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Biden Calls For Assaults Weapons Ban; Remembering the Colorado Shooting Victims. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: He talked about her spontaneity. He talked about how she would snort when she laughed. We will have more on that in just a minute.

But outside of King Soopers, a memorial of flowers and posters is growing. It's growing by the hour, as new details are emerging about the hour of terror that unfolded inside the Boulder grocery store. The killer was wearing some kind of tactical vest, according to eyewitnesses, and shot an elderly man in the parking lot multiple times, before he then went inside the store and took aim at customers and employees.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Boulder.

And, Dan, I understand the suspected shooter will be in court tomorrow.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. He will have his initial court appearance. This will be a relatively brief appearance, where he will be advised of the charges and be told of his rights.

Now, in terms of what we know about the overall investigation, just to summarize, this is somebody who, according to his brother, had a history of mental health issues. There could be a variety of reasons for that. He was allegedly bullied in high school for being Muslim and, according to his brother, he became antisocial.

Acquaintances also said that he was prone to having temper tantrums. And then you combine that with the fact that he had easy access to weapons, you have to ask yourself, is it really that surprising, Brianna, that something like this could happen?

In the meantime, I just want to show you where we are. We are in front of this incredible makeshift memorial. This is the most powerful expression of humanity you could possibly imagine. This wasn't even here 24 hours ago. This chain-link fence went up, and then, all of a sudden, all these flowers and cards were put here by people who live in this community.

And it extends all the way down a couple 100 yards right in front of the grocery store. And you can see what some of these cards say: "I wish you courage for the next step and the next. I wish you peace in the middle of the storm. I wish you unexpected joy." You can see what this one says: "The everlasting is his heritage. And he shall rest peacefully upon his lying place."

People saying prayers, people hugging. This is really the part of town where folks are embracing one another and grieving. And you really just can't believe the sights. You see some little kids right here with their parents. And you just think about a parent having to explain to their child why they're even here, Brianna.

It just really, really cuts you off when you think about it.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly does, Dan. And thank you so much for showing us how the community is remembering the 10 people who were lost in this grocery store shooting. We really appreciate it, Dan Simon in Boulder.

We are still piecing together the stories of these 10 who were killed in the shooting. Their family and friends are just starting to grapple with a loss that will change the course of their lives?

By now, you have likely heard the story of Officer Eric Talley, who heroically responded to the shooting and was shot on the scene. He leaves behind a wife and seven children.

We're also learning, though, more about Kevin Mahoney. His daughter tweeted that he was her hero and spoke to NPR about the special moment they shared when he walked her down the aisle last summer.


ERIKA MAHONEY, DAUGHTER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: My dad always wanted to hold back his tears in big life moments for me, like when he took me to the airport for college. But, really, it's just his softness shining through in that moment.

And I admire my dad so much. And that's why we picked that photo because -- because I'm looking up at him. And I think one thing I want to share is that my husband and I, before the pandemic, had planned a really big wedding, like a 115-person wedding at a local winery in California.

And my dad wanted me to have this dream wedding. And everything was in line for that dream wedding. And then, when the pandemic hit, we obviously couldn't follow through with all those plans we had made. And so we thought about holding off for a year or so. Instead, we just got married in our backyard, and decided to tie the knot with just family.

And now I'm just so grateful, because, if we had waited, I don't know if he would have been here to walk me down the aisle.


KEILAR: That is a memory they have.

But now we have learned Erika Mahoney is pregnant. And Mahoney, her father, will never get a chance to meet his granddaughter.


Suzanne Fountain was a community theater actress who had a day job as a Medicare consultant helping seniors get coverage.

Her friend, Martha Harmon Pardee, spoke to me last hour.


MARTHA HARMON PARDEE, FRIEND OF SHOOTING VICTIM: I loved her immediately. See, that's just what happened when people met her. She was a bright light, a peace-lover, a strong feminist.

She has the most incredible son that she raised, imbuing him with the kinds of values that I hope all our young men these days carry with them. That's a tribute to her. She just had so many friends and kept them. We were friends for over 30 years. She was authentic, down-to- earth, a lovely hostess.

Boy, did you eat and drink well, when you went to her house, a beautiful actress. It was a joy and an honor to work with her on stage, because she was so connected and so present and so generous. Generosity just was in her cells.


KEILAR: Sixty-five-year-old Jody Waters worked in retail, but had taken time off recently to care for her new grandson.

