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NRA President Lashes Out; Trump Advocates for Guns in Classrooms; Interview with Congressman John Garamendi, Democrat of California; Shooter's Original Host Family Warned Law Enforcement. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump suggesting paying teachers an extra bonus to pack heat.

THE LEAD starts right now.

After hearing from survivors and seeing their gut-wrenching pain, President Trump today saying he's open to new restrictions on gun ownership, but are the NRA and Congress hoping that this all just goes away?

Plus, he put guns to people's heads before. CNN uncovering new threats that the confessed gunman made months before the massacre. Why didn't the police move on him then?

And back to brass? After months of butting heads and one undercutting tweet, could National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster be on the way back to the Pentagon?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead and an ambiguous promise from President Trump on ending mass shootings, pledging -- quote -- "We're going to take action."

But what kind of action remains unclear, as does how much the president is willing to fight for any specific provision. President Trump saying he hopes the Congress will "finally do something."

He's back a measure that the NRA opposes, raising the age to purchase semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21. He's also expressed support for a program the NRA supports, training and arming some teachers, even giving them the bonuses for doing so, while praising the leaders of the NRA as -- quote -- "great American patriots" today.

Left undefined as of now are the president's pledges to end the sale of devices such as bump stocks that turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons and a desire to make background checks strong, in his word.

How far the president is willing to go on those two items could be significant. The NRA, for instance, opposes extending background checks to private gun sales at gun shows. And experts say the only real way to fix the bump stock issue is with a new law passed by Congress, not with a regulatory change.

An open question in all of this is how much President Trump is willing to go against the wishes of his close allies in the NRA and how much political capital, if any, he's willing to expand in such a fight.

In the last hour, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said the White House does not expect to agree with the NRA on every issue.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to propose more specifics with regard to school safety. He's going to want support from Democrats and Republicans. And, yes, he's going to provide political cover for those willing to take leadership roles.

I don't necessarily think that everything that he's going to be proposing is going to be at odds with the NRA or any group, but he is going to propose things. He's very serious about this issue and he does want to have solutions.


TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us.

And, Jeff, some tough talk from the president on fixing this problem, but it's not clear how all of this is going to come together as action.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the president said he wants to succeed where some of his predecessors have fallen short on this, but it is unclear how much he plans to confront the NRA or push members of his own party.

One thing that's clear? The president believes more guns is the solution. He had tough words today for any would-be school shooters.


TRUMP: If you come into our schools, you're going to be dead. And it's going to be fast.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump delivering tough talk today on school shootings, saying he believes arming teachers and coaches would stop more massacres.

TRUMP: We have to harden our schools, not soften them up. A gun-free zone to a killer or somebody that wants to be a killer, that's like going in for the ice cream. That's like, here I am, take me.

ZELENY: A day after listening to harrowing stories from students who survived the Florida shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? ZELENY: And from families of those who did not.

ANDREW POLLACK, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: And I'm pissed, because my daughter, I'm not going to see again.

ZELENY: Mr. Trump pledged to do what other presidents have not.

TRUMP: I want to end a problem. I don't have it where this happens again. And unless we're going to have an offensive capability, it's going to happen again and again and again.

ZELENY: After unleashing a string of morning tweets on gun policy, the president met with state and local officials at the White House, where he proposed giving bonuses to train teachers who carry arms.

TRUMP: You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free you have now made the school into a hardened target.

ZELENY: That language echoed the words of Wayne LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association, speaking to conservatives today.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country.

ZELENY: The president signalled he could confront the NRA on other ideas they have rejected, like raising the age limit to buy weapons.

TRUMP: We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18.

ZELENY: But afterward, the NRA made clear its position on age restrictions had not changed, yet overall the president insisted the NRA was a willing partner in finding solutions to the plague of school shootings in America, even though LaPierre blamed the Florida shooting on everything except guns.

TRUMP: They are ready to do things. They want to do things. They are good people. They are patriots. They love this country.



ZELENY: When the Florida commissioner of education said active shooting drills should be held in schools across the country, the president said, as a father, he disagree.

