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THE SITUATION ROOM

North Korea: Nuke Attack on U.S. Approved; Obama Takes Gun Control Fight on the Road; Gun Control: Still Alive in Congress; Sanford's Road To Redemption; Obama Takes Gun Control Push to Colorado; Families of Shooting Victims Speak Up

Aired April 3, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- North Korea says its armed forces have the go-ahead for a nuclear strike on the United States. Families of Newtown victims open up like never before. Despite incomprehensible loss, they refuse to let tragedy define them, discovering the good that can come from unthinkable evil. A "People" magazine exclusive that you will see first right here on CNN.

We'll also hear live from President Obama this hour. He's taken his push for greater gun control to Colorado, a state scarred by bloody mass shootings.

Is there still a chance the Congress will act? And the president writes checks to the American taxpayers -- why is he giving back 5 percent of his salary?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's begin with some breaking news -- a really chilling development out of North Korea, which says its military has final approval for a nuclear attack on the United States.

Whether the North is even capable of that is another matter, but the United States is already planning to send a missile defense system to Guam, where thousands of U.S. troops are based.

CNN's Kyung Lah is standing by in Seoul, South Korea. It's only a few miles south of the demilitarized zone.

Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr.

She's got the latest information coming from the Pentagon.

What is the information -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Pentagon officials looking at this statement out of North Korea shaking their heads. The North Koreans appear not to be giving up on their rhetoric.

What is the reality?

Most officials will tell you that they are not capable of striking the United States, the West Coast, Alaska or Hawaii with a nuclear-tipped missile. But there are some 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. And the entire Asia region, certainly on edge.

One of the reasons, the Pentagon announced it is sending missile defenses to the territory of Guam because the North Koreans have also threatened Guam.

Even before all of this happened today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was out in public talking about this. Very sober.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: They have nuclear capacity now. They have the missile delivery capacity now. And so as they have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric -- and some of the actions that they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly, of our allies, starting with South Korea and Japan, and, also, the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the United States regarding our base in Guam, threatened Hawaii, threatened the West Coast of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Now so far, U.S. intelligence officials say they see no unusual troop movements by the North Koreans. That is very key.

But in addition, they say the intelligence is very iffy about North Korea. There's no U.S. assets on the ground, no direct information. The information comes from U.S. satellites flying overhead or what they are able to glean from North Korean news reports or talking to the Chinese.

So the whole problem is a very tough one because they just aren't sure what North Korea is up to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go to Seoul, South Korea.

Barbara, stand by for a moment.

CNN's Kyung Lah is on the scene for us there.

How is all this playing out in South Korea?

Oh, and you're only, what, 20 or 30 miles from the demilitarized zone?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very, very close. People here have been living next to this threat for a very long time, Wolf. Something we should point out is the timing of this message. It was not aimed at people here in Seoul, it was aimed at the United States.

The message came out around 4:00 a.m. local time here in Seoul. And this message, while it may seem alarming to Americans, here in South Korea, they've been living with this threat for a very long time. Pyongyang has been threatening to melt down Seoul for many, many years.

What's unusual and what's difficult for South Koreans to try to digest and try to read is what is Kim Jong Un doing?

Because he's putting out these threats almost daily. There's some sort of movement out of Pyongyang almost every single day. Back in the what's now looking like the good old days of Kim Jong-il, there was a little more time, a little more gap between these bellicose threats. So now, the timing of it, how quickly it's coming. But this country accustomed to looking at what North Korea does, not what it says. So when you look at what it does, what's a little concerning is what's happening at the border, this unusual business complex where North and South Koreans work side by side, the only place where you see the two countries working together. They're still technically at war.

And there, what's happening there, Wolf, is that there are 800 South Koreans that are still working in that facility. No South Koreans are now being allowed in. They are being allowed out, but that's very concerning. So that's really what people are watching here in South Korea.

BLITZER: The tension pretty high on the Korean Peninsula.

Kyung Lah, we'll get back to you.

Stand by, Barbara Starr, as well.

Later, we're also going to be speaking with the former secretary of State, Madeline Albright. She's been to North Korea. She met with Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong-il. What she has to say about what's going on, that's coming up.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, President Obama has taken his push for gun control on the road once again. Right now, he's in Colorado, the scene of two horrific massacres, at Columbine High School, back in 1999; last year in at the movie theater in Aurora.

The president has just met with victims and families from both shootings, along with law enforcement officials.

