Return to Transcripts main page
Gulf Coast Residents Brace for Hurricane Nate; New Details in Las Vegas Shooting Investigation; New Details on Las Vegas Shooter's Travels; Tillerson Chaos Shows Kelly's Struggles to Manage White House; Hurricane Nate Speeding Towards Gulf Coast; Capt. John Kelly Talks Gun Control. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired October 7, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:26] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It's 3:00 eastern, 2:00 in New Orleans. I'm Ana Cabrera. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Hurricane emergency again this weekend. This time, the people living on the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are now getting ready for the impact of Hurricane Nate. It's over the Gulf of Mexico now, moving fast for landfall, which is expected to happen in the next few hours. It's now a category 1 storm, but is getting stronger. And coastal officials are ordering people in that impact zone to head away from the hurricane, to move to higher ground immediately.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in New Orleans on the move, heading towards downtown. And Meteorologist Tom Sater is with us as well.
I'm starting with Kaylee.
You are behind the wheel, Kaylee. Talk to us what's happening on the ground right now. How are people preparing?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we've spent the day driving around Orleans Parish, particularly the areas outside the floodgates, the area outside that protected by the $14 billion project built after Hurricane Katrina to protect the city of New Orleans from hurricanes. And the good news is people are heeding the warnings. Those in the mandatory evacuation zones were seen packing up and getting out of town. So, truthfully, we weren't planning to be on the move when I was scheduled to talk to you. But as we got on the road after a day in which I didn't even need to wear a rain jacket, the sky opened up as the first band of the storm came into the New Orleans metro area. Any traffic on the road slowed down and our trip took longer than we expected.
Here we are, rolling into downtown New Orleans right now. We're on Alesian Fields (ph), which is sort of like the northeast boundary of the French Quarter, or I should say, the entry point. If you look to the left here, see these cars parked on the median? The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, said that's allowed. Any sort of parking violation, those are off the books for the period of this storm. Parking cars on the median like that, that's high ground for people who need to take advantage of. Any time there's a concern for flooding in New Orleans, that's going
to make headlines. But the mayor has made a point of stressing to people here this is likely to be a wind event. He wants everybody securing any outdoor furniture, anything that could be used as a projectile.
While there were mandatory evacuations outside the 200 flood gates built to surround that city, inside the city center, as we know, New Orleans, like the French Quarter and what not, the time people need to pay attention is 7:00 p.m. That's when a curfew will go into effect. But we're coming up on 3:00 where they want everyone to shelter in place by that time. We know the storm is moving fast. We saw the effects of that as we got on the road to head to the Quarter.
We'll be standing by for you -- Ana?
CABRERA: The governor of Louisiana saying do not underestimate this storm.
Kaylee Hartung, thank you.
I want to turn to Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center.
Tom, what is the latest path? Give us where and when.
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's moving very fast, Ana. In fact, this thing could be knocking on the door at 7:00 this evening. So, when it's moving at this kind of speed, 25 miles per hour, a couple of things happen. First of all, it doesn't have the time and space to rapidly intensify. These hurricanes do not like to move at this kind of clip. The good news is because it is fast moving, it will move in and out, dropping a little amount of rainfall. We cannot find a well-defined eye on satellite imagery but doesn't mean it isn't a powerful storm. It's 95 miles-per-hour sustained win winds. Once we get to 96, that's a category 2, and that's what we're going to have.
Bands of rain with thunderstorms already moving across the parishes of Louisiana in towards New Orleans. We now have a tornado warning for Gulf Shores. In fact, we've already seen video of water spouts. The next problem besides landfall is going to be tornado watches and warnings, such as we have now for Bell Shores (ph).
Let's get a closer to New Orleans because the stronger winds here, near the core, which could make landfall in Plaquemines Parish, and be interesting to see if it makes a second one, at some point looking for it to kind of turn off to the northeast a little bit. But we're still over 150 miles away. Again, in this system continues to move at 25 miles per hour, do the math, know it's coming in this evening.
