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INSIDE POLITICS

Shooting Survivors Rally at State Capitol; Students Speak at State Capitol; CNN Holds Florida Town Hall; Florida Students Hold Press Conference. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:17] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The graceful man known as America's pastor is dead at age 99. Billy Graham carried evangelism into the TV age and counseled presidents for six decades.

Plus, President Trump's anger at the Russian meddling investigation spills into the public eye again with a morning tweet attacking his own attorney general.

And the students in Florida rallying this hour under the banner never again. A Colorado Republican gets an up-close taste of a fresh, national debate about gun violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am the wife of a Columbine High School first responder. My husband was also one of the first responders at Arapahoe High School. There is no way a 19-year-old and a 19-year-old with the problems this young man had who can't even buy alcohol should be able to buy a weapon of mass destruction, and no one can tell me this is not a weapon of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin the hour with the focus on Tallahassee, Florida, and two words, never again. You see the live pictures here. Students from the self-proclaimed never again movement rallying at the Florida state capitol. By never again, these students mean they never want anyone, especially children and teenagers like themselves, to witness a horror like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In addition to the rally, Douglas students are meeting throughout this day with state lawmakers to demand changes. While they share the never again urgency, it is important to note the students are not in total agreement about what must change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYLE KASHUV, STUDENT WHO SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL MASSACRE: I ultimately want to accomplish and to make sure that we have mental health restrictions in place so people who are not mentally stable cannot acquire weapons. And I'm 100 percent sure I want to make sure that we have deeper background checks. And I want to tell them that a fellow --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": So those -- yes, go ahead.

KASHUV: A fellow -- and a fellow Republican that it's really -- I really understand the concern that it's a slippery slope for legislation. If we had these in place, he would never have been able to acquire a weapon, 100 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mental health focus there. Other students say they want age restrictions on gun purchases, or some are advocating a ban on assault weapons. That's clearly not in the cards right now. Last night, with students from Stoneman in the gallery, the statehouse voted down a motion to begin debate on an assault weapons ban.

Moments from now, students will give a press conference on their progress. We'll bring you there -- take you there live when that happens.

And check this out, thousands of students across the state also walking out of classes to remember the 17 people who were gunned down last week. These students also demanding some changes.

With us in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia Malika Henderson, Julie Pace from the "Associated Press," CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Rachael Bade from "Politico."

I want to -- let's focus first on these students and what they're demanding in Florida. We'll have a conversation in a minute about the national debate.

Down in the state of Florida, just a week or so after this horrible event at their school, it is remarkable to watch these young Americans, some of them not even old enough to vote, with poise and dignity going to their state lawmakers and saying, listen, the question is, and you can even see it among the students, they don't agree on everything, just like here in Washington or anywhere else across the country, raise this issue and there's disagreement over what would stop this from happening again. Florida, a key swing state, in an election year, are we at some critical mass moment, or will we be at this table a month from now and this will be a faded memory?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, if you go on past history, both at the state level and at the national level, it seems unlikely that you're going to get certainly some kind of large package. I do think one thing that's really interesting about the approach that these students have taken is that they're not letting much time pass.

KING: Right.

PACE: The Newtown parent, for example, were so powerful. Part of the problem with the push in Washington was that so much time passed. And it is really sad to say, but the visceral memories fade. There is more time for the political influencers to get involved in the conversation. These students are going immediately after this shooting and trying to get action.

They obviously got a tough lesson in the Florida legislature yesterday with no movement there. But I do think the fact that they're trying to build some momentum, at least, I would say, leaves the door open perhaps more than in other shootings we've seen. Though it is a tough road ahead.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": This is -- Florida is sort of an NRA, you know, petri dish. It was one of the first states that had concealed carry legal so people could, you know, hide their guns under their jackets or pants, et cetera. Also a stand your ground state. So, you know, it's going to be really tough to move something. If they can move this just even an inch, it's very significant in Florida. But, again, that vote from last night didn't exactly signal hope for these students.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Yes, I mean, in some ways it was a rebuke of what they were trying to do. I mean, obviously, some of them are trying to call for gun control laws. And there was sort of reality hitting them there with the NRA. I mean these are lawmakers that have deep ties to the NRA. Florida is a very pro-gun state, as you outlined.

[12:05:08] And it seems to be, I mean, if you look at what has happened in the wake of a lot of these shootings, most of the movement has come at the state level, in both directions, right. On the one hand, expansion of gun laws in some red states and then more restrictions particularly in a state like Connecticut on gun rights.