We're waiting for a speech at the Denver Police Academy. We'll have live coverage of that once he starts going.

Meantime, let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's on the scene for us in Denver.

Are we getting any advance indication, Jessica, of what the president has to say? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are. And he is going to highlight Colorado's tough new gun safety laws. And he'll make the case, according to sources, that if a state like Colorado, that has a long frontier tradition of gun ownership, can pass these laws, then so can Congress.

Now, to remind you, Colorado passed these new laws last month that require universal background checks. They make gun owners pay for the cost of their own background checks and they also limit magazine clips to 15 rounds.

And I'll tell you, the president is due out here any minute. I think he's still in that meeting with law enforcement officials and the families of victims -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What kind of response have we seen in Colorado to these new laws as far as guns are concerned -- Jessica?

YELLIN: Well, I'll tell you, not everyone is a fan of these new laws. Some of Colorado's sheriffs have already warned that they're not going to enforce them. About a dozen or so say that they are still weighing whether they're going to pursue -- let the law stand in their counties.

Listen to what one sheriff had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JUSTIN SMITH, LARIMER COUNTY, COLORADO: The president and the vice president made their presence very well-known throughout this. Between them and Mayor Bloomberg there's a feeling by a lot of Coloradans that a lot of these at the state level were pushed from Washington, pushed from New York and pushed from Chicago. And I can tell you, in Colorado, people don't like that.

What's been passed is not effective and it's going to create a very expensive bureaucracy in the State of Colorado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So you see it's become a political football a little bit. But that view is not really representative of the state overall. Polling here shows that 80 percent of voters here, Wolf, support the central component of that law, background checks. And as you know, 90 percent nationwide support background checks. So even more support across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly, that's a fact.

Why was Colorado, though, able to pass a strict law, as it has, when here in Washington, the nation's leaders seem stuck -- at least for now?

YELLIN: It's an excellent question. There are two central reasons that people point out here. One is that here in Colorado, there was a -- the -- the threat of gun safety or gun violence, I should say, is very present in people's lives, because Columbine and the Aurora massacre happened here, two of the worst massacres in U.S. history. So people feel it in a very real way. So they're more responsive, both politicians and voters, to these issues.

And secondly, it's just a matter of the votes when you come down to the political concern. Their state legislature is run by Democrats in both bodies. Both their statehouse and state senate is Democratic controlled and their governor is a Democrat. You know, in U.S. Congress, you -- we have divided control, one Republican House and a Democratic Senate. It makes a big difference in how legislation moves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stand by to hear the president.

Jessica, thanks very much.

While the gun control push seems to have stalled, at least for now, in Congress, the Obama administration may still have some reason to hope for an agreement when all the dust settles.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been looking into this.

Where does all this stand, especially on the very sensitive issue of universal background checks?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm told by sources familiar with the talks that there is still some hope that there can be compromise on this issue of background checks. Central to that hope is Senator Tom Coburn. He is a conservative Republican with a 100 percent rating from the NRA. And he's for expanding background checks to private sales and gun shows and elsewhere, to make sure criminals and those with a history of mental illness can't get guns.

But -- this is the important thing -- but he opposes forcing people to keep records of those checks. And, Wolf, that's really where the rub is. Gun control advocates say that if sellers aren't required to keep those records, then it's impossible to force the background checks and it's hard to trace these guns if they are taken by criminals. And that's really the issue that they are trying to work out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because that's what they're concerned, these gun owners, that there would be a national registry of gun owners...

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: -- and they wouldn't necessarily want that.

BASH: Oh, no, not at all. And that really is the big concern. But I should say that I've been talking to sources on both sides of this. They say that that is not on the table right now. Nobody is proposing a national registry, despite some of the rhetoric out there. Even sources close to -- to Senator Coburn say that. But what they do say is that they want to keep the current law in place. And the current law -- federal law -- is that the -- what's called the NICS system, the system that is used for background checks by gun sellers in -- federal licensed gun sellers -- they have to get rid of their information within 24 hours. The gun sellers keep the paper information, but the federal government has to get rid of that. And nobody is proposing changing that.

BLITZER: Why is Senator Tom Coburn all of a sudden so critically important on this issue of background checks?