The problem with New Orleans may not be the winds. It's going to be a storm surge at Lake Pontchartrain of three to six feet. But most of the winds in New Orleans will be out of the north. So again, the wind speed and consistency of that pushing those waters of Lake Pontchartrain towards the south. That could be an issue. When Katrina hit, obviously the levies broke in 2005. But the real test for New Orleans was in 2012 when Isaac moved in. It really gave them a test. Isaac was a category 1 but they still had some pretty good flooding. The good news is, if we can get the system moving in through the area, flooding shouldn't be a big concern. It's more about surge right now on these parishes of Louisiana, all the way over to the panhandle of Florida. This is where we're going to have the tornado threat. That's where the bands will be moving in. Again, it's that north, right quadrant as the system continues to spin in a counterclockwise fashion.
Notice the warnings in blue, well into Alabama. And then we have tropical storm watches, which include the Atlanta area. The power outages are going to be widespread. When you have the forward speed, Ana, you have to couple that with the intensity of the winds. So this is going to be not just a surge marker. This is going to cause problems. Do not underestimate the surge. This is going to be a problem with power outages, downed trees, power lines. The system moves up to the northeast, which could still have significant impacts on flight delays and power outages there.
Again, it looks like an evening landfall as early as 7:00 p.m., Ana, moving in towards Plaquemines Parish.
[15:06:19] CABRERA: We will be checking in with you throughout the next few hours.
CABRERA: Tom Sater, thanks for staying on top of the very latest.
On the phone with us now from New Orleans is retired Army three-star general, Russel Honore, who commander the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina.
General, talk to the people who did not evacuate the gulf coast where this storm will hit in the coming hours. What should they be doing?
GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, FORMER COMMANDER, HURRICANE KATRINIA TASK FORCE (via telephone): Tell them remember Katrina. No, you did not evacuate. What happened? Left alone, surrounded by water. Ana, 12 years ago, today, I got on a military jet and flew out of New Orleans. My mission was completed after Katrina. That being said, do you want to know what's going to happen? If you're in a low-lying area, and the mayor told everybody, told everyone, you're in the low-lying area, you're in the mandatory area, you need to evacuate. The key point, Ana, is all the information we get in from the weather service are prediction. The prediction is a category 1 and you're inside the cone, or you have the line of landfall, you need to be prepared to take a category 2 hit. At that point in time, it's going to be very intense.
So I hope everyone is listening to the local officials and doing necessary precautions because remember that scene from Katrina when people were surrounded by water, and how sad that was.
CABRERA: It is just not worth any chances here. General, I want to ask you about something you wrote, because if we
can all believe it, it has been six weeks we've had three hurricanes hit the mainland U.S. These times are challenging. And these are your words" "I was a commanding general in Korea and the Middle East, two of the most dangerous places in the world, and I led the Department of Defense response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. But the last month has been the most emotionally charged period of my life."
Tell me why the last month has had that kind of impact on you.
HONORE: Because it reminded us that Mother Nature can break anything built by man. And that, places like Houston, we don't have building codes. That we continue to build at the elevation level when we all the information shows that we need to lift our homes. And when we say evacuate, there's still people like those who stayed out on Key West that didn't evacuate. Then when you do everything right that you can, like Puerto Rico, but they responded. They only lost 22 people and that storm hit them as a category 4. That is amazing because of the personal effort. And then the slow response to all of Puerto Rico. I left last there Sunday, and I left there in tears, because I know we could have done better. We didn't don't have a point of distribution, Ana, in the town. That's embarrassing.
CABRERA: I was tweeting, looking at the latest stats. They still have the majority of people without electricity. They've had two generators at two hospitals go out in the last 24 hours, and about 60 percent or so have clean drinking water. So that situation is one we cannot forget.
But as we look at this next storm moving closely and very quickly, General, if you were in charge right now, what would you be doing?
HONORE: In New Orleans, I'd be making sure like the adjutant general of Louisiana, he's put his forces here in New Orleans. They're ready to respond. They're in a hard building underneath the Super Dome. Unlike what we saw in Harvey, where they held the National Guard back, the Louisiana National Guard, like the Florida National Guard, maneuvers on the storm. When they tell people to shelter in place, they're ready to help. Because anything going to happen, that's going to surprise a lot of people, Ana, is that this storm will have some surprises. Some of them could be on the North Shore. With a little movement to the left, that could take the major flooding.
