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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

School Shooting Survivors Speak, Rally, Demand Action; School Superintendent Speaks Ahead of CNN Town Hall; Superintendent: We Don't Need To Put Guns In The Hands Of Teachers; Stoneman Douglas Alumni Tribute; Shooting Survivors, Lawmakers About To Speak At Town Hall; Pres. Trump Expresses Support For Teachers Carrying Concealed Gun. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The world is watching.

[20:00:00] Those were the president's parting words today at a White House listening session to parents who lost children at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, and Sandy Hook Elementary, of Columbine and elsewhere.

He began the session by saying I want to listen, then after I listen, we're going to get things done, because he said the world is watching.

Tonight, the conversation shifts to this arena not far from Parkland where CNN town hall hosted by Jake Tapper is about to take place. As you can see, thousands of local residents in attendance, Florida's two U.S. senators will be there, so will members of law enforcement, teachers and parents and community leaders and most of all, students will be there, asking questions, standing up as we've seen over the last few days with poise and with power and with pain.

Earlier today, students in Florida state capitol marched, chanting "we want change". They chanted, we call B.S., shame on them, vote them out.

Just yesterday, Florida statehouse voted against considering a bill to ban assault style rifles, the kind of weapon a killer used to take 17 lives last week. They didn't ban those rifles, but they did manage to pass a resolution against pornography, calling it a public health risk especially for children and teens.

There were demonstrations today also around the country, students walking out of schools and cities across Florida, Minnesota and Colorado, kids risking disciplinary action because they're tired of facing the prospect of sheltering in place, of ducking under desks of losing friends.

There was a funeral today in Parkland and a viewing and they won't be the last. The pain is still raw. You could see it at the White House today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDREW POLLACK, DAUGHTER KILLED IN STONEMAN DOUGLAS SHOOTING: We're here because my daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week and she was taken from us, shot nine times on the third floor. We as a country failed our children. This shouldn't happen.

We go to the airport, I can't get on a plane with a bottled water, but we leave it some animal to walk into a school and shoot our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Andrew Pollack who lost a daughter Meadow. His son's lost his sister. He does not want to make this about firearms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POLLACK: It's not about gun laws right now. That's another fight, another battle. Let's fix the schools and then you guys could battle it out whatever you want. But we need our children safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Mr. Pollack called for greater school security. Another parent spoke forcefully for arming teachers and the president seemed to agree.

However, Sam Zeif, one of Meadow Pollack's (ph) classmates reflected the views of many students who do not want the Second Amendment to be a license to kill. He was hunkered down during the rampage, texting his younger brother one floor up, texting his parents saying he loved them for perhaps the last time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM ZEIF, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I turned the day after woke up to the news that my best friend was gone, and I don't understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war I'm sitting with a mother that lost her son. It's still happening.

In Australia, there was a shooting at a school in 1999. You know, after that, they took a lot of ideas, they put legislation together and they stopped it. Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been into schools since then in Australia? Zero.

We need to do something. That's why we're here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We'll talk with some of the students and the mayor who were at that meeting the White House in just a moment. But first, I want to talk to Carly Novell, a senior at Stoneman Douglas. She was in Tallahassee today, saw the protests there, met with lawmakers and now, clearly, she's back in south Florida at our town hall.

Carly, thanks for being with us.

And in your meeting with lawmakers today, what did you and your fellow students expressed to them?

CARLY NOVELL, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We talked about our need for gun control and our need for change and how important it is to feel safe and to make sure everyone else is safe as well.

COOPER: Were you talking mostly to Democrats? Were you talking to Republicans as well? And did they seem responsive to the points that you all were raising?

NOVELL: We spoke to one Democrat and one Republican and both of them seemed well-received. The Republican was a little more moderate and she kind of agreed with us on gun reform and how you shouldn't be able to get a gun at 18, and you shouldn't be able to get an AR-15 at 18 for sure.

But I really wanted to have a discussion with people that didn't necessarily share the same views as us on gun control.

