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Political Responses to Dayton and El Paso Shootings Today; Polls Show Most Americans Support Increased Gun Control; Interview with Dennis Willard, of Ohioans for Gun Safety. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 7, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:32:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. We're live in Dayton, Ohio.

Candidate Cory Booker is in Charleston, South Carolina, wrapping up remarks on gun violence and the rising tide of hatred and white nationalism in the U.S. Where did he speak? He spoke at the Emanuel AME Church, where white supremacist Dylann Roof, you may remember, shot and killed nine people back in 2015 during a prayer service.

Booker said these events do not happen in a vacuum. He cited the bible, about reaping what you sow.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was sowed by those who spoke the same words the El Paso murderer did, warning of an invasion. It was sowed by those who spoke of an infestation of disgusting cities, rats and rodents, talking about majority minority communities. It was sowed by those who've drawn an equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who protest them.


SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, President Trump and the first lady should be landing in Ohio any minute. He is expected to face some criticism, even protests, over his visit. Let's speak now to CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich and CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

Nia, Jackie, the president's going to land here in just a few moments. This is a community, reeling -- I've heard it from so many people. You heard just moments ago. That was a Republican state senator there, issuing a challenge to the president, to do something now on gun control.

Nia, as you -- as these communities prepare for this visit, demanding action, do you see this president as one who's going to deliver action?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think in many ways, folks want the president to deliver no two things, right? One is gun control, and the other is white supremacy. The other has to do with his own rhetoric.

It was really interesting to see that state senator there. She didn't really want to talk about the white supremacy part of it, right? She really wanted to focus on gun control. And it's going to be interesting to see if that's a move that other Republicans try to make.

As good as it is that there could be movement on gun control, there is this other problem with white supremacy, which we saw in El Paso, we saw obviously with Cory Booker there, speaking from that church, built in 1860, visited in 2015 by this horrific crime, a white supremacist shooting nine African-Americans during a prayer meeting.

So, I mean, this is going to be a fascinating dynamic, to see what comes out of this. The president, speaking very boldly, saying that he wants to move people in terms of background checks. He knows that Republicans have been skeptical of implementing universal background checks, certainly the NRA is too.

[10:35:06] What is the president going to do about white supremacy? People are afraid. Black people are afraid, immigrants are afraid, brown people are afraid. And you know why they're afraid? Because it seems as if this president gives cover to white supremacists, that he echoes white supremacists' language. And we saw that in the manifesto.

What is he going to do about it? What are Republicans going to do about it? Because, listen, that woman, the state senator there, she can dismiss it all she wants. And she can say, "Oh, it's time -- you know, it's not time to talk about the president and whether or not he's a racist."

Well, guess what. Black people and brown people can't do that because they get up every day in black and brown bodies, and they feel targeted. And they're Americans, just as American as that woman there, who doesn't really, at this point, want to hear their voices. At some point, she's going to have to because God knows the terror visited in El Paso, they are feeling this pain and they feel targeted down in El Paso, along with many other black and brown people in this country.

SCIUTTO: They do. I spoke to parents down there, whose children told them they don't want to go outside. They're scared to go to school now, fearing that they'll be the next target of violence like this.

Jackie Kucinich, you know Washington well. Tell me about the swarming politics here. You have some Republicans coming out, saying they want to take action on something like a red flag law, perhaps background checks. You heard the president echo some of that, but also set up for a failure, in effect, saying, "Well, there's not much appetite for" this or that. Are the politics fundamentally changed in any way today?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's hard to say, Jim. We did see a shift in part after the massacre in Parkland, Florida. You saw Governor Scott, within -- didn't even take a month for him to sign new legislation in Florida. The time lag here, the fact that Congress is in recess, is problematic because momentum really does play a role in bills like this.

But you have seen some members of Congress shift. You saw Mike Turner, the congressman from right there where you are, in Dayton, issue his release yesterday, coming out in favor of banning certain -- of limiting civilian access to certain kinds of what he called "military-style weapons." So while you're seeing that sort of happen individually, it doesn't seem to be a groundswell.

But the president really does play an outsize role here, more so than maybe some other presidents. If he gives cover to some of these Republican lawmakers, saying clearly what he wants to see happen, I do wonder if you will see more people be amendable to making some real changes to these laws.

But it would take the president to actually be consistent. We've seen him shift within a day on certain legislation. Remember, in February, late February, right after the Parkland shootings, he said he was for a whole slew of measures, and didn't deliver.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, the president (ph) (INAUDIBLE) through a political lens for 2020. If he hears that it's going to --


SCIUTTO: -- lose him support among his base, we have to surmise that he's unlikely to take action that he would perceive as too far, but we'll see.


