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Burden of Proof

President Clinton Renews Gun Control Debate

Aired March 2, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe how the kid got into school with it. I sure can't. I can't see how he got in the damn school with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No child should have access to a gun. None at all, none at all. So, yes, the parents should be held accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started screaming and he says, I don't want to hurt you. Then he made me come into the kitchen and he locked -- he shut my back door and told me to sit down. And he asked me, was there anybody else in the apartment? I told him, no, there wasn't anybody else in here. And he says, well, I'm not going to hurt any black people. I'm just out to kill all white people. That's exactly what he said.


ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Gunfire in a first-grade classroom ends the life of a 6-year-old Michigan girl. And a man on a shooting rampage in Pennsylvania claims two lives and critically wounds three other victims. President Clinton is renewing efforts for new gun control laws and charges that the gun lobby has a stranglehold on Congress.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Late yesterday, police in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania arrested a 39-year-old suspect for a shooting spree at an apartment home and two fast-food restaurants. Ronald Taylor is accused of killing two men and critically wounding three others, including one victim who is brain-dead and on life support after being shot in the head while waiting in a McDonald's drive-through lane. Taylor has been charged with two counts of criminal homicide, but more charges are pending.

Yesterday's shooting spree comes on the heels of a tragic killing in a Michigan first-grade classroom. Six-year-old Kayla Rolland was shot and killed by a classmate on Tuesday. Police have arrested the uncle of the suspected killer on an outstanding felony warrant. A second man, Jamelle James, was jailed on outstanding warrants. But, today, Michigan prosecutors added the charge of involuntary manslaughter against James.


ARTHUR BUSCH, GENESEE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: The theory of involuntary manslaughter in Michigan requires the prosecutor to show gross negligence. That is, that this defendant was grossly negligent in allowing the little boy to get a loaded pistol. Ultimately, that pistol was taken to school and used in this homicide.


COSSACK: And joining us today are Dennis Henigan, general counsel of Handgun Control, Inc.; Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America; and Charles Ramsey, Washington, D.C. police chief. And in the back, Julie Bauer (ph), Ginger Covey (ph) and Jennifer Marcum (ph).

And in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, CNN correspondent Deborah Feyerick.

Deborah, tell us what's happening in Wilkinsburg and the latest on this tragedy?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, well, Roger, what we can tell you right now is that CNN has learned that the Allegheny Police found a notebook in the alleged gunman's apartment, and according to police, it was filled with anti-white and antisemitic writings. At this hour, the FBI is investigating to determine whether race was a motivating factor in this shooting.

Many witnesses have been recounting how Ronald Taylor made statements to them, including one of the maintenance workers who was fixing the door of Taylor's apartment yesterday. When Taylor was making certain statements, the maintenance worker told him to shut up, and at that point Taylor said, you're a dead man and, according to the maintenance worker, Taylor called him a "racist pig" and "white trash" and other comments.

Now, Taylor's lawyer would not comment on any sort of motive. He has met with his client several times as of now. He will not, also, discuss his client's mental health history.

Now, the chief of police here says that of course the shooting does have racial overtones, but he described this as the act of an angry man who wanted to take his anger out on other people. Now, the police chief also described the shootings, calling them execution- style. All of the victims, all five, were white men shot in the head area. Two people were killed, three others critically wounded. One of the men is brain-dead, and we did learn just a short while ago that he was taken off life support. So we're waiting to hear what happens there.

Now, this community is really filled with sadness. One man we spoke to this morning said that whatever the alleged gunman's problems may have been, it was no reason for him to take this out on innocent people. Ronald Taylor is going to be fully arraigned in a short while -- Roger.

COSSACK: Deborah, you mentioned that the lawyer did not mention anything about his mental status. Do we know anything at all about whether or not Mr. Taylor had a criminal record?

FEYERICK: Police say that he did not have any criminal record, not here in the Wilkinsburg area, certainly not in the Pittsburgh area as well. So of course they're conducting an extensive investigation to see if there's anything else.

COSSACK: All right, thank you, Deborah Feyerick.

Let's go now to Ed Garsten who is in Mundy Township, Michigan.

Ed, what's the latest on this tragedy?

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest, of course, as you mentioned, is that the Genesee County Prosecutor has filed an arrest warrant and is going to file charges against the boy's uncle for involuntary manslaughter. That carries a penalty of up to 15 years. He's also charging that he contributed to the misdemeanor of -- neglect of a minor -- the delinquency of a minor, rather. He's also said that a petition has been filed in probate court. There'll be a hearing on March 21, possibly resulting in the severance of parental rights for both the boy's parents.

So all those activities happening now. School is also closed for another day.

COSSACK: All right, thank you, Ed Garsten.