And another retail store in downtown Boulder was where many people gathered to remember Lona Bartkowiak. She co-owned a store there with her sister and had just gotten engaged. Her cousin David, who grew up in the same house with her, shared his memories of her with our affiliate.


DAVID, COUSIN OF SHOOTING VICTIM: She was the backbone of this family. She's the backbone of that company. She helped raise me. She was always there for me.

And it's just really sad that she's gone. It's unbelievable. She had the biggest heart. She was the most loving person I have ever met in my life. And it's just so devastating.


KEILAR: Sixty-two-year-old Lynn Murray retired to Boulder after a career as a photo editor for the nation's top fashion magazines.

Her husband told "The Washington Post" she was the center of the family. He said -- quote -- "She was the spiritual guide. She was the awareness and consciousness for all of us. She understood all of us better than ourselves. She knew how to console And how to fix anything and make it better. She was adored." Twenty-three-year-old Neven Stanisic was one of the youngest victims. His family fled former Yugoslavia in the '90s, and he was born here in the U.S. His pastor says he was hardworking, quiet, a role model for younger kids in the church. Stanisic had just fixed a coffee machine inside the store when he was hit by a bullet in the parking lot.

Rikki Olds was a manager at the King Soopers grocery store. Her co- workers say that she had an infectious laugh, she had a fun-loving spirit. And her uncle spoke about her this afternoon.


BOB OLDS, UNCLE OF SHOOTING VICTIM: She'd come to the house, and we would joke around, and we'd laugh, and she would start laughing so hard, she would snort. And she would probably, you know, like throw something at me or something for telling you guys that.

But she was a snorter when she laughed hard. And I will really miss her. I really miss that personality of hers and just her being around. She has a little brother who's taking this really tough, really tough.

So, please remember him in your thoughts and prayers.


KEILAR: One of Rikki's co-workers, Logan Smith, witnessed her be shot. And he says he was talking to one of the other victims, Denny Strong, right before the shots rang out.


LOGAN SMITH, FRIEND OF VICTIMS: He's my best friend. He's a brother to me. I saw him run off. I ran in the other direction. And that was the last time I saw him.


KEILAR: Strong worked at the store, too, but was only there on Monday to grab some groceries.

Teri Leiker, who worked at King Soopers for 30 years, was also killed. Her friends say that she loved cheering on U.C. Boulder sports teams and singing the songs from "Frozen." Many community members who only knew Teri from her smiling face at the store were heartbroken to hear of her loss.


WILL EISERMAN, COMMUNITY MEMBER: And it wasn't until I saw Rikki's face and I saw Teri's face that I realized, I know these people. I interact with them almost on a daily basis.

We are sad, but we are outraged. We are -- we are crying. But we're angry.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: My next guest knows that mix of sadness and anger all too well.

Fred Guttenberg's daughter Jaime was one of the 17 people who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. And he is a gun reform activist.


And he's also the author of a book, "Find the Helpers: What 9/11 and Parkland Taught Me About Recovery, Purpose, and Hope."

Fred, we keep having this conversation. And I like talking to you. But it feels like we keep having this conversation. And you have made this your mission to fight for gun safety in America. You have made it your mission for other parents and family members to not go through what you have gone through.

And yet we keep seeing it happen over and over again. And I think the main question that I have for you is, what is it going to take? We saw some of what it was going to take in Parkland to get some changes, but what is it going to take to really get change, so that this is not -- no longer acceptable?

FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: You know, watching your pre-segment, and the videos of these memorials that are just becoming normal, commonplace in America, listening to the daughter, Mahoney's -- I forget her name...

KEILAR: Erika.

GUTTENBERG: ... talk about her dad, a daughter who talked about being walked down the aisle, and, thankfully, they chose to do that. And her dad won't ever get to meet her baby.

And I don't ever get to walk my baby down the aisle, because she's dead. I won't ever get to meet her grandchildren, because she won't have them, because of gun violence. And it's -- you know, what's it going to take?

I think every American should watch the Senate hearing from yesterday and should be prepared to go and tell every senator, you either vote for gun safety or we're voting you out.

We saw yesterday the sides. We saw one side that was prepared to defend us, that was prepared to do the work to save lives. And we saw another side that made this a charade, that lied, that said those of us who want to do something about gun safety, we're here to take your guns, that we're here to rip apart the Second Amendment.

It was a lie, it was B.S. Every American should watch it, because the truth is, this has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Lives are at stake. The gun violence death rate is going up. And we either do what we have to do to lower that -- listen, the past two elections, Americans have voted for gun safety. And people better wake up, because we are going to get this done. KEILAR: When does it change? The intransigence that we see in

Congress is actually not reflected in the polls about some measures when it comes to gun safety.

