certain ways, you know, minor enough that it has some actual chance of passing the Senate and, more importantly, the House.

But also something that seems reasonable enough that, in the, you know, fairly high, likely scenario that it doesn't pass, they can take it to the public in 2014 and 2016 and say, here is another example of republican intransigence.

And honestly, what's on the table right now seems to be some combination of tougher background checks, the ban on high-capacity magazines you mentioned and so on.

And I think that -- I mean, Charles and I probably agree that both of those are unlikely to make a big difference in terms of gun violence overall. I actually think the background check legislation is, in certain ways, more promising than the ban on assault weapons that a lot of liberals are interested in. Because we had a ban on assault weapons, and it had no discernible impact on the crime rate.

Whereas background checks and waiting periods might not actually impact the murder rate, but they might have some impact on the suicide rate. Some is accidental violence but also rises in suicide rates, especially since the Great Recession. And there, if you just delay and, you know, you make somebody wait a few days before they get a gun, if they're a hardened criminal, that's not going to make any difference. But if they're someone thinking about sue sad, if you think of it as a public health issue, that might be a little more promising.

COOPER: It's actually interesting point you raised. I've read a lot of studies about suicide. And actually, even if you delay somebody a few minutes or even a few seconds, in some cases, that can be all the difference in whether or not actually somebody follows through. It's sort of counterintuitive, but even a few minutes can make a huge difference.

We've got to leave it there. Ross, appreciate you being on. Charles, as well. Have a good weekend.

Up next, the student accused of opening fire at a California high school. Tonight, how a teacher stepped in to stop the attack. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back.

"I don't want to shoot you." Those might have been the last words that teacher Ryan Heber ever heard, because the teenager who uttered those words had just shot a classmate and was pointing a 12- gauge shotgun at the teacher. "I don't want to shoot you." Well, he might have, and he might have gone on to shoot others yesterday at Taft High School in Kern County, California. He might have but he didn't. More of the remarkable story from Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What happened inside Taft Union High School began as a plan the day before in the mind of a bullied 16-year-old boy. Authorities say it was here at his home just a few blocks from the high school where the boy gathered his brother's shotgun and two dozen rounds and walked into the science building midway through first period.

SHERIFF DONNY YOUNGBLOOD, KERN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: We have video of him entering the school, trying to conceal the shotgun. The video shows that he's extremely nervous.

LAH: Officers say the boy walked to the front of his classroom and opened fire, striking a 16-year-old classmate at near point blank range. Students began to flee, trying to hide in closets and run out of the room.

Another shot. This one missed its target, another 16-year-old boy. Morgan Allbrege was in the classroom and tells TV station KVAK that the gunman began calling out a name.

MORGAN ALLBREGE, WITNESS: The student -- after he asked for a student, like, three times, the student popped his head up from behind from where he was hiding and apologized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He apologized? For what?

ALLBREGE: For bullying. From freshman year.

LAH: Then, the classroom's teacher, Ryan Heber, stepped in between the 12-gauge shotgun and the fleeing students. The well-liked teacher spoke to the boy like his friend. Investigators say, the boy told Heber, "I don't want to shoot you."

Meanwhile, the school's counselor, Kim Fields (ph), helped distract the gunman while the rest of the 28 students escaped.

YOUNGBLOOD: This teacher and this counselor stood there face to face, not knowing whether he was going to turn that shotgun on them. Their conversation, whatever they said, compelled him to put the firearm down.

LAH: Heber, who was also a graduate of the high school, was hit in the head by a small shotgun pellet, something he didn't notice until it was all over.

Heber always thinks of others first, says his father, who he now calls his hero.

DAVID HEBER, TEACHER'S FATHER: There is no pain or anything like that, no. He's just fine physically. He's absolutely super. Mentally, he's dealing with the day. He says it's the worst day of his life, which you could imagine.

LAH (on camera): Heber did speak to me for about 30 minutes inside of his home but declined to appear on camera, because he says at the end of the day, he's just a teacher. He doesn't know how to deal with all of this. And Anderson, even though his father uses the term hero, he says he cannot stand that word.

COOPER: Kyung Lah, amazing story. Thank you so much.

Up next, new information on the flu epidemic will have you reaching for the Tylenol.

Also, a sneeze like you have never seen it before. You're going to want to see this. Be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. So in case you're wondering whether to get a flu shot or not, I've got three things to say: California, Hawaii, and Mississippi. According to new reporting from the CDC, those are the only three states in the country -- the only three -- where the flu is not widespread. The only three states still relatively -- and I say relatively -- untouched by the flu.