Let's go now to the chief here in -- Chief Ramsey of the District of Columbia.

Chief, we live -- I'm a resident of the District of Columbia -- in an area that is a gun-free zone. Tell us about that.

CHIEF CHARLES RAMSEY, WASHINGTON, D.C. POLICE: Well, we have some of the toughest gun laws in the country here in the District of Columbia and we're very proud of that. But we still have an awful lot of gun violence that takes place here in the district and we're always looking at ways in which to try to eliminate some of the gun violence that takes place here. Eighty percent of the homicides we had last year were the result of firearms. And even though we have strict gun laws, because some of the surrounding jurisdictions don't, it's still a problem.

COSSACK: Chief, one could argue, I suppose, that the kind of gun laws that are in the District of Columbia, which says that no one should possess a weapon, should possess a handgun, would -- may -- means that only the bad people have the handguns. How do you respond to that?

RAMSEY: Well, certainly that's an argument, and I don't think any handgun control measure is going to totally eliminate the problem. But I think that we also have another -- we tend to talk about it just in terms of homicides, but there are an awful lot of accidental shootings that take place. We had a 5-year-old just two days ago that shot himself. He found a handgun in a home and accidentally fired it. So there's a lot of violence, there's a lot of injuries that are a result of handguns, and I think that what laws do is basically do the best they can to try to minimize it.

COSSACK: In terms of, though, of having District of Columbia having a gun-free zone, wouldn't you -- couldn't you argue, though, that people could be licensed and have handguns, and those people, therefore, would be in a better position to protect themselves?

RAMSEY: Well, we have road rage, we have all kinds of arguments that take place between individuals. If the individual has a handgun in their possession, the odds of them using that gun, in my opinion, becomes much more likely.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Deborah Feyerick and Ed Garsten, thank you both for joining us today.

Up next, will this week's shootings have an impact on Capitol Hill or, as critics claim, is the president using tragedy as a springboard for political gain? Stay with us.


NINA PINEDA, WTAE REPORTER: The gunman apparently took three of the nurses, a receptionist and two nurses, into a back room. He said, I've shot three people, I have one bullet left. Who is going to get it? And he held a gun to a licensed nurse practitioner's head and then removed it, and then left them in the room and walked away.



On July 18, 1984, 41-year-old James Hurbert fatally shot 20 people in a crowded McDonald's in San Ysidro, California. Hubert was killed by police.



COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log-on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via Video on-Demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As citizens, these incidents, particularly the one yesterday in Michigan, call on us to recognize the fact that we simply haven't done everything we can do to keep guns away from criminals and children.


COSSACK: In the wake of tragic shootings across the nation this week, the president is proposing a gun summit. President Clinton wants to meet with House and Senate leaders about two bills which he says are stalled in Congress.

Well, Dennis, what are those bills and why do we need them, or do we?

DENNIS HENIGAN, HANDGUN CONTROL, INC.: Well, those bills are only the first step. I mean, those bills contain such very modest measures as simply requiring that child safety locks be sold with every handgun and closing the gun show loophole so that people can't walk into gun shows without background checks, evading the requirements of the Brady Law. The president is right to push for those measures, but we must do so much more.

COSSACK: All right, well, let's stop with just those two proposals and go to Larry.

Larry, locks on guns, what's wrong?

LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: Well, if we had locks on guns, there was a six-year-old in Bethel, Oklahoma, just a few years ago who got a rifle and killed a man who was trying to kill his mother. And frequently there are cases where youngsters, not usually six years old, granted, but 12, 13, 15, are able to get a gun that's in the house and use it to defend often the mother but sometimes there -- also in Oklahoma there was four kids home alone and a 13-year-old was able to get the gun the family had. He had been chased into the bedroom where the gun was kept, got it and used against the attacker and killed him. Now, if there had been a trigger lock on the gun, I think we'd have to be prepared to talk to the survivors now and say, you know, there really shouldn't have been -- there should have been a trigger lock on that gun that you used.

COSSACK: All right, let me go right over here to Chief Ramsey.

Chief, as a person who observes the kinds of events that you talked about, crimes, accidents, do -- does society have more to fear by having trigger locks on guns that prevent people from being able to readily defend themselves, or would they prevent more accidents?

RAMSEY: Well, I think it would prevent more accidents. I think that trigger locks are a very reasonable approach for every case you can show where someone got a gun and defended themselves. You could probably show 20 where they just found a gun, shot a playmate or shot themselves. So I think you can only be reasonable in your approach, in trying to deal with it, thinking that you have to be fast on the draw and take quick, decisive action at any given moment, I just think creates a -- an hysteria.

COSSACK: All right, let's go back down the line. Larry, I'm going to give you a chance to respond, and Dennis, I'm going to give you a chance to respond, too.