And listen to your weather people. Keep your eye on it. If it hits, there's a lot of new communities with streams. Lake Pontchartrain could rise. It's already high because of the wind cycle we got the last two weeks. If that things goes up on the North Shore, you can see flooding there and flooding as far west as across Interstate 10. Just be aware, folks. It's not about the amount of rain. If you have the impact of the surge, you can flood a lot of our people. And if you're in lower Plaquemines Parish, let's pray and make sure -- hope that that storm turns to the right and not come straight up the parish like it did in Florida. And there's a lot of population down there. The most houses are raised but, Ana, there are significant chemical and refining plants down there that we hope no -- tornados or storm moves away from quickly and get back into the gulf.
[15:11:23] CABRERA: No doubt about it. Important advice, great information.
Lieutenant General Russel Honore, thank you for helping us to hopefully get the word out to people, stay safe.
Still ahead this hour, honoring the victims. Vice President Pence set to land in Las Vegas any moment where he will take part in a prayer walk. We'll take you there live.
Plus, new details on the fate of the president's secretary of state. CNN now reports Rex Tillerson's days may be numbered. Hear what's happening behind the scenes.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:16:05] CABRERA: The vice president expected to land in Las Vegas any moment. And his visit comes as investigators try to piece together cryptic clues and unexplained evidence left behind by the shooter. One of the priorities is trying to decipher a note found in the killer's hotel room. It was left on a table under what looked like a roll of tape. The paper only had numbers scrawled on it. Investigators are trying to figure out why the gunman had 50 pounds or more of explosives and more than 1500 bullets in the car. Remember, police say there is evidence that the shooter planned to escape. Was a second attack in the works?
CNN's Scott McLean is following this investigate for us in Las Vegas.
Scott, we know police still haven't been able to come up with a motive. Are they learning anything from this evidence he left behind?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it is a major frustration for police that they still have not been able to answer that central question here. That is, why did this suspect carry out this attack. They are trying to decipher those numbers scrawled on that piece of paper left behind in the hotel room to see what they might mean, and if they have anything to do with this investigation.
And as for those explosives and the ammunition, the explosives are a compound called tannerite. There were 50 pounds inside the car. It is perfectly legal to buy in the United States. It's commonly used by target shooters to create a small explosion, so you know you hit your target from a long distance.
As for why it was in that car, police admit that is still very much an open question. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN MCMAHILL, UNDERSHERIFF, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITICAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: I don't know what he was doing. To be clear, we found no evidence that his vehicle was -- or that material in his vehicle had intended to be used as an IED within that vehicle. The answer to your question is, well, I don't know what he was going to do with it. It's one of the mysteries of this actual attack. It's one thing that my investigators as well as the FBI continue to try to figure out, and that's one of the main focuses of our investigation today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: We're also learning this suspect tried to buy tracer ammunition or bullets at a gun show in Phoenix prior to this attack, but he wasn't able to because they simply didn't have it in stock. Tracer bullets create or have a pyrotechnic charge on them that create a bit of a trail to show you where your bullets are actually landing. So in this case, the shooter would have been able to see that and potentially make him more accurate and, thus, more deadly. The drawback, if he had have used these tracer bullets, is that police may have also been able to spot that trail and see exactly where those bullets were coming from and get up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel much quicker.
CABRERA: We know he didn't get those tracer bullets because they were out when he tried to get them at that gun show in Arizona.
Scott McLean, thank you for that report.
We are also learning intimate details about the gunman's life, like where and how often he liked to vacation. Apparently, enjoyed cruises. Investigators say he took at least 20, and that many of them were to Europe and the Middle East. His girlfriend joined him on at least nine of those trips.
I want to bring in someone who knows how these investigations work, Mike Baker, a former CIA operative and cofounder of Diligence, LLC, and intelligence and security firm.
Mike, this new detail about cruises seems a little odd to bring up but could it be significant? And the fact that he travelled to Europe and the Middle East, does it become a national investigation?