YELLIN: He is important because he, as I said, has a 100 percent rating from the NRA. But he is a conservative Republican who could bring -- because of that, could bring on Republicans, but even more importantly, Wolf, conservative Democrats. That is where Democratic leaders and those who want to push gun control really feel the biggest problem, because they can't even get some in their own party, especially those who are up for re-election in tough states and rural areas.

So he could give all those people cover.

I'm also told, though, that there is another avenue that is a possible way to get other Republicans and that is Joe Manchin, another conservative Democrat from West Virginia. He is for guns. He has been talking to other Republicans.

I'm told that there's a mystery Republican out there that he's talking to. Unclear if he can get him on board for another way to deal with background checks.

BLITZER: Is that mystery Republican the Republican Senator Kirk of Illinois?

BASH: No, he's not a mystery.

BLITZER: Yes, all right.

BASH: We know about Mark Kirk. It may be somebody else.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure.

BASH: Somebody else I -- I...

BLITZER: Another mystery (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Once -- once we find him, we'll let you know.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

BASH: OK.

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by to hear from the president of the United States on this issue of gun control. He's making a major push out in Colorado. Once he starts speaking, we'll have live coverage. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden share the spotlight here in Washington for now.

But will she be the center of attention heading toward 2016?

Also coming up, South Carolina's Mark Sanford, he shares the stage with his former mistress, now his fiance -- why his comeback hopes may depend on women voters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at live pictures of the Denver Police Academy. That's where the president of the United States is getting ready to address folks on what he describes as common sense measures to reduce gun violence to law enforcement, community leaders, and victims of gun violence. We'll have live coverage of the president once he shows up there at the stage.

In the meantime, we'll move on to some other political news we're watching here in Washington. It seemed his political career was over back in 2009 when then South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, snuck off to Argentina to visit his mistress. But after a nasty divorce and years in the political wilderness, Sanford has now won the Republican battle for a vacant House seat. But can he win over women voters in this Congressional district?

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, who's looking at this very sensitive issues. It's a race all of a sudden in this Congressional district.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And he has proved that there are second acts in politics, Wolf. But just because Mark Sanford is now officially the GOP candidate for a special House race in South Carolina does not mean he's been embraced by the rest of his party, especially women voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mark Sanford just moved one step forward on the trail to political redemption.

MARK SANFORD, (R) S.C. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Incredibly humbled, incredibly gratified, incredibly thankful for this night for what it means at many different levels.

ACOSTA: The former South Carolina governor who once tried to cover up an affair by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, not only won a GOP Congressional primary, he had his one-time mistress, now fiance by his side at the victory party. A local reporter even snapped a pict of the winning kiss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. This is Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

ACOSTA: But his Democratic opponent in next month's general election, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian, Stephen Colbert, instantly went on the attack. Her campaign released a statement saying, "The families of this district need a representative who they can trust. Mark Sanford simply has the wrong values for our community." On CNN's "The Lead" with Jake Tapper, Sanford said he's focused on the issues.

SANFORD: At this point, the thing that they know about her is that she's a famous comedian sister, and at the end of the day, I think it's issues that make a difference in the race.

ACOSTA: Even though Sanford is running in a conservative district, it's a campaign filled with risks. Attacks on Colbert Busch could turn off women voters at a time when Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, wants to hit the gender reset button.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think that we had some biologically stupid things that were said in the last election that make it more difficult for us to make that case.

HOGAN GIDLEY, GOP STRATEGIST: I think Colbert-Busch could definitely win this race. I mean, she's well liked, she's well-known, and she's well respected. And I think that could trump party loyalty in this particular instance.

ACOSTA: GOP strategist, Hogan Gidley, who served as a spokesman for one of Sanford's rivals in the party primary says Republicans should consider giving up the seat for a year and wait for the midterms in 2014.

GIDLEY: We could potentially come back and take that seat with someone who doesn't have fatal flaws like Mark Sanford.

ACOSTA: Raising the question, what's a Republican to do?

EMILY MILLER, WASHINGTON TIMES COLUMNIST: From the Republican Party standpoint, they want that seat. South Carolina is an important seat. I think conservative women, it's been a really tough pill to swallow. I mean, there is probably no politician in America more unpopular with women than Mark Sanford.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on-camera): Democrats are already raising money for this race on behalf of Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, and that race will be decided on May 7th. But a party strategist here in Washington who know that this is a different. Mitt Romney carried by 18 points last November gave the race three letter, TBD, as in to be determined -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. I suppose both can raise as much money as they can. They don't have a lot of time. They have April, basically, the week in (ph) May.