COOPER: Because as you know, it was overwhelmingly voted down yesterday, the idea that there could be a vote on a ban.

NOVELL: Yes.

COOPER: You tweeted something last week that's gotten a lot of attention. You wrote in part, this is about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns that notion, getting that across to you is important that it's not just necessarily about mental health or background checks that it is about guns.

NOVELL: Yes. Well, it is about mental health but the mental health is not the major part of it because these people are allowed to get guns and they're -- they shouldn't be allowed to get guns with their severely mental illnesses, but they are. And -- but the point is that they are shooting people with guns and they are killing people with guns and they wouldn't be able to do that if they didn't have guns.

COOPER: Carly, I understand that your grandfather actually survived a mass shooting in 1949, that he had to hide in a closet the same way that you did to stay alive. Did you ever expect that this would be something that the two of you would actually have in common?

NOVELL: No, I always was worried. Everywhere I go, I'm more of a nervous person and I like look around and see what could happen, if something happened to occur. But I never really imagined this to happen and I just think it's so surreal that he hid in the closet and I hid in a closet, and I see how these are becoming -- these events are becoming generational and repetitive and it shouldn't happen like this, and it shouldn't happen to two people in the same family for sure.

COOPER: Carly, I appreciate you talking to us. I know there's thousands of people who are gathered there. It's an extraordinary turnout for the CNN town hall.

We appreciate you being there. Our broadcast of the town hall begins at the top of the next hour.

Right now, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is about to speak to those assembled. So, let's listen in.

(APPLAUSE)

SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'm only going to speak for a few minutes right now and I'll be back on stage for a panel discussion a little while. But can I ask all Stoneman Douglas students to please stand up.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

Stoneman Douglas students, on behalf of law enforcement, the Broward sheriff's office and the United States of America, I want to say a couple of things about you. You're articulate. You're intelligent. You will not quit.

(APPLAUSE)

You got to Tallahassee, you go to Washington, D.C.

(APPLAUSE)

We've had Columbine. We've had Sandy Hook. And now, we have Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, where my very own triplets went to school. I walked through the crime scene 30 minutes after this horrific killer, this detestable coward, took away 17 of our family members.

I'll never forget this. I'll never forget the vision. It's embedded in my head and I walked out of that school as I walked through I said, I wonder if Brett or Blake or Blair could have sat there and went to this classroom and I walked out and as Elie Wiesel said, talking about the Holocaust, I said two words to myself I said, never again.

(APPLAUSE)

That being said, I'm an honest sheriff, and honesty means when you did it right we talked about that and what we were not successful, we talked about that with transparency. My generation, we did not get it done. You will get it done.

(APPLAUSE)

America is watching you. America is watching you have an audience. This country is focused on you. They're going to listen to you speak tonight.

Special interest groups are going to talk. Elected officials going to talk, but I represent a special interest group, too. They're called the young children of Broward County and they're more important than anybody.

(APPLAUSE) If people won't stand for sensible gun control laws if they won't allow us to spend more money on our mental on our mentally ill, but while a person is suffering from mental illness and I'm not talking about for a week, I'm talking about for a year or two or three my heart goes out to them we want them to get better. But while they're fighting mental illness, they should not have a gun.

(APPLAUSE)

We're with you. You're knocking on the door. You're banging on the door. There will be real change this group of people, you're going to vote either this year or next year, you're going to become voters.

And if elected officials want to run for office but they won't make decisions to keep us safe, I don't know what's going to happen in the rest of the country but they're not going to hold office in Broward County, Florida.

(APPLAUSE)

God bless you all never. I know you'll never forget our three teachers and coaches. I know you'll never forget 14 beautiful, beautiful, beautiful children. Hammer the message home. Listen to what people say.