[15:19:43] MIKE BAKER, CO-FOUNDER, DELIGENCE, LLC & FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, there will be an international element in that we'll want to understand when he was traveling, where he went, if he showed interest in a location, if he had contact with anybody. At this point, there's no detail that's too small for the agents and investigators to ignore. You really have to -- when you ask a question is this significant or this piece -- yes, it's significant until the evidence that you gather during the course of this very labor-intensive investigation proofs other wide. It's still on the table. Obviously, enormously frustrating for the general public not to have this answer why. But I remain convinced we may get to the end of this. And it's still won't have a satisfying -- I guess is not the right word -- but an answer that will give us the comfort of, OK, it was a horrible tragedy but we know why it happened.
CABRERA: Typically, we do have a motive in these kinds of investigations by now because there's a note, a manifesto. There might be a conversation he had with a family member or friend that eventually is exposed, or social media, these days with technology, and still, nothing.
BAKER: We can put it down to a deteriorating mental condition, which has happened, and we've seen in events in the past.
Look, the investigators may well have more detail than they're letting on right now. Maybe they don't. It's all speculation on my part in that regard. But I can tell you they have to go through an enormously painstaking process. They are recreating Paddock's life, essentially. Every conversation, every incidental contact with individuals, everything possible. This note that they found in the hotel room. This could mean absolutely nothing. We knew he was -- based on piecing what we can together so far, that he had an ability with numbers. That helped him in his gambling, where he was, by all accounts, relatively successful more often than not. Part of that was down to, apparently, this ability with numbers. Maybe it was as innocent as that in terms of this note. Maybe not. Maybe -- who knows what he was doing with it. But you have to look at that and now you're spending time and resources trying to decipher something that ultimately may be just going down a rabbit hole.
CABRERA: Which also can make this investigation be much longer than others in the past.
Our latest reporting is also that he had a huge amount of explosives, at least 50 pounds of tannerite and two suitcases filled with hundreds of pounds of ammunition that was left in his car at the hotel.
How much would investigators be focusing on those explosives or that explosive material as part of this investigation?
BAKER: Well, you have to do what you can do with something like that. So you find a point of purchase. You interview the people that were involved in that purchase, and you recreate that conversation. Did he say anything at all? Did he ask for instruction, any questions that were unusual while he was purchasing this amount?
As far as what his intentions were, again, we may not know. But we do know certain things. The plotting and planning, to a certain degree, followed a path, it followed a process that you see in other events, in terms of identifying a target and determining, doing the surveillance to determine the location, method, timing of attack. Certain things there. But then also, there's these other issues, as you pointed out, the explosives in the car, additional ammunition. Maybe he had a plan for that. Maybe it was just sort of the leftover ramblings of a mind that was going south. That was maybe part of a plan he had no intention of following through with. You would have to assume, that given the last few days of his activities, leading up to when he finally kicked off this awful tragedy, you would have to assume there was still a thought process. And therefore, he must have known he was going to die in that room. By the time he finished firing all those rounds, it seemed highly unlikely that he had mapped out an escape plan or seriously had thought about getting out of there alive and moving on to another attack. Again, partly speculation, but we have to work with what we've got at this point.
CABRERA: Absolutely. Mike Baker, thank you for your expert insight there.
I want to draw attention to the live pictures. The vice president has just landed in Las Vegas at McCarran International Airport and will be heading to go the city to participate in a statewide unity prayer walk this afternoon. Again, his visit coming on the heels of the president's trip to Las Vegas to visit with the victims and first responders earlier this week. We'll continue to monitor his trip. We'll bring you highlights and some of the moments throughout this afternoon and evening.
Now, 58 lives were cut short in this senseless act of pure evil, carried out by a lone gunman. People from all walks of life, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, leaving behind children, family and friends who loved them. We pause now to remember those who are no longer with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[15:31:02] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Defense Department has released the name of the fourth U.S. servicemember killed in a that deadly ambush in Niger. Twenty-five-year-old Army Sergeant David Johnson went missing after coming under enemy fire near the Niger-Mali border. As many as 50 fighters, likely affiliated with ISIS, carried out this attack. His body was recovered just yesterday in a remote area of the North African country. Five Nigerien soldiers also died in that attack.