There seems to be some agreement. I mean, we just talked with an expert, a psychiatrist, who was looking at the APA's prescription of these community teams that would marry mental health outreach and look at that element of things.

Are these groups just talking past each other, so that they don't have to do anything about this?

GUTTENBERG: You know, listen, I think these groups are not talking past each other. I think everybody's trying to do the things that we need to do at a grassroots level to get work done.

And we're being held up by folks in the Senate who refuse to do their jobs. So, what's it going to take to change? It is time to either get rid of the filibuster or bring back the talking filibuster. And no more -- we do not allow people like Senator Cruz, or I'm blanking on the name from Louisiana, Senator Kennedy, we do not allow people like them anymore to spew their B.S.

We do not allow them to lie to America about what gun safety is. We move on without them. They went on record yesterday becoming irrelevant. We have to remind America every second right now that, only one week ago, the NRA was celebrating what they called victory in Colorado, when they successfully used a legal challenge to undo the assault weapons ban.

And only days later, the weapon that was used was purchased. We can't let up. We have to succeed. Too many lives are at stake. Too many future weddings and where parents don't get to see children walk down the aisle are at stake. Enough is enough.

KEILAR: That assault weapons ban was in Boulder, right?


KEILAR: I do just want to be clear. I think the weapon was, it appears, purchased somewhere else.



KEILAR: Yes, which brings me to another question.

You have states up against other states. I spoke with a Colorado state rep yesterday who lost his child in the Aurora movie theater shooting.


KEILAR: And the point he brought up was, you don't get a gun in Colorado, you go over to Wyoming.


KEILAR: And the specific problem, Fred, appears to be being able to anticipate, in particular, which people will be more inclined to do something like this.


And that seems to be very difficult. Just hearing from reports from family members afterwards, there's mixed reports on whether they thought this could ever happen before.

I mean, in the case of Parkland, it seemed like there were so many red flags, right? How was that missed? But how do you -- what do you say to that, when it comes to this very perhaps difficult task of especially in a -- we're in a free society -- of pinpointing the real risk factors and individuals who might who might carry something like this out?

GUTTENBERG: Well, it's funny you mentioned Parkland. Not funny, but there were red flags.

And at the time, though, in spite of those red flags, there was nothing law enforcement could do to make it illegal for the killer of my daughter to buy that weapon. There are things -- we did change the law afterwards -- that can be done now, OK?

So we need to start there. We need to start putting in place laws that make it harder for those who are a risk to themselves or others to be able to pull off that risk.

Let's have national red flag laws. Let's do something about strengthening background checks on weapons and ammunition. There are so many things we can do. And the failure is, none of it is happening on a national level. Things are happening in cities and states across this country.

But gun safety is only as good as the closest border. New Jersey, as part of their gun safety laws, about two years ago, they started monitoring where every weapon used in a crime is coming from. About 70 percent of them were coming from out of state.

And so we need a national effort. It's not enough to do this on a local level anymore. There's 400 million weapons already on the streets of America. And we need a national effort to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect lives.

Listen, Brianna, I hate to say this. It is inevitable and it is predictable that gun violence is going to continue. And our failure to start doing anything only means it's going to even get worse.

We can't wait.

KEILAR: You are part of a unique constituency of people who have lost loved ones.

And I noticed -- I saw on Twitter that you had sent a tweet to someone telling them -- someone who -- I think it might have been Erika Mahoney, telling them...


KEILAR: ... look, you can D.M. me, you can direct-message me.

That Colorado state rep that I spoke with yesterday, same thing. They were reaching out to folks in Boulder, because he said, I know what today is like. I know what last night was like.

What did you think when you saw, when -- what was it like for you when you saw this happen, and you were thinking of people being where you were two years ago?

GUTTENBERG: I read her tweets yesterday. And my first thought was of my daughter.

And, listen, I tell people across this country now who've been impacted by this whenever I meet them, I hate that I know you, but I love you, and I am here for you, because the truth is, right now, they're going through -- I remember it like was yesterday, this feeling of being broken, of being shattered, of the world spinning a million miles a minute.

You lost what you love the -- who you love the most. You have to plan a funeral. You have to hold up other family members and be held up by other family members. You have to potentially be there for those who are having an even harder time than you.