PRATT: I can understand the chief doesn't believe in self defense because he evidentially is fully behind the law in the District of Columbia that makes it illegal to defend yourself with a gun, specifically makes it illegal. But in fact, the reason why we have a much better crime rate in Northern Virginia and all of Virginia than we do here in Washington, D.C., is precisely because those very guns the chief thinks I guess commit crime by themselves, they're not committing crime over in Virginia, not nearly in the numbers that they do in Washington. And I think the reason is because you don't just have a gun-safe zone, here, that's not really what it is, it's a criminal-safe zone. And in Northern Virginia particularly, the criminals know that people can carry firearms, they can defend themselves, they do, and as a result we have a very low murder rate over there.

COSSACK: All right, Larry, here's Dennis. I want to give you a chance to respond, but chief, I want to give you a chance to respond to that specifically. Go ahead, Dennis.

HENIGAN: Roger, if I heard Larry right, apparently he wants to ensure that kids in the home have access to guns. That is insanity. We need to go in just the opposite direction. We need to vigorously prosecute adults who allow kids to have access to guns, we need to pass strong gun laws to make those prosecutions easier and we need to ask ourselves, what can we do to this product to change the product's design to make the product more child resistant. There are feasible safety mechanisms and systems that are available that the gun manufacturers have ignored for years that could make guns more child- proof. President Clinton is calling for that to happen.

We need to get serious about separating kids from guns. It is crazy to advocate policies that would ensure that kids have access to guns.

COSSACK: All right, let me just hold you aside, because I don't want to be ganging up on Larry. But chief, I want to give you the opportunity to respond.

Larry makes a point. He says, look, we don't have guns in the District of Columbia and yet, as he would argue, there's less crime in Virginia where they have easy access to weapons. How do you respond?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, there are social factors that figure into criminality that go beyond whether or not a person has a gun or not, and he's aware of that. It sounds good, but, I mean, the reality is that taking reasonable precautions such as trigger locks for guns, requiring background checks for people purchasing guns are reasonable approaches. I'm not a proponent of banning all handguns necessarily, but I think we have to be realistic in the fact that we live in a very violent society and we have to do what we can to try to correct some of those conditions that are causing some of the problems.

COSSACK: Larry, let me ask you to respond to this: What's wrong with making it more difficult to children to have access to weapons? PRATT: Well, I think it's going at something that has not been the problem for years and decades in this country. We had children taking rifles to school. Even in New York City, members have told us that they did that when they were going to school, even on the subway, because they had target practice with teams, junior ROTC, whatever. The idea that somehow you're going to make life better by locking up guns for everybody is simply going to lock up our safety and not get at the problem.

The child in Michigan is a crack house kid, he's a kid that shouldn't have been in the school to begin with, he'd already stabbed somebody with a pencil, he had been beating up on kids, he had no business being forced -- or the other people shouldn't have been forced to be sending their kids to school with that kid.

COSSACK: Well, all right, let's -- we'll debate that...

PRATT: It wasn't a gun problem, it was a societal problem that didn't know what to do with a bad actor.

COSSACK: All right, we're going to debate that in a minute. The powers that be tell me it's time to take a break.

So up next, this week's tragic shootings are sparking a new battle on Capitol Hill, but will it have an impact on gun laws, and will those laws have an impact on crime in America? Stay with us.


COSSACK: We are now going to take you to the White House, where President Clinton is expected to answer many questions today, some of which may have to do with his call for a gun summit with members of the House and Senate next week.

Let's listen.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... concerned with the health of people throughout the world.

The minister of health from Uganda. The leaders of the pharmaceutical industry and biotech industry and the foundation community in our country who are profoundly interested in joining forces to fight against diseases that kill both people and progress in the world's poorest countries; diseases like AIDS, TB and malaria, each of which claim over a million lives a year, and others as well.

We agree that the solution must include the development and the delivery of effective vaccines. That's how we got rid of smallpox and come close to eliminating polio.

So today we're beginning a partnership to eradicate the leading infectious killers of our time, speeding the delivery of existing vaccines and getting to the heart of the problem: the lack of incentives for private industry to invest in new vaccines for people who simply can't afford to buy them.

I have attempted to put a comprehensive package on the table so that the United States can do its part to change this; a billion- dollar tax credit to speed the invention of vaccines; a $50 million contribution to a global fund to purchase vaccines; a substantial increase in research at the National Institutes of Health. I've asked the World Bank to dedicate more lending to improve health, and Mr. Wolfensohn's been very forthcoming here today and I thank him for that.

The private sector is also responding to this challenge, and I want to thank them and recognize the commitments that have been announced here today.