TRUMP: I think that's a very negative thing to be talking about, to be honest with you. I don't like it.

I wouldn't want to tell my son that you're going to participate in an active shooter drill.


ZELENY: So it is the words active shooter drill that specifically the president does not like. A White House spokesman the president would prefer a safety drill or something called like that.

But, Jake, students also are likely afraid of another school shooting, which of course is everyone's worst fear.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much.

My political panel is here.

Mary Katharine, where do you think this is going to end? Where is President Trump willing to actually provide the cover that the White House deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, referred to, for members of his party in terms of maybe pushing some regulations that the NRA does not support?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, possibly on the age limit front.

I don't know that that's the case, but, certainly, I think you can get the NICS fixes done, possibly the bump stock, which I'm not sure why you couldn't get it done through a regulatory move, instead of a law.

TAPPER: And let me ask you explain that, and then I will let you finish.

We talked to an expert who used the work for ATF, and he said the problem is that you actually -- the way that ATF did it was by calling a bump stock a machine gun.

HAM: Right.

TAPPER: And the moment that that will happen...

HAM: You reclassify it.

TAPPER: That's why it was OKed it under the Obama administration because they didn't have a choice, but the moment that they just regulatory-wise call it a machine gun, four companies are immediately going to sue.

That's why the expert said it needs to be done -- they need to change the actual law.

HAM: I think those are two things you could possibly get done.

The problem we have also with this is, look, the answer to this is multifaceted. And part of the problem with this debate is if you talk about anything other than gun control, you get called as if you're complicit in child murder and making excuses on that front.

And it's not the case. You do have to do several things, and when you do even gun control stuff like fixing the NICS system, as we did in 2007 post-Virginia Tech, what you end up with is a bunch of state governments that are not compelled to put things into the database, and a bunch of people who are not putting the proper mental health flags into the database, thereby creating a database that does not give you the hits it needs. And I would like to improve those things as well, while we're talking

about moving on to other things.

TAPPER: And there is a move in the Congress right now, Kirsten, to improve the NICS database between Chris Murphy, who is a big gun control person, and John Cornyn, who is a big gun rights person, to try to improve this.

We saw in the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, there's huge holes where people who have violent records are not reporting to the NICS system, or the instant check system.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right. But in this case, would the shooter in Florida have been stopped?

TAPPER: He didn't commit any crimes.


TAPPER: He was not charged with any crimes.

POWERS: Right. Exactly. Yes.

So I don't know. Even when people talk about mental health issues, it's -- a lot of people are not clinically diagnosed as being mentally ill. So even if somebody -- I'm not sure the shooter -- I know he had problems, he was depressed, but a lot of people are depressed, and the NRA would certainly never support them not getting guns.

This was a person who lost had -- in Florida who had both of his parents. He maybe had some autistic issues. We don't really know.


TAPPER: Things that are not predictive at all.

POWERS: Right. And also the people who were living with him didn't believe that he was capable of this.

I don't know really how that's going to really help in this situation. I do think the problem is the gun that he used. I think that that's what we have to talk about. There's an article I just tweeted out in "The Atlantic" about a doctor who was working in the emergency room about the difference of how these guns -- like, you can't survive.

If you are hit with a bullet from one of these guns, compared to another gun, a gun that is using a lower velocity bullet, basically, you might survive in the case with the lower velocity bullet. You won't survive in this case. It's just a total game changer when someone is using a gun like this. And I don't think...

TAPPER: An AR-15 type weapon?

POWERS: Yes. Yes.

I think that is something that we have to be seriously talking about. TAPPER: I want to let you respond to that in a second, but before

that, I want to just talk about the politics of this with Nia one second, which is President Trump, he likes to think of himself as a deal-maker who can do things where previous presidents were not able.

Take a listen.


TRUMP: For many years, where people sitting in my position did not take action. They did not take proper action. They took no take action at all. We're going to take action.


TAPPER: This is also what he's said about immigration reform, and we have not seen anything yet.

But, obviously, there is a deal there, and in the only Nixon can go to China OK a way, he could bring the right along with it, if the left were willing to meet them halfway on some other issues. Do you think he could get something done?


