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NRA Refuses Joining Obama in Gun Town Hall; CNN Goes Inside North Korea Amid H-Bomb Claims; Rep. Kevin Brady Talks Guns, Obama, Mental Health. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 7, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00:] MERCEDES SCHLAPP, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Why not if you have your faith, be able to talk about it in public? It's a free country where we're able to do that. That's the beauty of America.



SCHLAPP: Whether you're Christian or Muslim or Jewish.

ROSEN: You should talk about it from your own perspective.


SCHLAPP: Hilary, it's one ad. It's one political ad.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's a political ad running right now. Marco Rubio has chosen to put it up on the air waves. We'll see how long it lasts and if he continues to speak this way, perhaps, on the stump as well.

Hillary Rosen, Mercedes Schlapp, thanks to have you here with us.

SCHLAPP: Thank you.

ROSEN: Take care.

BERMAN: Coming up, thanks, but no thanks. The National Rifle Association says it will not attend tonight's town hall on guns. We'll tell you why.

Plus, North Korea says it's the real deal, a hydrogen bomb capable of unleashing extraordinary, but experts say they have serious doubts. We'll take you inside North Korea. Our reporter is there.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. From George Mason University in Virginia where tonight President Obama will sit down with CNN's Anderson Cooper for a live town hall meeting to take on one of the most fiercely debated issues in the country today, Guns in America. The prime-time event brings together folks on both sides of this debate, those for and against more gun control, victims of gun violence and their families.

The NRA, the country's largest gun rights organization, most often cited as the gun lobby has declined to take part, although many individual members of the NRA and gun rights advocates will be joining in the discussion.

Let's bring in right now CNN's White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, for more on this.

Michelle, this all comes -- here's the important context -- just after the president unveiled his controversial executive actions on this very topic.

[11:35:13] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Maybe you should brace yourself there. I wonder how feisty this debate is going to get. The White House never intended for the president to take executive action which, by the way, didn't go nearly as far as they would have liked. Given emotional speech and that be the end of it. Lacking anything more they could do unilaterally, they see this off as a jumping off point, as they put it to, inspire more passion in people that feel the same way so they can influence their lawmakers, vote their minds, maybe make changes within their own communities. That's why the president agreed to do this town hall. In fact, he said his goals are to have good people on both sides of the issue in afternoon open discussion, that you don't have to be disagreeable while you're disagreeing. You don't have to talk past each other. You do have to have a sense of urgency on this issue, in his view. The White House sees it as maybe sparking a broader discussion, what additional steps could communities take. You know the White House has broad support on background checks. It's like 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans agree with that, including Republicans, including gun owners. It's just that when you look at the broader issue and look at some recent polls, they show 62 percent of Americans disapprove of how President Obama is handling the gun issue. Just over half now oppose stricter gun laws. That tells you how complicated this debate always is. Now, CNN has invited people on both sides of the issue to be is there but the NRA -- America's biggest voice on gun rights says they don't want to be a part of it. They're calling it a pr spectacle organized by the White House. As you and I both know, this was not organized by the White House. CNN asked the president to be a part of it, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right. You lay out perfectly how complicated the issue is and exactly why CNN is holding this event.

Thank you, Michelle.

Let's discuss this further. Let me bring in Chelsea Parsons, an expert on gun policy at the liberal leaning Center for American Progress; and CNN legal analyst, Sunny Hostin.

Thank you for being here.

Michelle was laying out, broadly speaking, there are a lot to get into the details of what the president unveiled in his executive action, mostly focusing on expanding background checks. Chelsea, you've worked for years on this. Some of your

recommendations were actually taken -- used in these executive actions by the White House. But immediately we heard from Republicans, opponents of gun control saying, put it all together, it doesn't add up to much.

CHELSEA PARSONS, VICE PRESIDENT FOR GUNS AND CRIME POLICY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS LEARNING: Yeah. I think that what the president's package represents is a really smart, thoughtful but modest step forward in addressing some gaps in our current laws and policies. I think the president did what he could do within his current authority. But what we really need to make a significant impact on gun violence in this country is for Congress to act. We need for legislation to be passed, to expand background checks. We need other laws to be addressed by Congress if we really are going to make a big impact on this.

BOLDUAN: Are you frustrated he didn't do more?