But it is -- it's inspiring. I think for me to watch these students, no matter what their political views are, to see them so engaged in a process, so engaged politically. And it does have echoes. And you heard Oprah Winfrey say this, and you see some prominent liberals trying to rally around them, donate to them, say that it reminded her of the Civil Rights Act and it's also --

KING: Right. Let's go -- let's go straight and listen. Oprah Winfrey says these students should be listened to. Let's listen.

FLORENCE YARED, SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL MASSACRE: Five years ago, I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting. I cut out paper snowflakes to send to the school. But I never imagined that this could happen to me.

Exactly one week ago, my school was viciously attacked. Seventeen of my classmates, friends and teachers died. No longer can I walk the halls I walked millions of times before without fear and sadness. No longer can I walk the halls without hearing the gunshots. No longer can I walk the halls without imagining bloodstains and dead bodies. All because of the damage that a single AR-15 rifle caused.

Now, I'm 17 years old. I'm not old enough to buy a gun or consume alcohol, and I'm barely old enough to drive, but I value the education that I received before my school was shut down by being an active crime scene. Through my U.S. history classes, I learned that the founding fathers incorporate the Second Amendment in order to defend state's rights against tyranny. America had just been domineered by Great Britain. And, at the time, each individual states did not want to return to the same monarchial ways.

To satisfy these individual states, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. But this right does not and never will overpower the individual's right to life, liberty (INAUDIBLE).

Through my physics class, I learned that the (INAUDIBLE) gun is determined by the energy imparted by a bullet, which is half the mass times the velocity squared. And a 9-millimeter handgun, an effective self-defense gun, this kinetic energy is 400-foot pounds, while an AR- 15 is 1,300-foot pounds, three and a half times higher.

Through my anatomy class, I learned that this is enough energy to pulverize organs upon impact. The only purpose of an assault weapon like this is to kill and to kill as many people as possible. The AR-15 -- the AR-15 is not a self-defense weapon. It is rightly co called an assault weapon. Assault. Think about this word.

I'm not trying to take away your Second Amendment rights, nor am I trying to eliminate all guns. But we cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.

We need limitations. We need (INAUDIBLE). Individuals who need the same weapons that our soldiers use overseas to fight wars do not need these weapons. Individuals who are not allowed to board an airplane should not have access to these weapons. Ninety percent of my fellow Americans support background checks for the purchase of all firearms, yet you, our lawmakers, have failed to act.

The NRA claims that limiting assault weapons won't work. Friends, this is not true. Let's look at real-world examples out there. In Australia, they banned guns in 1966, and they haven't had a single mass shooting since. Not a single mass shooting in (INAUDIBLE) years.

And in the U.K., they've only had one mass shooting since their ban also in 1966 after a school shooting.

In America, we've had eight mass shootings in the first six weeks of this year. We hold the sad, sad record of one mass shooting per week for the past five years nonstop. One mass shooting every single week.

Some say that a ban on assault weapons is not the solution because people kill people, not guns. Let me tell you, if this criminal shooter had a handgun, maybe many of our friends and teachers would be alive today.

If a ban on assault weapons could save one more life, it would make a massive difference to our friends, their families, and their community. If a ban on assault weapons saved one more life, it would be worth it.

[12:10:13] We also hear about mental health is the real issue. Maybe this is true, but before we also know how to cure it -- mental health, isn't it common sense to ensure that people suffering from mental health don't have access to these legal weapons? Stricter background checks means one more person would be saved, this

would make a huge difference within our community. If we had stricter gun controls, we would not have lost 17 lives of our classmates, teachers, and staff members. We would not have destroyed the innocence of 3,000 high school students and damaged a whole community in Parkland and Coral Springs. If we had stricter gun control measures in Florida, 17 families would be having dinner tonight together instead of mourning for the loss of their loved ones.

Today, instead of returning to our studies, instead of preparing for exams, and instead of grieving for dead classmates and teachers, we are out here advocating for change.

We are asking (INAUDIBLE) failure to do our primary job by keeping us safe. Some of you said it's too soon to talk about gun control. No, it is not too soon. No, this is not the wrong time. There's no better time than now to talk about gun control.

If we wait, then someone else might become a victim too. Your children might become these victims too.

To Congress, you are directly responsible for every community that has lost people to gun violence, and you have the power to change this. And if you don't, then we will change you.

You say we're too young to vote, but soon we will be able to vote. And we will vote you out.

(INAUDIBLE) and we will take your place. And many students around the country can't wait to go vote, can't wait to go run for office and to make a change, to make a safer world. You adults have failed us by not giving us safer places to live and to go to school. So we, the next generation, will not fail our own kids. We will (INAUDIBLE).

If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, next year. Take it from us, (INAUDIBLE) us, so we will make this world safer for our children.