ACOSTA: That's right. You take Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the sister of Stephen Colbert and Mark Stanford, this is instantly a national race with big implications. And both sides are going to pour a lot of money into this race. The Republican Party down in South Carolina isn't exactly running behind Mark Sanford at this point.

If you go to the South Carolina GOP website, there really isn't any mention of Mark Sanford. So, there are some concerns, I think, out there that, perhaps, he's not the best candidate for this race, but they're going to go with him at this point. Obviously, he's their candidate and they want him to win.

BLITZER: We'll watch this race closely and see what happens. Jim Acosta reporting for us.

We're waiting for the president to speak on gun control. He's out in Colorado. We'll have live coverage once that happens.

Also coming up, incredibly intimate details and personal stories that you've never heard about the victims of the Newtown shooting massacre. Some of their families are speaking out for the first time since the tragedy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has just started speaking out about gun violence. He's in Denver, Colorado. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN LIVE SPEECH COVERAGE - IN PROGRESS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, the good news is Colorado has already chosen to do something about it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: But this is a state that has suffered tragedy of two of the worst mass shootings in our history, 14 years ago, this month in Columbine and just last year in Aurora. But this is also a state that treasures its Second Amendment rights. A state of proud hunters and sportsmen. And by the way, the governor wants me to remind everybody that there's outstanding elk hunting here in Colorado.

There's a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed down from generation to generation. And it's part of the fabric of people's lives. And they treat gun ownership with reverence and respect. And so, I'm here because I believe there doesn't have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities.

There doesn't have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights. I've got stacks of letters in my office from proud gun owners, whether for support or protection or collection who tell me how deeply they cherish their rights don't want them infringed upon, but they still want us to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence.

And I appreciate every one of those letters, and I've learned from them. And I think that Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible, thanks to the leadership of Gov. Hickenlooper and some of the state legislators who are here today. When I was talking to Steve, he mentioned that, you know, Aurora is very much a purple city. It's got a majority of Republican city council. Majority of the state legislators are democrat.

But they came together understanding that out of this tragedy, there had to be something that made sense. And so, we've seen enacted tougher background checks that won't infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Now, in January, just a few weeks after Newtown, I put forward a series of common sense proposals along the same lines as what's passed here in Colorado, to reduce gun violence and keep our kids safe. In my "State of the Union" address, I urged Congress to give these proposals a vote.

And by the way, before we even ask for a vote, I'd already signed numerous executive orders, doing what we could administratively to make sure that guns don't fall into the hands of the wrong people. But what I said then is still true. If we're really going to tackle this problem seriously, then we got to get Congress to take the next step. And as soon as next week, they will be voting.

As soon as next week, every senator will get to vote on whether or not we should require background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a gun. Now, some say, well, we already have background checks. And they're right. Over the past 20 years, those background checks have kept more than two million dangerous people from buying a gun.

But the loopholes that currently exist in the law have allowed way too many criminals and folks who shouldn't be getting guns. It's allowed them to avoid background checks entirely. That makes it harder for law enforcement to do its job. It's not safe. It's not smart. And by the way, it's not fair to responsible gun owners who are playing by the rules.

Now, I understand, nobody is talking about creating an entirely new system. We are simply talking about plugging holes, ceiling a porous system that isn't working as well as it should. If you want to buy a gun, whether it's from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to pass a background check to show you're not a criminal or someone legally prohibited from buying one. And that's just common sense.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: You know, during our round title discussion, Gov. Hickenlooper, I know, was in the midst of this passionate debate about the legislation here in Colorado and some people said, well, background checks aren't going to stop everybody. Governor first (ph) want to acknowledge, yes, they won't stop everybody, but as he pointed out statistically, there a whole bunch of folks who have been stopped.

As -- background checks, law enforcement's been able to stop people who have been convicted of murder from getting a gun, people who were under restraining orders for having committed violent domestic abuse from getting a gun. A couple of cases, the governor mentioned to me, law enforcement has actually been able to arrest people who came to pick up their gun, because they're criminals. Wanted. So, this does work.

And by the way, if you're selling a gun, wouldn't you want to know who you're selling it to? Wouldn't you to know -- wouldn't you want in your conscious to know that the person that you're selling to isn't going to commit a crime?