SCIUTTO: Jackie Kucinich, Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks very much.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Coming up --

KUCINICH: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: -- still this hour on CNN, Fareed Zakaria investigates the deep reasons why white supremacy is showing its face today. The CNN special report, "STATE OF HATE: THE EXPLOSION OF WHITE SUPREMACY," airs Friday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, only on CNN. It is a deeply insightful study. It is worth watching.

[10:38:38] Up next, the former governor of this state, Republican John Kasich, he joins me live. We're going to discuss what the president can do. Is there something he can do to help heal this community? Stay with us.


SCIUTTO: Here we are in Dayton, Ohio, outside another American crime scene. Nine people died behind us there, early morning hours of Sunday. Any moment now, Air Force One will land here in Dayton. The president and the first lady will meet with first responders. Remember, they came very quickly here. They got to this shooter in less than a minute. He'll also meet with victims' families.

I want to bring back former Ohio governor, Republican governor, John Kasich here.

So the president, before he left a short time ago, he was asked about what action he might support now. He raised red flags again, but he also said, "possibly background checks." So he seemed to put the onus on Congress. Is that right?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to me, Jim, he needs to be in the middle of this. This is not, you just let the Congress do their thing. He gets in the middle of everything, he ought to be in the middle of this. And he ought to say, "Look, these teams can sit down and figure out what they can agree to and what they can pass quickly." And he really ought to be a part of that.

But that's good progress, for him to talk about, get rid of the gun show loophole, you know, the maximum, background checks. He says that there's no support, as you and I have discussed, for assault weapons. But that's coming. Let's get red flags done, let's get background checks done and then we can look at all these different issues.

I -- for me, I think, you know, assault weapons, I voted to ban them in 1994. There were ways around it by the manufacturers, but there may be ways to do some of this. The public wants it.


KASICH: The public wants it.

SCIUTTO: People forget, it was the '94 big crime bill, that was part of the '94 crime bill. It's Kaitlan Collins, my colleague at the White House, it's her reporting that the president has met in the last few days with the NRA.

You've dealt with the NRA in your years in Congress, also as governor here. What do you believe they're telling him -- his staff, I should say, White House staff -- what do you believe the NRA is telling the White House now on these measures? Do you think they're nervous?

[10:45:01] KASICH: Slow -- slow down.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

KASICH: Yes. Sure, they are. But, look, sometimes we focus on the NRA as being the organization that's so powerful. You know what's really powerful? Our gun owners who live in your district.

You see, the NRA's down in Washington. They send money and all that, and they help people to connect, out in the community. The NRA fought me when I ran for governor the first time, and they did everything they could to defeat me. We were able to win, overcome them.

But what matters more than just that NRA, are the people who live in your neighborhood. And what their feelings are. And you're going to have some that are not going to support anything. But I think the vast majority of gun owners will say, "You know what, that's reasonable," which should give politicians to courage.

SCIUTTO: But that's the thing, though. Because it's in the polling. A vast majority of Republican voters, they support universal background checks. Majorities of Republican voters support bans on high-capacity magazines.

The guy came here, he had 70 rounds. Because the cops got to him in 40 seconds --

KASICH: And more -- and more ammo in his -- in his bag.

SCIUTTO: -- he was -- and more ammo. He could have killed a lot more, had the cops not been there. Why is it that if Republican voters support these measures, that Republican lawmakers listen more to the NRA than, as you say, gun owners in their district?

KASICH: Because, Jim, they're loud. And politicians don't want trouble. And what has traditionally happened is, the gun owners who oppose any change are always there. They're constantly vigilant and they're very loud. And those people who support action on guns, they're kind of there. They go about their lives, and they're not as focused. So it's intensity.

SCIUTTO: But they're not just loud, they're powerful --

KASICH: Oh, yes --

SCIUTTO: -- they could end a political career if they lower the NRA rating.

KASICH: -- see -- see, I don't believe that. Because I lost the rating after -- I supported the crime bill in '94 which, by the way, Biden's being attacked for, which is absurd.


KASICH: And they opposed me. They gave me bad grades. And when I ran for governor, they did everything they could to defeat me, and they didn't win.

SCIUTTO: Well, you're unusual, though.

KASICH: Well --

SCIUTTO: A lot of folks are scared that if they lose that rating, they're out.