After another week of drama in the West Wing, sources tell CNN General Kelly is struggling to manage a rift between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reports surfaced this week that Tillerson called the president a, quote, "moron" at a meeting over the summer. And the White House is insisting the reports are false and says the president maintains confidence in Tillerson. But many diplomats and White House sources believe Tillerson's days are numbered in the Trump White House.
Correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us.
Ryan, tell us about the latest chaos in the West Wing and the dynamics of this interesting triangle involving Trump, Tillerson and General Kelly.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's made General Kelly's job difficult. Part of the reason he became the White House chief of staff was to try and tamp down this tension between Donald Trump and some of the cabinet secretaries, and at least get it out of the public view. Our reporting tells us that John Kelly himself attempted to intervene and try and convince the president that it wasn't a good idea to admonish his secretary of state in the public square. Now the White House has flatly rejected that point of view. And they
spent a better part of this week trying to convince everyone that there is no tension between the president and his secretary of state.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Total confidence in Rex.
NOBLES (voice-over): Despite the president's insistence that he is confident in the secretary of state and Rex Tillerson's denial he considered stepping down, top aides say the relationship is strained. And a growing number of top diplomats and White House officials believe the secretary of state's days are numbers.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nothing has changed, despite what you may read in the media or watch on TV. I would certainly trust the president and my comments far above those of other reporters.
NOBLES: In the briefing room, press secretary, Sarah Sanders, continued to push back on the reports that Tillerson could be on the way out. And a White House official tells CNN there's no indication that Tillerson's job is in jeopardy. Primarily, because Chief of Staff John Kelly's concerned about the optics of another high-profile administration official stepping down.
The uncertainty around Tillerson's future comes at a time when the administration is preparing to wade into one of its most authority foreign policy matters, decertifying the Iran nuclear deal hatched during the Obama administration.
TRUMP: You'll be hearing about Iran very shortly. Thank you.
NOBLES: Trump could recertify the deal as early as next week forcing the decision to be made by Congress, which would have 60 days to determine a path forward.
While the president claims Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the deal, top administration officials, like Defense Secretary James Mattis, have warned pulling out completely is not in the best interest of U.S. national security.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.
NOBLES: It's expected that the White House will announce a broader long-range strategy for the Middle East, which will include the Iran deal and beefed-up measures, such as inspections and plans for what happens when it expires. But pushing that deal through Congress is always risky and would involve winning over fickle Republican hawks in the U.S. Senate, a job that could be made more difficult while tensions with the administration's top diplomat continues.
(END VIDEOTAPE) NOBLES: The White House was very critical of press reports of the relationship between Tillerson and the president this week, suggesting those of us in the media are not doing enough time focusing on the positive aspects of this administration, like their work involving the stock market and cutting down on regulations. Of course, Ana, this comes at the same time as the president went on Twitter this week and suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee should be investigating reporters and the media.
[15:35:06] CABRERA: Ryan Nobles, at the White House. Thank you for that.
Here we go again. At the peak of hurricane season, all eyes on Hurricane Nate. A dangerous category 1 storm taking aim at the gulf coast. It is picking up strength. We'll have the timing of when it will make landfall, next.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: Continuing to follow the breaking news on CNN, a hurricane speeding towards the gulf coast of the United States. I say speeding because it's moving very fast, as hurricanes go, and will make landfall tonight. Most models put the storm hitting somewhere southeast of New Orleans, which means people on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts right now are going to feel the brunt of Hurricane Nate.
CNN's Ryan Young is in Mobile, Alabama. Our Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is in Biloxi, Mississippi.
And, Ryan, I'll start with you.
Are people there hunkering down or taking officials advice and leaving town?
[15:40:06] RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question. A little bit mix of both. This is the first bands are rains we've experienced all day long. It's been a beautiful day. Of course, we're outside the port that was shut down earlier today. You can see some ships behind me that are being built here. Large cranes in this area. So you want to be careful in an area like this one. The airport is going to be shut down around 4:00 today. Stop all travel in and out.
But that question how people are taking it, we talk to people that say that he planned to have a hurricane party because they didn't believe the effects were going to be that strong. In fact, where we're standing to do this live shot, someone's getting prepared to be married. Deejay setting up as we speak. They'll try to squeeze this wedding in before the storm hits here.