You have a voice. Stay together. God bless you. Godspeed. And you will get it done. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel telling students you will get it done. We're going to hear from the county school superintendent and Stoneman Douglas's principal shortly. Again, the town hall gets underway, at the top of the hour. As you can see, there are thousands of residents, of kids, of teachers, law enforcement community, political leaders, community leaders all gathered there, wanting to listen, to talk, to try to figure out what to do.

Joining us now, three people who spoke with the president this afternoon, Stoneman Douglas student Jonathan Blank and Julia Cordover, also Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky.

Julia, you were the first person in to speak to the president, I'm wondering just how did you feel that this listening session went? Did you feel like you were heard?

JULIA CORDOVER, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Thank you, Mr. Cooper.

However I did feel like this opportunity was more successful than I anticipated. I felt that President Trump was very sincere and diplomatic about his responses, talking about during the discussion and after. So, that was that.

COOPER: Jonathan, did you leave the White House feeling confident about what the future holds, listening and talking -- I mean, obviously important, do you do you feel like there will actually be action taken by the president, by lawmakers?

JONATHAN BLANK, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Yes, I do believe that action will be taken by the president and the government of the United States, and that gun control will be in effect and change is near.

COOPER: Mayor, you I think we're one of the first if not the first to bring up assault-style weapons directly with the president. There were some people in the room said, look, this isn't about guns at this point. Do you believe additional restrictions on those types of guns are lynchpin in any meaningful solution?

MAYOR CHRISTINE HUNSCHOFSKY, PARKLAND, FLORIDA: I think there are many stages and many parts of the solution, and I think we can't just get hung up on one or the other and any step toward a solution is a good step.

COOPER: Jonathan, do you -- for you, is you talked about gun control. Is that for you a key component in any progress?

BLANK: I do believe that that is a key component, but another key component I believe is security on school, and I do believe that we need a lot more security on school, with trained professionals that are able and are good at using their firearm to protect the students at school, because school is a place to learn.

COOPER: Julia, how about for you? One of the things the president seemed responsive to is the idea of perhaps arming teachers, or having others in the school who would be trained and armed?

CORDOVER: Right, and so, I understand the point of view of these people. However, I am not necessarily for the guns in the classroom. I know these are a bunch of ideas up in the air and I know that none of this is for sure. It's all conversation. I wish that we could talk about some of the more -- some more solutions during the town hall.

However, I am not necessarily for the guns in the classroom, but definitely more security on campus, definitely security cameras, definitely many more precautions to make sure that no incident like this will happen again. Thank you.

COOPER: Julia, is this something that you have always thought about? I mean, obviously, you have grown up at a time when this has always been in the headlines.

CORDOVER: Right. So, actually, no. I am the senior class president at Stoneman Douglas and I have the most amazing school, students and everything. I've been busy planning prom and that was a theme that I've been thinking about and it's just crazy that I myself an 18-year- old have had to shift my purpose and think about gun control and about the safety, the safety of my fellow students, the safety of myself, the safety of my nation. And I'm not just speaking for myself. I'm speaking on behalf of the victims. I was being speaking on behalf of the students who are haunted by their fears. And this is going to stop and with all of Parkland and all of the nation, we will get this done.

COOPER: Jonathan, I've talked to it to a lot of students in the last couple days from your school who say that they feel like this may change the trajectory of their life in terms of what they want to do, how involve they want to become in politics or community matters.

I'm wondering do you feel like this has had that kind of an impact on you?

BLANK: I honestly do not -- I do not think that this had such a political overtake on me. I believe that gun control and everything, it just needs to -- everything just needs to change and I think put politics aside, students need to feel safe at school. This can never happen again and you just -- it can't happen again.

COOPER: Mayor, I just want to also ask you how people back in Parkland are doing. I mean, we're going to hear from many of the students tonight at 9:00 at this town hall and it's amazing the turnout in the community. This is obviously still the beginning of a very long process.

HUNSCHOFSKY: Yes, it is. It's a very long process and our community is still grieving. This is not something that's going to be going away anytime soon. The teachers are expected to go back later this week and the students are expected to go back next week. And many of them quite honestly are terrified.