Now with that in mind, we're going to show you one way that it spreads. And you're going to remember this. Take a look as Randi Kaye presents the anatomy of the sneeze.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the flu so widespread, riding the subway these days makes New Yorkers think twice. So many commuters wondering, "Can I get it?" d So we asked r. Len Horovitz to ride the rails with us and help us understand the power of a single cough or sneeze.

All it takes is one good "atchoo" to send well over 40,000 droplets barreling in your direction at about 100,000 miles an hour. They can quickly make dozens of commuters within a few feet very sick.

If a person used his hand to cover his sneeze, look out.

(on camera): So if someone sneezed and then grabbed this pole to hang onto, they're going to leave germs behind, and then say I come along to hang onto this pole. I'm going to pick up those germs without even knowing it.

Then, say maybe I come over here to sit down, and I touch my hand to the seat. Well, I'm going to leave those germs behind for the next unsuspecting commuter. And it spreads from there.

(voice-over): And Dr. Horovitz, a specialist in respiratory illnesses, says germs are so hearty, they can survive overnight.

DR. LEN HOROVITZ, RESPIRATORY ILLNESS SPECIALIST: The viral particles can survive for up to 24 hours. So somebody tomorrow morning gets on the subway, touches it, touches their face, introduces it into their body, and they've got it.

KAYE: That could mean hundreds, maybe even thousands of people end up sick.

MARISOL MENDOZA, SUBWAY COMMUTER: I carry my hand sanitizer in my purse.

KAYE: Some riders touch their face, rub their eyes, maybe even eat before ever washing their hands.

HOROVITZ: When you touch your face, you're essentially smearing the germ onto your face. And any opening -- your nose, you mouth, your eyes -- is a place where the germ can get into your body and start to incubate and multiply and cause infection.

KAYE (on camera): Just because that sneeze occurred on the subway doesn't mean the germs stay there. Say the person who sneezed stopped at the metro card machine to buy a subway card before leaving the station. Well, he's going to leave those germs right on that machine for the next person.

(voice-over): And it's not just subway riders. Anyone commuting by car or foot may use a germ-covered hand to open an office door or office refrigerator. Maybe they're even sharing your computer. Yuck.

In a world where germs are the enemy, it's time to suit up for battle. And keep your soap handy.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Up next, the latest development in the mysterious poisoning death of an Illinois lottery winner. He won a million dollars. Why his family thinks there will now be justice.


COOPER: A "360 Follow" now. A really bizarre story out of Chicago about a -- about a man who won $1 million in the lottery and a month later, he was dead, poisoned.

Forty-six-year-old Urooj Khan's death was originally ruled natural causes, but prompting from a relative made authorities take another look, and sure enough, testing showed a lethal amount of cyanide in this system.

Now, no one's been named as a suspect, but today a judge ruled that his body will be exhumed for more testing. Martin Savidge has been investigating the case. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: Martin, so the request came in today to exhume the body, and the judge ruled yes almost immediately. Right?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Mainly because there were no objections. I mean, there were family members that were in the courtroom. I believe the victim's older brother was there and a sister. But nobody objected.

So as a result of that, it seemed like it was a clear path for law enforcement to take and the judge approved. I also know from having conversations with the widow, she also goes along with that. She wants the body exhumed, because she says, "Look, I want the truth to come out."

COOPER: And they've already run tests on blood and tissue samples that they had, and that's how they determined that it was a homicide. But what more do they hope to find out, I guess what -- how the poison got into his body?

SAVIDGE: Yes. Mainly, you know, when he died, originally, this was ruled as natural causes. And so he was buried. As a result, now that they know it was a homicide, well, you do a much more different autopsy, and you do a much more thorough investigation of the body. They never did that.

So now they're going to go back. They have the order from the judge. And they will dig up the body of Urooj Khan, and they will now, I presume, start looking at the contents of the stomach. They'll start looking at other organs. They'll try to determine exactly what kind of cyanide was used and how is it delivered. That's the big question here they want to answer.

COOPER: And obviously, I guess it -- partially, you know, is going to be determined by the state that they find the body in. It was a relatively recent burial, wasn't it?