We've been driving around town to see how people are prepping for the storm. We did see people putting up a few shutters but, for the most part, we did not see that sort of action throughout town. Stopped at Walmart and saw plenty of palettes or water and supplies for hurricane use. Talking to people in there, there was no run on those sorts of supplies.
Going to the downtown area, there are areas that flood during heavy rains no matter what. Those areas are preparing for it. At the same time, people seem somebody cautiously optimistic about will happen today.
The last thing I'll say, that storm surge could be serious if it gets over five to nine feet because, you're in an area like this that's low lying, it could cause trouble later on -- Ana?
CABRERA: Derek, you are in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Thanks for that, Ryan, by the way.
We know Biloxi was flattened by Hurricane Katrina. And the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said they are expecting this to be the worst hurricane since Katrina. Are people there taking this storm seriously and heeding advice to evacuate?
DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Ana, when Katrina came through in 2005, the water was 30 feet above where I'm standing right now. They used Katrina as the benchmark storm against all other storms here, including Hurricane Nate.
But look at how ominous the skies are behind me. This has rolled in within the past three minutes. I expect the weather to go downhill any moment in time. Because with these outer rain bands comes some of the strong wind gusts, initial wind gusts that catch people off guard quite often. We've had police cars roaming the streets and the beaches here, asking people to evacuate.
In fact, there was an ominous siren that just aired about an hour ago. That is a siren meant for people who do not have access to Internet, don't have access to news broadcasts. This is what sounded like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN DAM: So, you can imagine hearing that sound. It's all about getting to safety as quickly as possible. That's what those sirens are meant to do.
The threats here, storm surge seven to 11 feet. And we've seen videos and pictures on social media of water spouts and tornados already starting to spin up. It's very easy for these to create those hazards. We're going to be monitoring this storm here all day long.
Ana, back to you in the studio.
CABRERA: Derek, quickly, the skies looked so threatening there. When might they feel the initial outer band impact? VAN DAM: So the bulk of the winds are east of the center of the
storm. Hurricane winds extend 35 miles out. Tropical storm force end withes 120 miles out. With this edging about 150 miles away from the coast, I would give another hour or two before we start feeling tropical storm force gusts in Biloxi. Hurricane gusts by 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. tonight.
[15:38:44] CABRERA: Derek Van Dam and Ryan Young, thanks to both of you.
Coming up, a retired astronaut has become one of the top gun control advocates in the country. Mark Kelly, the husband of the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot at a 2011 campaign event in Arizona, says, if now is not the time to talk about gun regulations and gun reform, then when? Hear what Mark Kelly says is behind the hesitation to have an honest conversation with gun control in an exclusive one-on-one interview, next.
[15:43:46] CABRERA: In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, there has been no shortage of high-profile people calling for more gun control. But one of those who knows the horror of the gun violence first hand is retired astronaut, Captain Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She survived after being shot in the head during an event in Arizona in 2011. Six other people were killed and a dozen others were wounded.
I spoke to Kelly exclusively after the Las Vegas massacre and I asked him why he thinks the time for gun control is right now.
CABRERA: NASA astronaut and gun control activist, Captain Mark Kelly, is joining us now.
You and your wife spoke out earlier this week calling on Congress to do something. The president and others have said now is not the time to talk about policy. That would be politicizing this strategy. What's your response to that?
CAPT. MARK KELLY, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT & GUN CONTROL ACTIVIST: Well, it seems this is the only issue we ever say this with. If we had an airplane that crashed and killed hundreds of Americans, the next day we'd talk about aviator safety. If we had a nuclear power plant accident where people died, we'd talk about nuclear safety. So why is it with this issue that we say now is not the time.
You know I used to say that myself. When you have 59 Americans die in one single event and 500 injured, if now is not the time, then when? That's why Gabby and I are going to call on Congress and we'll work with Congress as well and call on the president to come up with a plan on how you address this issue.
