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Obama Calls for Stricter Gun Laws as New Details Emerge in Major Shooting Cases

March 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Activists, families and politicians made appeals for new laws to curb gun violence on a National Day to Demand Action. Judy Woodruff talks to Sean Holstege of the Arizona Republic and Ray Rivera of the New York Times about developments in the high-profile mass shooting cases in Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There were urgent appeals for new laws to curb gun violence today at the White House and at gatherings nationwide. It was all part of efforts to build momentum for votes in Congress.

It was called a National Day to Demand Action. Rallies took place across the country to push Congress for gun reform. Some gatherings were small, like this one in Golden, Colorado.

MAYOR MARJORIE SLOAN, Golden, Colo.: Colorado legislators have already been very brave and they have taken measures to reduce gun violence. It’s now time for our federal delegation to do the same thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In all, organizers said there were more than 100 events scheduled from coast to coast.

NARRATOR: Demand action now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The rallies are coordinated with an anti-gun ad campaign launched in 13 states this week by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others.

MAN: She just wanted to teach little kids, and that was her goal, and she died doing it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of the ads feature family members of the school shooting victims in Newtown, Connecticut. Bloomberg is spending $12 million dollars of his own money on the campaign to encourage support for stricter background checks on gun buyers.

But the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre had this message for the mayor on Meet the Press last Sunday.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, National Rifle Association: He’s going to find out this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people. And he can’t spend enough of his $27 billion dollars to try to impose his will on the American public.

They don’t want him in their restaurants. They don’t want him in their homes. They don’t want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don’t want him telling them what self-defense firearms to own.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tougher gun control legislation will be high on the agenda for Congress next month, when members return from recess, but it faces a tough road.

That was on President Obama’s mind today at the White House, joined by parents of the victims of gun violence.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The grief doesn’t ever go away. That loss, that pain sticks with you. It lingers on in places like Blacksburg and Tucson and Aurora. That anguish is still fresh in Newtown. It’s been barely 100 days since 20 innocent children and six brave educators were taken from us by gun violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president urged the nation not to forget Newtown and not to let the moment pass.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we have forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we have forgotten them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There were other reminders today. Newly released search warrants showed that the Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, had an even larger arsenal than previously known. Police found his Connecticut home had a cache of guns, more than 1,700 rounds of ammunition, a bayonet and swords.

Meanwhile, the man accused in another mass shooting, James Holmes, has now offered to plead guilty to killing 12 people at a Colorado movie theater last summer. He would agree to spend life in prison in order to avoid the death penalty.

We also learned new details in the past 24 hours about the behavior of Jared Lee Loughner. He’s the man who killed six people and injured 13 others in Tucson in 2011, including former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

We get more on these stories from a pair of reporters, Sean Holstege of The Arizona Republic and Ray Rivera of The New York Times.

And, Ray, let’s begin with you on the news from Newtown. What’s the most important thing police revealed about what they found at the home of Adam Lanza?

RAY RIVERA, The New York Times: Well, I think most of what they revealed, I think, was known. The extent of what was known, I think the extent is what’s important here, that he had access to a great deal of weapons. We didn’t really know how much was in there, as you mentioned the numerous rounds of ammunition.

Many of the rounds of ammunition belong to guns that we didn’t — that they didn’t find in the home, including .45-caliber and .303-caliber. So, you know, it’s difficult to say exactly how many weapons this man had access to. We also learned that — go ahead. I’m sorry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No, I was just going to say, a huge amount of weapons, of ammunition, and he apparently had access to all of it? It wasn’t locked away? Or is that clear?

RAY RIVERA: That’s correct. It wasn’t locked away.

And in fact one of the search warrant’s affidavits, not in the inventory list itself, says that the gun safe was in what they believed was his bedroom.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in addition, Ray Rivera, we read — we saw that there were photographs of — or a photograph of a shooting victim, apparently a dead person. There were school records from Sandy Hook Elementary, where he had gone to school, books about Asperger’s syndrome.

And was there anything there to give a sense of a — any better idea of a motive on his part?

RAY RIVERA: Well, I think that’s what’s really missing and we don’t see that from these documents.

They found numerous journals, I think seven journals, as well as drawings and other things. And you mentioned his school records. Now, without knowing what the contents of those journals were, it’s hard to know exactly what his motives were.