So, while we're talking about these bigger picture items, we also need to be talking about the things we can do to make the schools safer and, you know, we're a great community. I've mentioned this several times you before, Anderson, about how close-knit we are and family- oriented and I'm hopeful that we'll get through this together.

And these discussions that the students are having and that the community's having as a whole in the nation as a whole give me hope because people are now I think ready to make changes and have some solutions.

COOPER: Jonathan and Julia and Mayor Hunschofsky, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

BLANK: Thank you.

CORDOVER: Thank you.

HUNSCHOFSKY: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to continue to listen to the speakers as we wait for our town hall broadcast to begin.

Later, one of the students who marched today and spoke at the protest in Tallahassee, we'll talk to her as well. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:22:04] COOPER: You're looking at the site of tonight's CNN town hall, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action." The broadcast actually begins at 9:00 Eastern Time, but there's a number of speakers we want you to hear before that.

Taking the stage right now is Robert Runcie, who is the Broward County school superintendent.

ROBERT RUNCIE, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Good evening.

Let me first say I am so proud. I am so inspired by our students. I am so proud of your intelligence, your courage, your resilience. It is an honor to be your superintendent, serving what I consider the greatest students in America. Give yourself a round of applause.

(APPLAUSE)

And I am here tonight with what I consider the most dynamic school board in America. Our school board members have been fighting day and night for our kids and I would like them to stand up and be recognized. Please give them a hand.

(APPLAUSE)

It was one week ago ironically on Valentine's Day that the heart of Broward County was broken by the horrific shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That day, we witnessed, we witnessed the worst of humanity. But we also witnessed the best of the human spirit.

We are so thankful for our first responders, law enforcement agencies, and most of all --

(APPLAUSE)

Yes, give them a hand.

It was an amazing display of force. Every -- it seemed like every law enforcement and first responder in Broward County was at Stoneman Douglas that day.

Well, I also want to acknowledge and recognize our teachers and our administrators.

(APPLAUSE)

Will all our teachers please stand up. And give our educators a round of applause. Come on, you can do better than that.

(APPLAUSE)

[20:25:05] Our educators true American heroes. I want to thank everyone for their response and the courage they

displayed in this horrific moment. We want to also thank everyone across the country for your prayers, your words of support, your acts of kindness and your donations.

There are no words to properly describe the sorrow and a grief that this community is feeling. We've lost some wonderful, promising students and some truly dedicated employees. Now, our priority and focus are on the well-being of our students, our staff, and our families.

We will continue to provide grief counseling services and support. Our school board members who are here today as you have seen have been outstanding, along with our staff. They are doing visits, and check- ins with victim's families and the injured who are still in hospitals.

The Broward Education Foundation has set up a GoFundMe site. Stoneman Douglas Victims Fund. And our Broward Teachers Union has also collaborated to provide support.

Parkland is a resilient community and we will not let 17 bullets keep us down.

(APPLAUSE)

We will not let 17 bullets to the heart keep us down. We will re-open school next week Tuesday. Our goal is to get back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible.

We will have counseling services and support on staff. We will also see a significant enhancement in the level of security presence at the school.

(APPLAUSE)

And that law enforcement presence will stay there for the remainder of the year and into the future. 2

We have a moral responsibility to the next generation and future generations that we move this conversation beyond thoughts and prayers and sympathies to real action.

(APPLAUSE)

Our children deserve nothing less. Out of the ashes of grief and despair, we see sparks of hope and optimism. Our young people at Stoneman Douglas have ignited a national movement for sensible gun laws, better funded mental health programs.

(APPLAUSE)

Better funded mental health programs and better coordination have services among school districts, law enforcement entities and mental health entities. I am so proud and so inspired by our students who are showing this nation the kind of students that we produce here in Broward County public schools, highly educated, articulate, passionate, life-ready individuals.

(APPLAUSE)

These are the young people that are going to change the world for the better.