[15:50:15] CABRERA: I wonder why you think it is different with gun violence. As you point out, after attack that are defined as terrorism, people immediately say what can we do to prevent this from happening again. We hear calls for more security procedures at airports, we hear calls for further background checks for foreign visas and vetting, even travel bans. But when it comes to anything to do with guns, it seems different.
KELLY: I can tell you the exact reasons why. That's because we have very powerful corporate interests, the gun lobby, who does not want to talk about it. It is in their best interests not to have the discussion. But now we're having -
KELLY: -- the discussion. You even saw from speaker of the House, he's talking about it.
CABRERA: That's small stuff. But as you point out, it is progress.
I want to ask you about the millions that we know the NRA spends lobbying Congress, the millions that they put behind certain campaigns. Their membership currently hovers around five million. With numbers like that, how can an organization like yours or other gun violence prevention organizations counters that level of influence?
KELLY: Well, we counter it with reality and logic and data. We communicate with people on real facts and not some manipulated set of facts that serves money interests around the country.
They are a formidable organization, I'll admit that. They have done a great job influencing members of Congress in a way that make them run away from this issue. The result is that we have tens of thousands of Americans dying every year from gun violence, and unlike any other country. People should understand that this isn't normal, and it does not have to be like. It is not inevitable that we will have another mass shooting worse than this one. The laws do matter. And I am glad Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are at least acknowledging that the laws do matter, especially with the Republicans.
CABRERA: We are hearing talks in both parties about restricting bump stocks, that add-on that allows the gun to mimic an automatic weapon. Maybe that's a starting point on gun reform. Do you see this as a breakthrough?
KELLY: Yes, I think it would be a big break through to get Republican support for anything. But along with a prohibition or regulations of these bump stocks, we have to give the ATF the resources it needs to do their jobs. Another thing we can do, this guy amassed an arsenal over about a month, most of his guns, from what I understand, for about a month. Those were handguns. You buy more than one handgun in five days, gets reported to the ATF. Not the same for a semiautomatic assault rifle. Why is the more powerful weapon not reported to the ATF when you are trying to accumulate an arsenal. That should be --
KELLY: -- a provision of this as well. CABRERA: My understanding, it was 33 of these guns in the past years or so, and it did not wave any red flags in the system because of how it the system is currently set up when it comes up to --
CABRERA: -- time periods and number of weapons and ammunitions and so forth.
But because this is something that's deeply personal to you, I am curious what you would say to somebody like Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot earlier this year, and this affected him personally as well, at that congressional baseball practice where he suffered that injury.
Here is what he said this week when he was asked about gun reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Inevitably, questions about the Second Amendment are raised by what happened in Las Vegas. Has it changed of how you feel about any of that?
REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R), LOUISIANA: I think its fortified it. The gunman actually cleared background checks. So to promote some kind of gun control, I think is the wrong way to approach this. And frankly, what I experienced was, when there is a shooter, we had capital police with their own guns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Captain Kelly, what do you say to Congress Scalise or those who see those issues through that lens?
KELLY: The follow-up question if I was doing that interview, I would ask him, what would that scenario that he was in, what would that have been like if the shooter had a silencer on his weapon? Until this happened, this week, Congress was seriously considering voting on a bill that would make silencers readily available to anybody. They're currently regulated under the 1934 National Firearms Act, like fully automatic weapons. But you have members of Congress advocating for silencers. On that day, if there is a silencer on the weapon, I imagine there would have been more people shot and injured and probably killed.
But let's get to the real issue here, and I will address what Representative Scalise said, the background check issues. Yes, he said that the shooter in that case got a background check. Sure, about 60 percent, 70 percent of all gun sales are done with background checks. But why do we give criminals and domestic abusers and suspected terrorists the ability to buy a gun without first getting a background check? I mean, that should be the first line of defense from having idiots get their hands on dangerous weapons.
I say this, from a gun owner. I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I own multiple firearms. I served in the Navy for 25 years. But let's do what we know works. States that have a universal background check, less people die from gun violence.
The gun lobby would like us to think that this is just normal and this is the price of freedom. I mean, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. We can allow responsible people to buy firearms. And we can keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
[15:55:59] CABRERA: All right, Captain Mark Kelly, thank you for the conversation and thank you for joining us.
KELLY: Thank you for having me on.