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So these enhanced background checks won't stop all gun crimes, but they will certainly help prevent some. It's common sense. And by the way, most gun owners, more than 80 percent agree this makes sense; more than 70 percent of NRA members agree; 90 percent of the American people agree. So there's no reason we can't do this unless politics is getting in the way. There's -- there's no reason we can't do this.

As soon as next week, every senator will get a chance to vote on a proposal to help strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment that they need. As soon as next week, every senator will get to vote on whether or not we should crack down on folks who buy guns as part of a scheme to arm criminals. That would keep more guns off the streets and out of the hands of people who are intent on doing harm and it would make life a whole lot easier and safer for the people behind me, police officers.

Every Senator will get a say on whether or not we should keep weapons of war and high capacity ammunition magazines that facilitate mass killings off our streets. The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with a high capacity magazine, has one purpose, to pump out as many bullets as possible as fast as possible. It's what allowed that gunman to shoot 70 people and kill 12 in a matter of a few minutes.

OBAMA: I don't believe that weapons designed for theaters of war have a place in movie theaters, most Americans agree with that.

(APPLAUSE)

Most of these ideas are not controversial. Right now, 90 percent of Americans -- 90 percent support background checks that will keep criminals and people who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from buying a gun.

More than 80 percent of Republicans agree. Most gun owners agree.

Think about it -- how often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?

And yet, there are already some senators back in Washington floating the idea that they might use obscure procedural stunts to prevent or delay any of this votes on reform.

Think about that. They're not just saying they'll vote no on the proposal that most Americans support. They're saying they'll do everything they can to avoid even allowing a vote on a proposal that the overwhelming majority of the American people support. They're saying your opinion doesn't matter.

We knew from the beginning that change wouldn't be easy. And we knew that there'd be powerful voices that would do everything they could to run out the clock, change the subject, and ignore the majority of the American people.

We knew they'd try to make any progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, or maybe people would just stop paying attention.

The only way this time will be different is if the American people demand this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.

(APPLAUSE)

We need parents and teachers and police officers and pastors. We need hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background to say we've suffered too much pain. We care too much about our children to allow this to continue.

OBAMA: We're not going to just wait for the next Newtown or the next Aurora before we act. And I -- I -- I genuinely believe that's what the overwhelming majority of Americans, I don't care what party they belong to, that's what they want, they want -- they just want to see some progress.

You know, it was interesting, during the conversation, you know, a number of people have talked about the -- the trust issue. Part of the reason it's so hard to get done is because both sides of the debate sometimes don't listen to each other. The people who take absolute positions on these issues on both sides sometimes aren't willing to concede even an inch of ground.

And one of the questions we talked about was, how -- how do you build trust, how do you rebuild some trust? And I -- I told the story about two conversations I had. The first conversation was when Michelle came back from doing some campaigning out in rural Iowa, and we were sitting at -- at dinner, and she had been to, you know, a big county, a lot of driving out there, a lot of farmland.

And she said, "You know, if I was living out in -- in a farm in Iowa, I'd probably want a gun, too. Somebody just drives up in your driveway and you're not home, you don't now who these people are and you don't know how long it's going to take for the sheriffs to respond and -- I -- I can see why you'd want some guns for protection."

That's one conversation.

I had another conversation just couple months ago with a mom from Chicago -- actually Evanston, Illinois -- whose son was killed in a random shooting. And she said, "You know, I hate it when people tell me my son was shot because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time." He was in the right place. He was on his way to school. He wasn't in the wrong place. He was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Now, both those things are true. And sometimes we are so divided between rural and urban, folks who -- whose hunting is part of their lives, and folks whose only experience with guns is street crime. And the two sides talk past one another.

And more than anything, what I want to just emphasize is they are good people on both sides of this thing. But we have to be able to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. If you're a hunter, if you're a sportsman, if you have a gun in your house for protection, you've got to understand what it feels like for that mom whose son was randomly shot. And if you live in an urban area, and you're worried about street crime, you got to understand what it might be like if you were on a ranch and your dad had been taking you hunting all your life.

OBAMA: And we had a couple of sportsman in our conversation today, and one of them said something very important. He said, "All of my experiences have been positive, but I realize that for others all their experiences about guns have been negative. Well, that's a start, right? If we start listening to each other, then we should be able to get something done that's constructive.