KASICH: Well, I think they're too afraid. And frankly, Jim, look. You do stories. You travel. You have your opinions on things. You express them, right? When you go home at night, you look in the mirror and you feel good. That's what politicians have to realize.

Don't cater to one group or another, just do the right thing. Because I believe good policy is good politics. I was elected nine times to the Congress. I was elected governor, and re-elected. I was elected to state legislature, I was unknown. What does that say? That says that, "Don't pay attention to all the noise. Figure out what's right. Because you'll feel good about yourself."

And I got -- this is really interesting thing. You'll win. You will win if you are a leader. That's what we need more leadership.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see --

KASICH: Does that make sense?

SCIUTTO: It makes sense to me. I imagine it makes sense to a lot of people --

KASICH: I hope so.

SCIUTTO: -- at home. Washington can be its own planet in its own orbit, as you know.

KASICH: It is, yes, absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Well, let's hope we see change. I mean, I've talked to too many people here in El Paso who just, they had enough. I've seen too many tears in people's eyes. Governor, it's good to have you --

KASICH: Thanks, Jim. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: -- on. Thanks very much, thanks for being here.

KASICH: And great job this week, all the traveling.

SCIUTTO: We appreciate it.

KASICH: Thank you.

[10:48:02] SCIUTTO: Is there enough momentum to change gun laws right now? That's the essential question. I'm going to ask my next guest as well. He's been pushing for new gun laws, here in Ohio, for years. What's his experience? We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. One by one, a small number but a growing number of Republican lawmakers are demanding action on gun reform legislation.

Sources tell CNN that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent three committee chairmen to find a package of reforms that could get bipartisan support and be signed into law by the president. Those are two difficult things, remember that. Proposals could include limiting guns for people with severe mental health issues -- these are known as red flag laws -- as well as studying the impact of violent video games, red flag laws at the top of the list.

A short time ago, the president said that he's at least open to the possibility of background checks. Of course, that's something the president has said before and not followed through on.

I want to speak now to Dennis Willard. He's the spokesman for a citizens' group here in Ohio called Ohioans for Gun Safety.


SCIUTTO: You've been fighting this issue here for a long time.

WILLARD: For years.

SCIUTTO: So you know when hopes get raised and dashed. Tell me about this moment, particularly in Ohio. Is it a different moment? And do you see the potential for real action here, in the wake of these shootings?

WILLARD: I think Governor Mike DeWine's announcement yesterday, that he supports background checks, is a major step forward for us. But we have a very conservative pro-gun legislature, so we're going to have to go to the people, collect signatures.


WILLARD: If the legislature doesn't act, we'll go -- we have direct democracy here in Ohio. We'll go directly to the voters and we'll ask them --

SCIUTTO: To do a referendum, you mean?

WILLARD: -- and we'll do a referendum. That's what --


WILLARD: -- that's what our group, Ohioans for Gun Safety, is doing. We're collecting signatures. We'll collect 133,000 signatures this year. The legislature will have four months to act on our proposal. If they do nothing, we collect an additional 133,000 signatures --

SCIUTTO: And you go right --

WILLARD: -- and right to a vote. Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- towards (ph) the vote. I should note for our viewers, this is Air Force Once landing here in Dayton, Ohio right now, taxiing down the runway. This is, of course, the president visiting when he comes. If he gives comments, we will give you those comments live.

Let me ask you, as the president arrives here, does that help or hurt the cause of gun safety?

WILLARD: I really think that the president has a bully pulpit. But unfortunately, he's been using it to bully the underdog, the working person. I think that it would be wonderful if he would use the bully pulpit for good. But as you mentioned earlier, Cory Booker said, "You reap what you sow." And he's been, you know, sowing hate.

[10:55:02] What we're going to do is be positive, go directly to the voters and get them to sign these petitions, and then force the legislature either to act, or the voters will enact this law themselves.

SCIUTTO: As you noted, big conservative majorities in both houses here, and they won't even hold hearings on some of these --

WILLARD: That's right.

SCIUTTO: -- things. That's of course, a backstop? Sounds a little bit like Mitch McConnell in the Senate. Dennis Willard, we appreciate your time.

Tonight on CNN, Chris Cuomo will moderate a live "CUOMO PRIME TIME TOWN HALL: AMERICA UNDER ASSAULT: THE GUN CRISIS," airs tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, right here on CNN.

As we noted, the president has just landed in Dayton, Ohio. Our special coverage from Dayton continues in just a moment.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kate Bolduan.

And all eyes are once again on Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, as families are now beginning to plan 31 funerals for the lives.