The children, the students all around the world are watching you. The people of Florida are watching you. The citizens of my beloved United States of America are watching you. If you do not take action now, then we, the future leaders of America, will.

I would like to announce Representative McGee (ph), who sponsored a bill to ban assault weapons.

KING: You're listening there to Florence Yared. She's one of the survivors of last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, speaking there at a never again rally in Tallahassee, the state capital.

The students and their supporters there pressing state lawmakers for changes in Florida laws. Florence speak out there, saying she wants an assault weapons ban. Some of the other students want new mental health restrictions, expand background checks. They debate in Florida. We'll continue to watch this rally. And when we come back from a quick break, how the debate in Florida, how the shooting in Florida influences the debate here in Washington, where President Trump says he is now open to some, modest new national restrictions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:08] KING: Welcome back.

You're looking at live pictures right now. That's Tallahassee, Florida. Students who survived the Parkland school shooting bringing their fight to lawmakers at the state capitol. They're demanding, some of them are, tougher gun control laws. Others want other restrictions.

Among those facing pressure, Florida's United States Senator Marco Rubio. He will participate tonight in a CNN town hall with some of these students, parents, and community members who were affected by last week's rampage.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Sunrise, Florida, where the town hall will take place.

Kaylee, help us set the stage. What do the students, what do the survivors most expect this evening?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, that emotion and passion and outrage you hear in Tallahassee today, many of those survivors of Stoneman Douglas will bring it here that the BB&T Center tonight. More than 5,000 people have already confirmed that they will attend this town hall, an opportunity for the students of Stoneman Douglas, their parents, teachers, and administrators to sit face to face with lawmakers, even a spokeswoman from the NRA, and ask very pointed questions.

You can expect that spotlight to be brightest, though, on Republican senator of Florida, Marco Rubio. He's a politician in Florida who has accepted more money from the NRA than any other lawmaker in the state. He and Dana Loesch, the spokeswoman for the NRA, will be dealt some tough questions from young people who have made their opinions and their passion at this time very clear to us all.

Also on that stage, Democratic Congressman Ted Deutsch. Many students have told me he has been a tremendous resource for them this past week. And also Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

We should mention, though, John, that President Trump, as well as Florida's Governor Rick Scott, were extended invitations to attend but declined to be here or to participate via satellite.

John.

KING: I think a lost opportunity for them.

Kaylee Hartung on the scene for us. We'll keep in touch.

That town hall, 9:00 tonight here on CNN. Please come back and watch. Jake Tapper will moderate.

[12:20:01] The president, as Kaylee just noted, will not be in attendance tonight, but he is active in the debate over, what now, what next. Last night on Twitter, this from the president. Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening background checks.

That tweet hours after the White House and the president announced he's instructed his attorney general to draft a rule that would ban so-called bump stocks. Today, the president is giving an audience to survivors. A White House listening session to give those who escaped Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Columbine a platform with the president, which is important. Which is important.

This conversation, after every one of these shootings, the conversation is, in state capitols like Tallahassee, or in Washington, D.C., will anything get done. If you're a supporter of aggressive gun controls, you're not happy. You don't think the president is going far enough.

But let's start with the fact that the president -- I'm sorry, we're going to go straight back to Tallahassee. One of the students speaking at a press conference. Let's listen.

LORENZO PRADO, SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL MASSACRE: Oh, no.

Hello, everyone. My name is Lorenzo Prado. I am a junior. And I do not support any political party. And I'm a survivor of the Douglas massacre.

I'm here today to advocate for stricter gun laws on behalf of the 17 whose lives were ripped away from them on the day of February 14, 2018.

On the day of love, our loved ones were ripped away from us in a horrific manner that should never transpire. Many would like to blame this event on the FBI's lack of action or the Trump administration. But the simple fact is that the laws of our beloved country allowed for the deranged gunman to purchase a gun legally.

The law has failed us and has led to the events that happened in Parkland to occur. And what we must do now is enact change because that is what we do to things that fail. We change them. To not change the law in our time of need would be a huge disservice to the 17 dead in Parkland, the 13 dead in Columbine, the 26 dead in Sandy Hook, the 50 dead in Orlando, the 59 dead in Las Vegas. For the good of the students, the parents, the family, and the country, we beg for common sense laws that would prevent a terrorist, because that's what he is, a terrorist, who invokes terror upon students and everyone upon the nation, to prevent someone like him from ever holding a gun ever again.

On that fateful day of the Douglas massacre, we lost our future because in those lives lost lays the future of our country. On that fateful day, we lost Peter Wang, a JROTC member and a hero. He was seen holding a door open for other students to enter for safety.