(APPLAUSE)

We should be able to get that done.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, one -- one -- one last thing I'm going to mention is that during this conversation, I hope you don't mind me quoting you Joe -- Joe Garcia I thought also made an important point. And that is that the opponents of some of these common-sense laws, have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what's being proposed. Nothing to do with the facts, but feeds into this suspicion about government. You hear some of these quotes, I need a gun to protect myself from the government. We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away. Well the government is us. These -- these officials are elected by you.

(APPLAUSE)

And -- and -- and, so surely we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way that the families of Aurora, or Newtown, or Columbine have grieved. We -- we've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust, and -- and is so over the top, that it just shuts down all discussion. And it's important for all of us when we hear that kind of talk to say, hold on a second.

You know if there are any folks who are out there right now who are gun owners, and you've been hearing that somehow somebody is taking away your guns, get the facts. We're not -- we're not proposing a gun registration system. We're proposing background checks for criminals. (APPLAUSE)

Don't just listen to what some advocates, or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying, look at the actual legislation. That's what happened here in Colorado. And -- and hopefully if -- if we know the facts and we're listening to each other, then we can actually move forward. And that's what members of Congress need to hear from you. Right now members of Congress are home in their districts. Many of them are holding events where they can hear from their constituents. So I'm asking anyone out there who is listening today, find out where your member of Congress stands on these issues.

OBAMA: If they're not part of the 90 percent of Americans who agree on background checks, then ask them, why not? Why wouldn't you want to make it more difficult for a dangerous criminal to get his or her hands on a gun? Why wouldn't you want to close the loophole that allows too many criminals to buy a gun without even the simplest of background checks? Why on Earth wouldn't -- wouldn't you want to make it easier, rather than harder for law enforcement to do their job?

I know to some of the officers here today know what it's like to look into the eyes of a parent or a grandparent, a brother or a sister, or a spouse who has just lost a loved one to an act of violence. Some of those families by the way are here today.

And, as police officers, you know as well as anybody there is no magic solution to prevent every bad thing from happening in the world. You still suit up, you put on your badge, put yourself at risk every single day. Every single day you go to work and you try to do the best you can to protect the people you are sworn to protect and serve.

Well, how can the rest of us, as citizens, do anything less? If there is just one step we can take to prevent more Americans from knowing the pain that some of the families who are here have known, don't we have the obligation to try?

(APPLAUSE)

Don't we have an obligation to try?

If these reforms keep -- if these reforms keep one person from murdering dozens of innocent children or worshipers or moviegoers in a span of minutes, isn't it worth fighting for?

(APPLAUSE)

I believe it is. That's why I'm gonna keep working. I'm gonna keep on giving it my best efforts, but I will need help. This is not easy, and I'll be blunt, a lot of members of Congress, this is tough for them, because those who are opposed to any form of legislation -- legislation affecting guns, they're very well organized and they're very well financed.

But it can be done if enough voices are heard.

So I want to thank all the police officers who are here for giving their best efforts every single day, I want to thank Governor Hickenlooper for his outstanding leadership. I want to thank all the families who re here for your courage in being willing to take out of this tragedy something positive. I want to thank the people of Colorado for coming together in sensible ways.

Let's see if we can get the whole country to do so.

Thank you, Denver, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

BLITZER: So there you have the president of the United States at the Denver Police Academy surrounded by police officers and other law enforcement in Denver making a strong pitch for universal background checks. That perhaps is the most possible of legislative initiatives that could get through the Senate and the House of Representatives, although it's by no means a done deal.

We're going to have complete analysis of what the president just said and what's going on. That's coming up.

Also here in THE SITUATION ROOM, incredibly intimate details and personal stories that we've never heard before about the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting massacre. Some of their families are speaking out for the first time since the tragedy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King and our senior political analyst David Gergen, who listened to the president closely.

John, it looks like most of the speech was devoted to trying to get support for background checks as opposed to some of the other more legislatively difficult challenges.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and that is proof positive directly from the president of how even he has lowered his sights, lowered his goals, if you will. Sure, he would love Congress to pass an assault weapons ban. He knows the math, it's not going to happen. He would love Congress to pass a ban on those larger magazine clips you can snap into a rifle or pistol, but he knows that is most unlikely to happen.

So he was focusing on priority one, the one thing that is still possible, and many believe if he keeps pushing, likely. Some sort of expanded background checks. Will he get universal background checks? Most Republicans and many Democrats, especially on the Senate side, will tell you no. But there is a possibility. But you heard the president there on the road using the bully pulpit of the presidency but essentially conceding I can't do this unless you call your congressman because I need to change some votes.