SAVIDGE: It was. But that really is the big question here, is what kind of state is the body in, is Mr. Khan in? You know, if he has -- you know, that he's degraded a lot, that also means the evidence inside of him has degraded. Basically, the medical examiner told me that you really won't know until you go in and look. And so that's what they're going to do.

COOPER: Have the police named anyone in particular, a suspect obviously? I mean, a lot of the questions about the wife have been voiced publicly by observers. I mean, have the police actually said anybody is a suspect.

SAVIDGE: No, they haven't. The police have been extremely tight-lipped about this. They -- they won't tell you anything, really, about the investigation, other than it is a murder investigation at this particular point.

Clearly, the widow feels that she is at the top of everybody's list when it comes to a suspect. And that only adds to her personal anguish with the -- with the loss of her husband. She knows that everybody is whispering and pointing fingers, because she was the one that prepared the meal that was served, you know, that night.

There are varying accounts as to whether he actually ate it or not. We don't know. She has been very intensely interviewed by authorities. Several hours. And her attorney says she continues to cooperate. The result of a search warrant that was carried out on her home and a number of things were taken. We don't know exactly what.

COOPER: Do you know anything about how long this poison takes to act or if it was something that could have been delivered over time or was it a one-dose thing? I guess at this point we just don't know.

SAVIDGE: The people I've spoken to said that, with the amount that they believe he ingested, he would have felt the effects, probably in minutes, and death could have occurred, maybe within the hour.


SAVIDGE: So it's a pretty fast-acting poison. It's one of the reasons why it was, you know, popular through the ages. It does what you want it to do if your intent is to kill someone.

COOPER: Fascinating. It's an incredible story. Martin, appreciate it. Thanks.

SAVIDGE: You bet.

COOPER: An amazing story. We'll continue to follow it. Coming up, "The RidicuList" is next. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." This time, we've got the story of a news anchor from Ireland's RTE News who, it seems, asked himself a very simple question: "I've got some time to touch up my makeup before we're live on the air, right?" The answer, sadly, was no.




COOPER: What? Speaking as one trained broadcasting professional to another, let me break it down for you. Being a news anchor is serious business. One must always be in control and just -- rule No. 1 of live television is that one, almost the -- you always have to be aware of whether one is on the air or not.

Now, I know that I've always excelled in this area and have never, ever slipped up.


COOPER: So here at this point of the show, we're usually doing much different -- much different -- much more different. What? Oh, hey, sorry. I didn't realize we were on the air.


COOPER: See, "What?" That's the universal response when an anchor realizes they're suddenly on the air.

OK, so it totally happened to me, as well. It's live TV. Things are going to happen. Really, that's part of the magic, knowing that anything can happen at any time.

Now, right at this moment, I could -- no. It's OK. I'm good. I'm good. I'm actually on TV.

At any moment, I could erupt into an uncontrollable coughing fit, the power could go out or I could completely flub a story and get all tongue tied, which brings us back to our new favorite RTE News anchor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 40 years since the launch of Apollo 17, the last mission that took man to the moon. Among those remembering the flight, its commander -- its commander, who said he thought his voyage -- I beg your pardon. Let's try that again. A man has -- can we just go back to the very start of that?


COOPER: Yes. I like the way he handled that. When all else fails, just ask the teleprompter to take it from the top. So what if it's live? Who cares?

And we've talked about the dangers of live television on "The RidicuList" before. But usually, it's people in the background who don't realize they're live on the air. For instance, the young journalist at the University of Florida who's waiting at the printer when she realizes the camera is on her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students can register for the lobby starting tomorrow. And registration is open until Friday. The UAA will notify the winners of the lottery by Monday, December 15, and vouchers can then be picked up from Tuesday through Thursday.

Now, students with more than 90 credit hours have the best chance of getting tickets. But everyone is welcome to sign up.

Live from the newsroom, Tara Minnelli (ph), WUFT News.


COOPER: And then, of course, we've got the old newsroom adage of picking your stories very carefully.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will also say, it is also important that you try to pick the bed bugs out of your home. The best way, when you stay in a hotel, you might want to use a plastic bag like this one.


COOPER: Yes. Just keep on picking.

For those -- those are people in the background, and the news anchor himself or herself should always -- I repeat, always -- be aware of the camera.






COOPER: That hurts.

A gentle reminder to all of us in the news business. When the light goes on, you are live on the air, and the light is always on, on "The RidicuList."

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks so much for watching. "ERIN BRUNETTE OUTFRONT" starts now.