(APPLAUSE)

And let me tell you, our students are ready for this moment. They have been preparing for this moment. Broward County has a great debate program. Many of these students have participated in it. It is the largest debate program in the country. It is the strongest debate program. It's in every high school, every middle school.

This year, we introduced it in elementary schools and it is a transformative experience for kids. I really believe it should be in every school in America, because we need to change how we debate and have dialogue in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

So we are here tonight at this opportunity for our Stoneman Douglas and Broward County family to share the story of our grief and pain, strength and resilience, hope and optimism. Let's conduct ourselves with the civility that is necessary for respectful debate. Every great school starts with a great leader. And we are so fortunate to have Principal Ty Thompson at the head of this outstanding high school.

Ty, thank you for your leadership. We love you and appreciate all that you do. To our teachers at Stoneman Douglas, you work so tirelessly. You love the students as your own babies. And some of the dialogue that I've heard recently is about arming teachers. We don't need to put guns in the hands of teachers.

You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket. This country plays a lot of lip service to the importance of the teaching profession but we never put our money behind it. Let teacher compensation, benefit and working be part of this national debate as well. So I say to all our teachers thank you for what you do every day. We love you. And we're going to do what we can to continue to support you.

So there are many Stoneman Douglas Eagles that have grown and flown all over the country and the world for that matter. So let's hear from them. Let's take a couple of minutes to hear from some of them. And we will watch this video.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART SEAGULL (PH), MSD ALUMNI: Hello Eagles, my name is Stewart Seagull (ph), I'm senior class President of the founding class of 1992. And I just want you to know that thousands of Stoneman Douglas alumni are standing with you. So proud of the way that your handling this unspeakable tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Class of 1997, we are MSD strong. Eagle pride. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stand with you. MSD strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Class of 2006. Keep soaring Eagles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to remind you through thick or through thin, we are Eagles. Always fly together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eagles pride.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm only who I am because of this community and I just want all you to know how proud I am to be part of this community. I want you to know that you're not alone in your grief. We're all grieving with you. The entire country is grieving with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are MSD strong and we are from Dallas.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMAL: We are with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From beautiful on Broadway. We are the Broadway Company of Chicago and we are Stoneman strong.

CHRISTINE (PH), MSD ALUMNI: Hi Eagles, this is Christine (ph) and class of 2009. I'm here to say that New York stands with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want you to know that once an Eagle always an Eagle. Eagle soar high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Change has to happen and Douglas is going to be the school that make it's happen. Eagle pride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just want you to know that be positive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be passionate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're proud of being an Eagle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of the entire staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we want to sincerely thank you for your love and support.

[20:34:59] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The worldwide support and outpouring of love has been overwhelming and truly appreciated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't ever forget to be positive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be passionate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And be proud to be an Eagle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Brooklyn, New York. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From (INAUDIBLE) North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boston, Massachusetts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown, Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Westin, Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the Bay Area, California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Orlando.

(OFF-MIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Located in Mathews, Louisiana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Marlborough, Massachusetts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Chicago, Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in Hawaii.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In New Hampshire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Washington, D.C., we stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I stand with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay strong Eagles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're with you guys.

TY THOMPSON, PRINCIPAL, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I promise you, I will hug each and every one of you as many times as you need. And I will hold you as long as you need me too all 3,300 of you and your families and we will get through this together. Our community is strong. Our students are strong. We will persevere in these trying times. As you can see, on the media, my staff, and my students are living our life. Be positive, be passionate and be proud of being an Eagle. We are MSD strong. Continue to send us your thoughts and prayers and God bless the Stoneman Douglas Eagle nation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

THOMPSON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You guys know how I feel about you, you know. Every single one of you in our community, you are the best. You know, you continue to amaze me through these difficult times. But the amount of support that we have received and you've given to victim's families, each other and myself is really unprecedented. Thank you to all the communities around the world for your unwavering support of our community. It's my job now, my number one priority is to support my students, staff and community during this time. And I know a lot of you are asking, how in the heck is Mr. Thompson being so strong during this time. I'm doing it from you guys. I need it for you, OK.