So this is a test of the president's will power, Wolf. Will he keep at this long enough to get people? And can he generate? Can the president in his second term generate people to get on the phone, call their members of Congress, and change a few votes? Because if he doesn't change a few votes and keep the pressure, even background checks are at some risk in the Senate.

BLITZER: You know, a hot of people don't understand that, David. That if 90 percent, according to the CBS News poll support universal background checks, strict background checks, and only, what, 8 percent don't support it, why is it so difficult?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because all politics is local. And people vote their districts, they vote their states, and they vote their own political safety. And so there are a number of Democrats, of course, who are not willing to go with the president. I think -- to John's point, Wolf, we have a speech here that was very good, it was very solid. But at 5:30 in the afternoon, to give a speech, just does not mobilize voters very well.

There are a couple of questions here. One whether the president allowed too much time to pass. Whether he shouldn't have tried to get this done 90 days ago or, you know, in the immediate aftermath of the shootings in Connecticut. Letting -- some of the passions go out of this. To get, I think if he wants -- I think he's got a good message. But if he wants to mobilize people, as John said, to get people calling their Congress, sending letters to the White House, flooding the Capitol Hill, I really think he needs to think about a primetime event of some sort, a speech or a press conference, and maybe push both gun control and immigration.

He's at a time in his presidency where speeches on the road at 5:30 in the afternoon, frankly, I don't think move the needle very much even if they're very good speeches as this one was.

BLITZER: This was a pretty strong speech, John, but I guess David makes a fair point, why not a primetime address to the American public?

KING: Well, the president may get to that point. Remember, he used part of his -- both his inaugural address and his State of the Union address to talk about these issues. So one of the questions would be, could he get primetime, could he get broadcast and cable networks to carry it if he's simply pushing his legislative agenda, not telling us something new, not adding something new to the mix?

So it is a test. Look, a second-term president, he's not on the ballot, the window for legislative action is clicking. So they need to find some new ways to move the dial and we'll see if they take David's idea. David has pushed that idea inside the White House before successfully.

GERGEN: Yes.

BLITZER: David Gergen and John King. Guys, we're going to be discussing this a lot, especially in the coming days. We'll see if the president can get what he wants off the ground in Congress. Especially when it comes to universal background checks.

A letter to Santa, a message on the kitchen chalkboard, a twin sister aching for her other half. These are the little things left behind almost four months since that horrific shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. And that -- we're only just beginning to hear about this for the first time as some of the victims' families are speaking out exclusively to "People" magazine.

Lisa Sylvester has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Noah Pozner loved wearing his brown winter jacket. He brought it to school at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th. The day he and 19 other children were killed.

VERONIQUE POZNER, NOAH'S MOTHER: It's the things you hold on to when you have nothing left.

SYLVESTER: Noah's parents share their family story in "People" magazine clutching that same brown jacket that a state trooper later tracked down and returned to them. Noah's twin sister is photographed holding his favorite toy.

Veronique Pozner sums up her grief saying it is agonizing to see your baby's name on a tombstone.

POZNER: Noah was definitely a very vivacious little boy. He loved his family. He loved his sisters. I mean, they were just an inseparable trio. He's left an unimaginable void. That just is not replaceable.

SYLVESTER: Never replaceable, never forgotten and always loved. That's the story of these families, and as hard as it is to contemplate, they wanted to share this. Out of this horrific tragedy is goodness and light.

Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, says she has seen the worst the world has to offer, and the best. Her son died in the arms of teacher aide Ann Marie Murphy.

NICOLE HOCKLEY, DYLAN'S MOTHER: To know that she was trying to protect him and was with him at the end has provided some comfort because to know that he wasn't alone, and that even in those last moments that he was with someone who truly loved him and cared for him, that -- and that she was still looking after him.

SYLVESTER: Daniel Barden was 7 years old. His sister holds his last letter to Santa. He didn't ask for toys, he just wanted to see Santa and the reindeer. His father Mark Barden says his son's legacy was his beautiful heart.

MARK BARDEN, DANIEL'S FATHER: He really did think of other people. He held doors for perfect strangers. He was kind and affectionate.

JACKIE BARDEN, DANIEL'S MOTHER: I think that's the thing. It's -- you don't need to know someone to be nice to them. He was nice to anyone he met. SYLVESTER: His family wants you to remember not what happened in the walls of Sandy Hook Elementary, but these words -- what would Daniel do. They have started a Facebook page to encourage people to adopt a practice of kindness.