And we did see that they mentioned a newspaper clipping of a school shooting from 2008 at Northern Illinois University which, and we have seen some similar reports like that which raises a copycat factor. But, again, we don’t really get a sense of what his motive was.

And that’s been one of the big challenge — big mysteries of this story. So few people seem to know Adam Lanza, including former classmates. And he seemed to be so isolated that really much about him remains a mystery.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And video games? We saw there was some more information about that? Anything else about his mother?

RAY RIVERA: Well, I think what we see about his mother is really the extent to which she was a gun enthusiast, or perhaps more.

Most of these weapons, it appears, that she purchased, one thing we note in there, although it’s not dated — and it’s possible it’s a typographical error — but we see a holiday card with a check in it that she gave to him for what police identified as a firearm.

 

So, that shows that she apparently was quite comfortable with her son having access to these firearms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then video games?

RAY RIVERA: The video games, again, we don’t learn a great deal about video games from these warrants, except that he had several different kinds of players.

And we learned from an affidavit, one witness or one person who apparently knew him said that he was an avid gamer and really enjoyed playing “Call of Duty” and violent — other violent video games. This, I think, was already known. And I think there’s a lot of — there’s some debate about there — about whether violent video games lead somebody to do something like this …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

RAY RIVERA: … or somebody with the proclivity to do something like this chooses to play violent video games.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn to Sean Holstege now with the Arizona Republic.

Sean, 2,700 pages of information the police put out. What — tell us what important comes from that.

SEAN HOLSTEGE, Arizona Republic: Well, the documents that we read yesterday that were released after a court battle fill out the picture; they don’t complete the picture.

There were a couple of story narratives that were advanced by this. The biggest hole that we were rooting for, what exactly happened in that house in northwest Tucson? What exactly did Jared Lee Loughner’s parents, Randy and Amy, do to try and curb his behavior?

We know quite a bit about Jared Loughner and his motives. We don’t know what was done to try and prevent him acting violently or how late in the narrative he started getting violent thoughts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does more of a picture come together from all this information, though, of how his parents were struggling with his apparent mental illness?

SEAN HOLSTEGE: Absolutely.

In the court testimony leading up to his sentencing, while the judge was trying to reconcile whether he was competent to stand trial, the psychologist who reviewed his file determined that he had visible signs of schizophrenia as early as 2007 or 2008. Randy and Amy Loughner both testified to police in their home about four hours after the shooting that they knew their son was sick.

What we didn’t know is what they tried to do about it. And what they both told police was that the Pima County Community College people came to their house and told them, if there were any guns in the house, to keep them out of sight or locked away. Randy put them the trunk of his car. We found out from Amy that they tried to get and did get Jared Loughner drug-tested sometime after his expulsion or suspension in October, before the shooting.

So there are a number of things that indicated they were worried about his mental state. There were not a lot of indications — and I’m not sure Randy or Amy would have had those indications — that he was starting to think violently. He only bought the gun a few weeks before, a couple weeks before Christmas, a month before the shooting almost, a little more than a month before the shooting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And his parents were concerned enough they were disabling the car so he couldn’t drive in the days leading up to the shooting. Is that right?

SEAN HOLSTEGE: That’s right. They put a prohibition on him, sort of a house rule, no driving at nighttime, because we want to make sure you’re safe and that we can keep an eye on you.

They let him drive during the day so that he could find a job. And that gets to his motivations. He had had a string of failures going back a number of years. He could not keep a job. He could not stay in school. He lost a girlfriend in high school. There were just a number of disappointments. He couldn’t enroll — enlist in the Army. There were a number of disappointments in his life that in his writings online leading up to this painted a very clear picture that he was angry, depressed, sometimes suicidal.

All that was clear. What wasn’t clear was what the parents could or were able to do about it, because they have never given an interview to anyone. They have only released a one-paragraph statement in all this time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All this information beginning to be pieced together.

Sean Holstege with the Arizona Republic, Ray Rivera with The New York Times, we thank you both.

SEAN HOLSTEGE: My pleasure.

RAY RIVERA: Thank you, Judy.

RAY SUAREZ: You can follow our ongoing coverage on the gun debate in America. Find that on our home page.