But, I got a lot secret here to reveal. All of those hugs that I'm talking about, that's my super fuel, OK. And you give me those hugs of strength continues my works with those hugs. So keep them coming. The hug counter is 1,200 right now. And once I get close to 3,000 I'm going to leap tall buildings, OK. Our kids are so unbelievable. And I'm proud of their articulation and poise with the media.

And the world is very proud of you as well. I've received over 150 e- mails a day about how great you are. So, you know, thanks for adding to my workload. But, you know, you stick with our motto, be positive, be passionate, and be proud to be an Eagle, the sky will be the limit. Watching them those and the world and are watching this right now, and keep sending your thoughts and prayers and love because we are MSD strong.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of emotion at the CNN Town Hall tonight. Even before it officially begins, the top of this next hour, Stoneman Douglas High School principal Ty Thompson setting the tone for a CNN Town Hall, and it set it gets underway in just about 20 minutes from now.

Just ahead, we'll talk to Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy who's been at the forefront of the gun debate since the horrible events in Newtown just over five years ago. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:43:56] COOPER: With a nationally televised listening session with the White House today in the CNN Town Hall on gun violence just moments away, there's a big question surrounding all of it. Is now the time when serious congressional debate on guns can actually begin?

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has been there, he's been there especially since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary just a little over five years ago. Here's what he said a week ago when news at the Florida shooting broke.

2(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D) CONNECTICUT: That this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America. This epidemic of mass slaughter, the scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator Murphy joins us now. Senator, after Newtown, after the horror there, there was hope that some sort of progress might be made. Does this moment feel different for you? I mean you've been trying to get legislation pass since Newtown?

[20:45:03] MURPHY: Well, the anti gun violence movement has been growing by leaps and bounds since Sandy Hook. The gun lobby, the gun industry has had a head start on us about 20 years when it comes to political organization, but we are catching up. Then I think this may be a water shed moment when all of these kids speaking for themselves, this may compel lawmakers to act. But the fact of the matter is, the public has made up their mind long ago on this issue. 97% of Americans in the last poll want universal background checks, that numbers always been above 80%.

Ultimately, you know, we have to convince members of Congress that if they don't vote with 97% of their constituents that want stronger gun law, that they're going to pay a price at the polls and if strength of this movement and the strengths of the students may finally be able to convince those members, that they'll pay that political price.

COOPER: You know, the White House has said that the President is supportive of a bill you are cosponsoring with Republican Senator John Cornyn that will help strengthen the federal background check system. Today though in his listening session, the White House, the President seemed most supportive of the idea of arming teachers and others inside the school. Is that part of the solution, do you think?

MURPHY: Yes, that's an insane idea that will make our schools less safe not more safe. It's a creation of the gun lobby. The gun industry for years has called on societies to arm themselves in order to protect themselves which belies all of the evidence that tells us that communities and homes that have more guns are more likely to be subject to gun crimes. But it has the benefit of allowing gun industry to sell more guns. My bill with Senator Cornyn is a good bill. But let's be clear what it does. It just compels states to comply with existing law. It actually doesn't subject any additional sales to background check. That's what Americans want. And so I hope that will, you know, have a full debate on the Senate floor about the ways in which we can better protect our kids and, you know, all citizens of this country.

COOPER: You know, if you look at FBI statistics, so many of the deaths in mass -- in school shootings, take place in the first couple of minutes, really in the first six minutes or so often time police response time is about six minutes or even maybe more in some cases. The argument for arming teachers or others in the schools is that you've been have more guns in the school that can fight potentially fight back. You say is just a recipe for disaster. Can you just explain why you think so?

MURPHY: Well, it's a recipe for disaster, because what happens when you arm teachers is one, you put a whole mess load of guns close to kids that can be used accidentally. Second, you create cross fire that can get a lot of innocent people killed. Third, you make it hard for police who are responding to figure out who the good guy and who the bad guy is. And fourth there's no evidence to suggest that this actually works, anecdotally or empirically.