PARSONS: No. Because I think the president did what he could do within his authority. I think that's a really strong package. Not only did he address the background checks by high-volume gun sellers but he added smart, targeted enforcement pieces here that will help federal law enforcement better enforce the law on the books.

BOLDUAN: That immediately leads to Republican opponents immediately said, this is illegal, an overreach and a violation of liberty. Is he on legal ground, from what you can see?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: President Obama is a constitutional law scholar. So, to be clear, this is constitutionally sound. And I think what was very smart from the White House is that he called it an executive action as opposed to an executive order. Let's face it, an executive action and executive order, they're the functional equivalent of both. But I think that people that are saying this is illegal and overreaching is really shocking to me because many people are saying it's actually quite modest. I think it is pretty robust. If you look at what he has done, he is trying to close this online gun show loophole where criminals do go and try to buy firearms. Since 1998, back me up if I'm right, about 2.4 million purchasers that -- criminals that tried to buy guns were prevented by the background checks. This argument we're hearing all the time that, hey, criminals don't submit to background checks. Guess what? They really do. The background system has prevented those purchases. So, why not go further? Why not make sure that not only the stupid criminals going through the background checks, let's try to stop those that are trying to go around the background checks and going online and buying them from private sellers, why don't we try to get them out of criminals' hands?

[11:40:31] BOLDUAN: That's led to an important question, which has con founded me from the administration so far. They have not put an estimate on how many people will be covered. How many more people will be covered through these executive actions?

PARSONS: We don't know. That's part of the problem. When we're trying to craft smart, targeted gun policy is that we are really at a deficit of information. It's very hard to know how big is the scope of the current private sale market and firearms. These are sales happening completely off the grid. They're happening completely outside the eyes of law enforcement of ATF. It's very hard. What we know is there are a substantial number of individuals who are telling guns as private sellers. They're selling them in high numbers --


BOLDUAN: Is it in the tens of thousands? Is there any --


HOSTIN: Well, there have been some studies. My friends at K2 Global Intelligence have done some sort of undercover buys on arms lists. What they found just in their research is one in 30 purchasers online from arms list were criminals buying guns. To put that into context, if you have a typical Boeing 757 and you have 130 people on that plane that are terrorists, that would be 22 terrorists on the plane. As a country, do we want those stats? Do we want one in 30 criminals to have guns? I think that estimate actually is really not accurate. I think it's a much higher number there. So, they are operating in the shadows but all of the research shows that there are many, many criminals, criminals purchasing guns, at least one in 30 from this one study, on the Internet. Don't we want to stop that?

BOLDUAN: It speaks to the complicated nature of this issue. We'll hear from the other side. The other side saying very clearly from these executive actions, what they see, would not have prevented a Sandy Hook, would have not prevented San Bernardino. This is some of the stuff we'll get into. We'll hear from the other side. You can be sure these are some of the very tough questions President Obama will face tonight in this town hall.

Chelsea, thank you so much.

Sunny, thank you as always. Really appreciate it.

A reminder to all of you, President Obama will be joining Anderson Cooper for this live town hall on guns in America, 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. Also ahead for us, as Republicans threaten a legal challenge to the

president's gun measures, one top lawmaker is calling for the president to shift his focus to what he actually calls the real issue behind gun violence. He will be joining us next.

And no signs so far of radiation. Skepticism is now growing over whether North Korea actually tested a hydrogen bomb but that nation's leader, Kim Jong-Un, says he'll prove that test was a success. Up next, CNN is in Pyongyang.


[11:46:56] BERMAN: New this morning, our reporter inside North Korea, the country that claims that for the first time it exploded a hydrogen bomb. South Korea planning to respond by blaring propaganda over loud speakers at the demilitarized zone. The rest of the world is flat out skeptical. Officials say it was not a hydrogen device. So far no radiation has been detected but North Korean officials say they will prove to CNN that the test was the real deal.

Our Will Ripley was traveled extensively in North Korea is the only U.S. reporter in the capital of Pyongyang. This is his report.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I met just a few hours ago with North Korean government officials who told me they are not afraid of more sanctions as a result of North Korea's fourth nuclear test, a test they claim was a hydrogen bomb, a claim disputed by many national experts. The North Koreans told me this country has already lived with crippling sanctions for so many years that tightening their belt and moving forward with the nuclear program is something they are prepared to do. They compared themselves to a hunter holding a rifle and they compared the rest of the world led by the United States to a pack of wolves. And North Korea says it is not going to be lowering its rifle. They say will continue to develop weapons of mass destruction that they say they will only use to protect themselves.