He's talking about so many different things in terms of what he wants to look at. He talked about the Internet. He talked about Hollywood movies. He talked about video games. He talked about more mental institutions.

Of course, he talked about arming teachers as well, and the bump stocks. I mean, there's all sorts of things that he's talking about.


Unclear of what his focus will be. Is it going to be on the fix NICS thing, which seems to have some support? We don't know what Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan think at this point. They are of course on recess.

It's difficult to see them wanting to put as something as difficult and contentious as gun control or gun regulations on the docket at this point, given the fact that it's an election year.

We will have to see. But I think you're right to bring up immigration reform. We were almost having the exact same conversation about this president in terms of immigration reform, him seeming to be able to or wanting to push his party on getting citizenship to the DACA recipients.

And here seeming to want to go against the NRA, but not really being in a position to lead his party and get anything substantial done.

TAPPER: I want to let you respond to what Kirsten earlier about the AR-15 and those semiautomatic weapons. She pointed the blame at them. I don't think you agree with that.

HAM: Well, is the answer to ban them?


TAPPER: All semiautomatic rifles?


HAM: I appreciate the honestly. And I encourage everyone to get to work on that. The problem is that the courts and the Constitution stand in your way.


POWERS: I was trying to answer it.

TAPPER: Go ahead.


Well, no, I mean, I think there could be things you can do if somebody wanted to have one. I guess I actually have friends who believe they are toys, and so they want to go and use them at a shooting range. Then you could have something where they can keep them locked at a shooting range and they can go use them there.

But I don't think you need to have that to protect your house. Look, I say this all the time. I grew up in Alaska. I lived in a house with 12 guns. I'm not anti-gun. We were more than able to protect our house with a shotgun.

I don't understand why you need this kind of gun when you weigh it against the damage of -- and I really urge people to go read this article. It's by a doctor talking about literally the difference of what -- she treats gunshot victims all the time.

TAPPER: Because it's the number of bullets that go in?

POWERS: It's the number, yes, and -- but the velocity that it hits you.

TAPPER: But how do you regulate that?


HAM: And far more gun crime and more guess violence is committed with handguns. So, is the next step them?

POWERS: Well, actually, they are banned in a lot of places.


HAM: And do we have less gun crime in those places?

POWERS: But the problem is that we don't have less gun crime, like in Chicago, is because people go to states that don't have them banned, they buy them, and they run them into Chicago and they sell them.

So, actually, if they were banned everywhere, we might have a different outcome.

TAPPER: Stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Is this moment really a tipping point? Our next guest could directly determine if it is. Don't go anywhere.


[16:16:34] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead. President Trump says he's going to take action to prevent further school shootings, and mass shootings.

Is Washington, D.C. really ready to act?

Congressman John Garamendi, Democrat of California, joins me now.

Congressman, you told us that last night's town hall to you felt like a seminal moment where something really changed. What do you mean?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: I mean just that. You did a great thing for this nation, you brought together an extremely important issue, and it was tough. It was sound. The people were sounding off on all sides. You had the NRA there having to actually protect itself and defend itself.

Is it a seminal moment? I hope and pray so. Is it the tipping point? If so, you pushed it over the edge. Good for you. Good for America.

TAPPER: Well, I wasn't fishing for a complement there.

GARAMENDI: You deserve it.

TAPPER: What is going to change, though, is my question. What possibly is going to change?

GARAMENDI: What's change, I hope, is an attitude and change across this nation that we're not going to be safer if we have more guns. We're not going to be safer if every teacher or 20 percent of the teachers have a hidden weapon in their back pocket. That doesn't make us safer. There's a whole variety of things we can do. Mental health is clearly one of the issues, and perhaps you ought to ask the president why his budget that just came out less than a month ago cuts the mental health budget for the NICS program by 16 percent and eliminates one of the programs to, Safe School Program, in the Department of Justice.

So, he's going to have to back that up, come forward with money to carry out the programs he's talking about. All to the good. All to the good. We're getting a national conversation underway, and maybe, maybe we can get some progress here.