And everything is just out of place. And for a while, it's going to be that way. But I also want them to know, minute by minute, day by day, life goes forward. Things will continue. You will be OK. And I want hopefully to have the chance to speak to someone like Erika to let her know what my experience was, that she is going to be OK, and what to expect in the days, weeks and months ahead, so that I can help her to be OK, and to anyone else who goes through this.

KEILAR: Fred, you're a testament to your daughter. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your perspective on this. We really appreciate it.

GUTTENBERG: Thank you for having me. I appreciate you.

KEILAR: Next, we're live on Capitol Hill, trying to learn where we go from here. Can Congress or the president break the decades-long gridlock on guns?


Plus, Dr. Fauci releases promising numbers about how well the vaccines work to prevent COVID infection.

And in a surprising turn, Senator Bernie Sanders says he doesn't agree with banning Donald Trump from Twitter. Hear his reasoning just ahead.


KEILAR: The two mass shootings that have killed 18 people in just the last week have reignited calls for gun reform.

And in an interview today with CBS News, Vice President Kamala Harris called on Congress to act now.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually thought that Sandy Hook would have been the thing that moved Congress.

How -- when 20 6- and 8-year-old babies were slaughtered. And they did not act. And they did not act. It is time for Congress to act.


And stop with the false choices. This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment. It's simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws. There's no reason why we have assault weapons on the streets of a civil society. They are weapons of war. They are designed to kill a lot of people quickly.


KEILAR: Joining us now is CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju, and Jeff Zeleny, our chief national affairs correspondent.

Jeff, President Biden is calling for an assault weapons ban. He's calling for stronger background checks. What's he thinking here? Is he going to wait for Congress? Does he have the capacity to do any executive actions of his own? And is he inclined to do that?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we're learning from White House officials today that the president is going to move forward on two tracks, if you will. He's going to pursue executive actions on a variety of measures.

At the same time, the White House insists he's going to try and urge the Senate to take up adoption of those two House-passed bills largely pertaining to background checks. Now, you may wonder, why operate on both tracks here?

A, the executive actions are much more likely to succeed. President Biden knows this better than virtually anyone else. He, of course, was leading the way in the Obama administration in the wake of the Sandy Hook a tragedy, as Vice President Harris was just saying there on CBS, that gunned down 20 young children.

That was not enough to urge the Senate to pass that background check bill. So that is why the White House is operating on a couple tracks here. And one of the things that they are pursuing is an expansion of background checks by executive action, not on all guns necessarily.

But one thing they're looking at, we're told, is ghost guns. Those are those homemade guns or guns that have been traveling around without a serial number, per se. They can also pursue a variety of other methods, including when someone does not pass a background check, they would alert authorities. So those are just some of the options. But, Brianna, it's clear that

these conversations are really just starting. They're starting in the wake of the shooting earlier this week and, of course, last week, where 18 people have been killed in the last week alone.

KEILAR: Manu, what about in Congress? Is there any sign of being able to do anything?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The short answer is no. There is -- there are proposals that are on the table. But there aren't proposals that have enough support to pass the United States Senate.

Even the -- there are two bills that passed the House earlier this month, both of which would expand background checks, one of which would require background checks on all commercial gun sales, as well as private transfers, including between family members, like a universal background checks bill.

That proposal does not even have a majority of support of Democrats. Right now, one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, opposes those House- passed bills. But even if they were somehow to get Joe Manchin on board, they don't have the 60 votes that would be needed in order to overcome a Republican-led filibuster.

Republicans are universally opposed to those background check bills. There is some support for a narrower background checks bill, one in which was attempted in the aftermath of that Sandy Hook massacre that was drafted by Joe Manchin. along with Pat Toomey. But that is a narrower bill that would pass the House.

The Manchin-Toomey bill would apply to commercial background checks, commercial sales over the Internet and at gun shows, would not apply to those private transfers. But, still, that Manchin-Toomey plan does not have the 60 votes itself.

I have spoken to a number of Republicans up and down over the last several days, and they just philosophically are opposed to moving forward. So the question now becomes, will Democrats do anything like change the rules to advance legislation to expand background checks?

That's something that, of course, a lot of folks on the left are pushing, but there is just not the support to even do that. Joe Manchin, I spoke to today. I spoke to virtually every day over the last several weeks. He is not moving off his opposition to nuking the filibuster in order to pass legislation by just a simple majority.

So, Brianna, the short answer to your question is no. Despite these mass shootings that we have seen over the last week or so, that has not changed the math here on Capitol Hill -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It's astounding.

Manu, thank you. Jeff, thank you so much.

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