On that fateful day, we lost Coach Feis, a football coach, a security guard, a hero, and a role model to his child. He was seen sacrificing his life so another could live another day. On that fateful day, we lost Coach Hixon, our wrestling coach, a

security guard, and, to me, a hero. He was seen leaving the auditorium to check the others well-being because he put others' lives before his.

On that day, we lost Nicholas Dworet, captain of the swimming team and a hero, and soon to be Olympian. Nicholas Dworet was seen pushing another student out of the way when the terrorist shot into his classroom. But I do not want to remember Nicholas Dworet as the man that met his death too early, because to me Nicholas was a friend and my captain. He was the heart and soul of the swimming team, both in and out of school, because he was friendly to all and mean to none.

I had never seen Nick frown, because he was always optimistic in life. And every time I saw him, he had a smile. He had a smile when we were competing. He had a smile when I taught him Spanish. He had a smile even something he dreaded so much like math. I taught him math, and he would never, never frown.

And before the week of that fateful day last week, the week before that, Nick had his own fateful day. The week before that, I saw Nick get signed into UNV for swimming so he could chase his dream of becoming an Olympian. But that is a dream he can no longer achieve because Nikolas Cruz abhorrently decided to take Nicholas Dworet's life.

But we can't just blame Nikolas Cruz for this tragedy, because the laws of our country allow him to purchase a weapon. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to drink beer. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle, although he had clear signs of mental illness. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle with clear signs of delinquency from the school. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle with the intention to kill.

[12:25:21] On that day of the Douglas massacre, I was a victim, like everyone else. My peers dead. Many performing heroic acts in their final hour. And I was scared, like everyone else. But my case was different than all the others because on that day I was a suspected school shooter. On that day, I was in the sound booth inside the auditorium. When the fire alarm rang, I decided that I would stay behind because what could possibly go wrong? I then hear the banging on the doors of the auditorium, and I run downstairs to see a hundred people banging on the door. I quickly opened the doors to let the people in and I see my coach, Hixon, running inside for safety.

I was scared, and I ran to the safest place possible, which was the sound booth again. And I start to pace back and forth because I did not know what was going on. And the people in the audience saw me. They saw me, and they panicked because I was matching the same description as Nikolas Cruz. I had the same clothes, same color, same facial structure somewhat. I don't -- and they reported me.

And I was just hiding up there. I had no idea what was going on. And then the door started to rattle. And at first the only thought that came to my mind was, I'm going to die. The shooter is going to kill me. But then the SWAT comes in and I thought they were here to rescue me. But then, as I go down the stairs, I find out that I was wrong. I found out that they thought it was me that killed the 17 people.

And I -- I go down the stairs, they tell me to put my hands up. And I, being the fool that I was, tried putting my phone back in my pocket. And they demanded again, and, I, not trying to be one of those news stories of someone dying wrongfully because they refused to put their hands up, I just -- I just dropped my phone at that moment and kept going. When I went out those doors I had six SWAT members pointing their guns at me. I was -- I was tossed to the ground. I was unjustly cuffed and held at gunpoint for the degrading and depreciating action of the disturbed individual Nikolas Cruz. I was then put in a corner with a policewoman guarding me for the rest of the evening. I knew any move I made would be the end of my life.

Throughout the entire event, I only felt two things. I felt fear, as I did not know my future. I did not know if I was going to be let go. I did not know where the terrorist was. I did not know where -- how my friends were doing. And, for that, I was afraid.

The second thing was guilt. I felt guilty for closing the door behind me. I felt guilty for startling the audience. I felt guilty for the SWAT who had to pursue me instead of pursuing the murderer. I felt guilty for not contacting my mother. I felt guilty for Coach Hixon, whose life I thought I saved when I -- when he walked inside the auditorium, but whose life was ended when he walked out again.

But guilty I shall feel no longer because I'm here to demand change from our government because the lives lost who shall not be lost in vain shall then be used as a catalyst for change in our country today. We will make change in our country, and if not today, tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that until we achieve the change that we want in this country.

Until the day that safety is preserved in all schools in our beloved country of America, we students will keep fighting for our right to live. If I had to drop everything else in my life just to make these changes happen, I will because, to me, to let these victims' lives be taken without any change in return is an act of treason to our great country. To let our fellow countrymen to fall beside us without a fight back is to me equal to leaving a soldier to die in the battlefield.

[12:29:54] This is an injustice to our country because not only of the lives lost but also in the loss of confidence in our government. We lose confidence in our government because we are told that nothing can be done time and time again. And we're tired of hearing that. Because we know there can be change in this country.