Merck is committing to develop an AIDS vaccine not just for strains of the virus that affect wealthy nations, but for strains that ravage the poorest nations as well. This is profoundly important. It's also donating a million doses of hepatitis B vaccine to those who need it the most.

American Home Products will donate 10 million doses of a vaccine to prevent deadly strains of pneumonia and meningitis in children.

SmithKline Beecham will expand its malaria vaccine program and begin new vaccine trials in Africa and will donate drugs worth a billion dollars to eliminate elepantyiasis -- elephantiasis, sorry -- which is a painful and potentially very crippling and disfiguring tropical disease.

Venice Pasteur (ph) will donate 50 million doses of polio vaccine to five war-torn African nations.

This is a very important beginning. It will save lives and make it clear that we're serious.

But all of us agree there is more to do. We have to first build on the bipartisan support that now exists in our Congress to enact the research and experimentation tax credit and the tax credit that we propose for this specific purpose and to get the funding increases through.

I will go to the G-8 meeting in Okinawa this summer to urge our partners to take similar steps.

And so, let me say, I am profoundly grateful now because this is my first opportunity to be with you when you can say something back.

I also want to just say a word about the terrible shooting yesterday in Pennsylvania, which followed the killing of a 6-year-old child the day before in Michigan.

These two incidents were very troubling and they have individual causes and explanations and doubtless will require individual responses. But they do remind us that there is still too much danger in this country and that for more than eight months now, Congress has been sitting on the common sense gun safety legislation to require child safety locks, to close the gun show loophole and the background bill law and to ban the importation of large ammunition clips.

I have said before, I will say again today, I'm going to invite the leaders of this conference down to the White House to talk about what we can do to break the log jam.

I also think we should go further. We ought to invest in smart gun technology. We talked about investing in a vaccine for -- we're not too far from being able to develop technology which could change all the handguns so that they could only be fired by the adults who purchase them and that would make a big difference. Apparently, the child who was killed was killed by another child with a stolen gun. If we had child trigger-locks on all the guns, it wouldn't have happened.

And finally, I think that it's long, long past time to license the purchases of handguns in this country. Cars are -- Car owners are licensed, all drivers are licensed whether they own a car or not. I think it's time to do that. So I hope that we will see some action.

But the most important thing now, thinking about this child is, if we had child trigger locks on all these guns, we could keep them alive. So I hope Congress will break the log jam and I'm going to invite the conferees down here to do it.

Let me finally say, again, this is a truly astonishing turnout of people around this table, and together, if we work on it over the next few years, we can literally save the lives of millions of people and it couldn't be done without the presence of all these people and I'm very grateful to them.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. President, if legislation was sent to you that ended the business of ammunition clips and included safety locks without -- did not include the gun show loophole, would you veto that?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know. I think they'd have a very hard time explaining why they did it.

Let me remind you, when I signed the Brady bill, and the NRA opposed it, they said, Oh, this Brady bill won't do any good now because criminals don't buy their guns at gun shops, they buy their guns at gun shows and these urban flea markets, or on the sly, one-on- one. They never -- they don't use gun shops.

Well, come to find out 500,000 people couldn't get a handgun because they were felons, fugitives or stalkers, and it's a safer country because of it.

Now, that we want to extend the background check to the gun shows, they say the people that -- they say the criminals don't use the gun shows, even though five years ago they said they did. There is no logical reason to let these gun shows off the hook on the background checks. And the technology is there to do it without causing a total breakdown.

And I suggested, if they're worried about the inconvenience to the buyers and the sellers, they could always have these things out in the country somewhere. They could always deposit the weapon with the local sheriff's department while they are waiting to do the background check.

There are all kinds of fixes for the alleged problems here, and there's no reason not to do the -- the Brady bill is saving people's lives and keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But we do need the child trigger locks. That child would be alive today if that gun had had a child trigger lock on it that the other 6-year old child could not have fired.

And that -- we just need to -- we've got to have it. We've got to have it.

The accidental death rate of children by guns in this country is nine times higher than the rate of the next 25 biggest industrial economies combined.

I mean, that's something that we ought to -- if you forget about the intentional killing. Just look at the accidents, we've got to do this. And we need to do it tomorrow. We need to do it as quickly as we can.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what are your specific instructions to the (OFF-MIKE). And what do you expect to happen?

CLINTON: We've handled that in the appropriate way, I think, through Secretary Summers. And I -- let me say -- I want there to be a European director of the IMF. I will not support an American candidate, even though I have enormous respect for Mr. Fisher (ph) and I'm gratified that the African nations expressed their support for him. He's an enormously able man.

COSSACK: We have been listening to President Clinton talking directly from the White House.

That is all the time we have for BURDEN OF PROOF today. Stay tuned for "CNN TODAY," and we'll go to them now.


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