But keep in mind that every effort made by the Democrats to bring in place gun safety laws, including mental health, including "no fly, no buy", those kind of things were dead in the Republican controlled committees.

TAPPER: Let me ask a question. When you were a California state senator after the horrific shooting in Stockton, California, in 1989, you were able to push the first state law to ban some kinds of semiautomatic weapons otherwise known as assault weapons.

Now, since then, of course, there's been murders in California with semiautomatic weapons including San Bernardino where the killer used semiautomatic weapons. So, how do you respond to critics who say, you know, it doesn't work?

GARAMENDI: Well, it reduces the number of assault weapons on the streets. Now, California did have a ban, it has had various kinds of bans since that horrific shooting in Stockton. I represented that area.

I saw the kids. I saw the bullet wounds. And they are horrific. You want to get the country up in arms, show the physical damage, the horrendous damage that these kids endure with these particular kinds of assault weapons. It is beyond horrible.

And people need to understand this is not just a pistol. It is a mechanism to destroy a human being. Plain and simple.

TAPPER: So, Wayne LaPierre -- I want to ask you, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA today said the Democrats ignore the fact that the FBI did not act on tips. I wonder if you concede that point?

GARAMENDI: Nobody's ignoring -- nobody's ignoring that. And certainly, the FBI isn't ignoring it. They are being called to task, as they should be, as should the police and across this nation. We know there's problems with the NICS and national gun system.

[16:20:07] We know that the Air Force ignored the law and didn't send in requests and result of that was probably directly related to the 26 people that lost their lives in the church in Texas less than three months ago.

TAPPER: Right.

GARAMENDI: So, we have a problem there of reporting. Yes, it must be dealt with. Does it solve the problem? No, not totally. It will help along the way.

Also, the Sandy Hook situation. Sandy Hook, the parents put together a program as they did in Columbine to work with the kids, to work in schools to make the school a welcoming place, and identify those kids that have problems and work with them.

Those kind of things are important, but it takes money. Mr. President, where's the money? It's not in your budget.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman John Garamendi, Democrat of California, thank you so much for the time, sir. We appreciate it.

GARAMENDI: Thank you. TAPPER: Coming up, were the police warned about the Stoneman Douglas

shooter making gun threats months before the deadly massacre? What CNN just learned today from police reports we obtained, next.


[16:25:18] TAPPER: And in our national lead today, red flags, a term we keep hearing since the horrific school shooting last week, about moments when society could have stepped in and taken decisive action that could have prevented the shootings but didn't.

Today, CNN obtained police records revealing that last November, the shooter's then host family called the police because he put a gun to someone else's head, and yet, even then, not enough was done.

Let's bring in CNN's Martin Savidge.

Martin, this is shocking news. What else did you learn about from these police reports?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as you pointed out, there just seem to be more and more of these occasions where there was a head's up of real serious problems, and yet nothing appears to have been done.

All right. So, you will remember that Nikolas Cruz lost his mom last November and that he moved in with another family. Initially, we heard from the Snead family. They're the ones with whom Nikolas Cruz was living on the day that he carried out the attack on the high school here, and that family has said there was no indication from Nikolas that he was going to carry out the deadly rampage.

However, CNN has learned from police documents we obtained that he lived with another family just prior to living with the Snead family. Right after his mom died for a couple weeks, he was living with another family. And that family has a very different portrayal. They live in Palm Beach County, and they called the authorities a number of times on Nikolas Cruz, specifically about the violent behavior, about the fact that he had guns, and not just that he had guns, that he threatened with guns, including in one portrayal, they said, that he had taken a gun and put it up against a person's head.

So, clearly, here, you have very strong indications that this young man had a violent temper. He had weapons. He had threatened to use them in a way that was highly dangerous -- Jake.

TAPPER: And when police came to the scene, the two said they worked it all out, but, and the police didn't carry out any prosecution or conviction or arrests or anything.

Martin Savidge, thank you so much. A huge red flag.

Is another top member of President Trump's team about to be shown the door? That's next. Stick around.