There's another development on the peninsula that can really escalate the situation later today. Around noon local time, South Korea is saying that in retaliation for this fourth nuclear test, they're going to turn back on those propaganda loud speakers that we last heard over the summer after two South Korean soldiers were injured in land mines on the border between north and South Korea known as the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. Those loud speakers are infuriating to the North Korean regime because they send loud South Korean propaganda into the north territory. The timing couldn't be worse for the North Korean's government because today happens to be Kim Jong-Un's 33rd birthday. What will happen next? What will the north's move be in response? Something we'll have to watch very closely here in Pyongyang.


BERMAN: Our Will Ripley, the only Western reporter inside North Korea right now. Our thanks to Will.

John McCain now raising concerns, raising questions, he says, about Ted Cruz's eligibility to run for president because Cruz was born in Canada. Well, now Ted Cruz getting ready to speak. You're looking at live pictures right now. How will Ted Cruz respond to John McCain? Stay with us.


[11:52:51] BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We're live from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where tonight President Obama will join Anderson Cooper and a life audience for a special town hall event tackling one of the most heated issues today, guns in America. It comes on the heels of the president's tearful rollout of his executive actions on gun control.

Among the measures that the president unveiled is expanding background checks on private gun sales, hiring more ATF agents to enforce gun regulations and an increase in funding for mental health care.

Republican critics quickly blasted the moves as both ineffective and overreaching.

Joining me now to discuss from Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Kevin Brady, of Texas, a member of the House leadership.

Congressman, thank you so much for your time.

REP. KEVIN BRADY, (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Kate. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Congressman, the House speaker, he said yesterday that Republicans, they're going to look at all options, is how Paul Ryan said it, to stop the president here. What are those options?

BRADY: First, let me start with the main case, which is, look, gun violence is real in America. But nothing's going to change as long as you ignore the root cause of much of this violence, mental illness, and you focus on taking away rights of law-abiding citizens. The president I think is sincere. But after seven years of doing virtually nothing, trotting out that same old outdated unconstitutional ineffective idea, it just won't work, if you're ignoring, especially since you're ignoring the mental health care issue. So we're going to, one, stop this unconstitutional grab, and we're going to focus on some real solutions, which is mental health care. There's two major bills in the House and Senate that we think really begins to address a broken health care system. And you look at the president's proposal, look, no real solutions. $500 million. It's one hour of federal spending. It will not make America one hones safer.

BOLDUAN: I do want to ask you about the mental health care component. You say first we're going to stop him. How? Are we talking about a little challenge?

[11:55:06] BRADY: You know, we'll be using every constitutional power we have from legal challenges to the power of the purse to legislation. I think it's important to point out the American people have a roll in this. Even when the president held the White House in both chambers of the House and Senate, the American people didn't go for this. And so it's not like -- like Congress is blocking these old outdated ineffective solutions. The American people frankly don't believe it will make them safer as well. I really think, I think most Republicans do, that if we really are honest about the fact, we don't have a mental health care system in America and what we have is broken and unaffordable and, frankly, you see these mass shootings. The one common theme here is why didn't we identify it or someone identify and get these people help. I really think that's where there's common ground in this debate.

BOLDUAN: On the mental health care component, you say nothing's going to change as long as he keeps ignoring this aspect. He is calling for $500 million, half a billion, to put towards this. You say that is weak. Do you want more federal funding in this area? BRADY: It's a great question. Think about this. No real mental

health care reforms in this package and the equivalent of one hour of federal spending assigned to an issue that he believes is so critical to the safety of America. It's a drop in the bucket. It isn't applied to where it needs to be. I don't know why the president doesn't sit down with Republicans in the House and Senate and let's really tackle mental health care. Because at the end of the day, I think that's where we can make the biggest difference in stopping some of this gun violence and actually making communities safer.

BOLDUAN: We'll see exactly where that conversation goes tonight at this town hall.

Congressman Kevin Brady, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

BRADY: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next, we are following breaking news in Paris where an armed attacker was shot and killed in front of a police station there. Stay right here with us. We'll be right back.