Other Newtown families have found ways for their children to be remembered. Katherine Hubbard loved animals so much she made business cards that read, "Caretaker to the animals." Her family has started an animal shelter in her honor.

Single mother Scarlet Lewis still feels moments of profound grief, but also feels immense love.

SCARLETT LEWIS, JESSE'S MOTHER: I feel my purpose is to perpetuate the message that has been created basically by this tragedy, which is choosing love. You see signs all over the town, Newtown and Sandy Hook choose love.

SYLVESTER: She stayed with family immediately after learning of her son Jesse's death. But when she returned home, she found this message scribbled in her child's writing. Nurturing, healing, love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And Scarlet Lewis has started an organization called JesseLewisChooseLove.org. And other families have formed similar groups. And we will have a link on THE SITUATION ROOM blog of all the various ways that you can help the families directly impacted by the shooting in Newtown and that is at CNN.com/situationroom.

But I've got to tell you, Wolf, it was a tough story to put together when you hear some of those emotional stories of those families. And just -- and it's not just the parents, but the families. Their siblings and everything else. But it was a very powerful piece that "People" magazine have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly it was. Thanks for bringing it to our viewers.

Larry Hackett, the editor of "People" magazine, is joining us now from New York.

Larry, how did you get all of these families to come together and speak to you?

LARRY HACKETT, PEOPLE MANAGING EDITOR: With an enormous amount of time and tenderness and care. We had reporters up there obviously in the hours after the shooting and spent a lot of time making acquaintances with them and learning more about them. And we went back two months later, we had about a half a dozen reporters up there who again, to toot my own horn or their horn, are extraordinarily. And slowly and surely convinced everyone to do this.

Not everyone as you see, not all the families did it. One family, in fact, turned up at the shooting, decided not to do it. But they all decided once they were there to share just moments of incredible intimacy. The details in this story, I think, are really extraordinary.

BLITZER: I want to play a little clip. This is Veronique Pozner. She's the mother of 6-year-old Noah Pozner who was killed in that school. I'll play the clip and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POZNER: That's the jacket that I bought for him in the fall. I used to call him Jack London when he wore it because he just looked like an outdoorsy guy. That was one of the items that the state trooper who was assigned to us was so incredibly dedicated in tracking down. He was able to retrieve that for us. And that meant a huge amount. Still does. I'll always cherish that jacket. It's the things you hold on to when you have nothing left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What a powerful statement. Why was it so important to "People" magazine to revisit it tragedy?

HACKETT: Well, I think as time has gone on, the debate has moved obviously to things that are important like gun control. But I think for us it is the power of the intimate detail. It's what is it like to have been these people. I think what we tried to achieve in the magazine and what we all try to do as journalists is to create that connection between people.

And for us, it is that intimate detail, that incredibly granular moment that people can share and understand. So when you read about a mother who says that she lies down in her daughter's bed, because it's the closest thing she can get to a hug, or about another mother who sleeps with her child's pajamas because she can smell them at night, anybody can relate to that. So it's that connection between what is it like to be who you are and despite all the debate, despite everyone knowing what Newtown is, these people have to deal with this on their own, by themselves, and this is an attempt to sort of share that feeling and share that understanding with the reader.

BLITZER: Larry, listen to this. This is Mark Barden, he's the father of 7-year-old Daniel. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. BARDEN: You know, the grieving process, we're learning, is not -- it's not 24 hours a day of sobbing. It's cyclical.

J. BARDEN: Right.

M. BARDEN: Cycles of sadness and overwhelming despair and rage. When I'm really having a hard time, I find comfort in kind of immersing myself in James and Natalie. If I go to them and just kind of physically embrace them, or engage in conversation with them, it helps me. I just feel strength from that. And they sense it, too. They see us coming apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The father of Daniel. Those are so powerful, so emotional. How are these people coping?

HACKETT: In various ways. It goes across the spectrum. As I said, there are people who -- who didn't want to do it. There are other people who openly say that they are -- they really don't know how they're going to go from day to day. So it ranges. Some people are more political, some people speak more explicitly about, for example, gun control. All of them believe that some kindness has to come out of this.

BLITZER: Larry Hackett is the editor of "People" magazine. The special edition of "People" by the way hits newsstands Friday.