Empirically we know that in homes that have guns those guns are more likely to be used to kill you, not to kill an intruder. And anecdotally we know in places where mass shootings happened and there were lots of guns, take Dallas, where there were people walking around that square with AR-15 strapped to their backs, it didn't help in that carnage. So this again is simply a talking point from the gun industry. They are trying to make you think that more guns will make your school safer because they are desperate to sell more guns.

COOPER: Republican Senator Jeff Flake is now back in bill introduce by Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein that would raise the minimum age to buy an AR-15 type rifle, from 18 to 21 years old, just the age to buy hand gun. Which would have in theory prevented the shooter in Parkland from legally acquiring his rifle. The NRA has already come out against the bill. If history is any guy, does the NRA's opposition guarantee defeat?

MURPHY: Well right now Congress is owned by the NRA. The reason that President Trump is supporting the bill that I introduced with Ssenator Cornyn is because it's endorsed by the NRA. It's the furthest the NRA would go and thus the furthest that the White House and the Republicans in Congress will go. At some point the NRA will lose their grip, the gun lobby will lose their grip on Congress, but it will probably have to come after an election.

I fear that right now, the NRA has veto authority over legislation in Congress. Maybe I'll be proved wrong, maybe these kids are more powerful than they even know, but that seems to be the reality today in Congress.

COOPER: A few minutes ago, President Trump tweeted this, he said, "I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families. So much love in the midst of so much pain, we must not let them down. We must keep our children safe". Do you have hope or expectations that this President will spur the Congress to act in meaningful way?

MURPHY: It certainly didn't sound like today. Again, I'm glad that he's endorsing, you know, the bill that I wrote, but it is just an incremental step forward just to try to make the existing background check system work as it's intended to do.

[20:50:08] The end of that event today was full of NRA and gun lobby rhetoric, loading our schools up with more weapons, something that teachers don't want and students don't want. There was a day when the President was for the elimination of assault weapons and universal background checks. And maybe when he's thinking about the demands from these kids to fix this problem, he'll remember that. I hope he'll also remember that this isn't just about school shootings. Even on days when there isn't a school shooting, 90 people in this country die from guns. Many of those suicides, but 30 of them are gun homicides. We owe an obligation to everyone who is a victim of this epidemic, not simply those who are victims of school shootings that get a lot of attention on the news.

COOPER: Well, Senator Chris Murphy, I appreciate your time tonight, thank you.

Former First Lady, Michelle Obama also tweeted tonight, saying "I'm in total awe, the extraordinary students in Florida, like every movement for progress and our history, run reform will take unyielding encourage and endurance. Barack Obama and I believed in you, we're proud of you and we're behind you every step of the way."

Join us now is former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. David, we are just minutes away from this Town Hall, beginning you just heard Senator Murphy. Do you share his feelings on the chances of getting meaningful legislation getting passed and signed into law? I mean he said point blank the NRA went to Congress right now?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, and he's been steeled by hard experience. And the country has as well. I mean Newtown seemed like such a clear case and yet even a 90% bill, you know, like universal background checks, never went anywhere. So there is hard experience to look at here. But on the other hand, we've never seen anything quite like this. These kids are just overwhelming. These kids are so inspiring, so impressive. And they are just asking us to suspend our cynicism, to throw off the political shackles that campaign contributions and threats from the NRA represent, and finally live up to our responsibilities. And my great hope for them and the country is that they -- is that we're able to do that. It would be a terrible thing if their earnest pleas are responded to with business as usual.

And the President has the ability to make a difference here. I agree with Senator Murphy, his rhetoric at the end of that session at the White House today was very discouraging. On the other hand, he watching -- we know he watches television, we know he's watching these children. He has a sense of the impact they're having. He was in a room today with some very moving people. And perhaps he'll find the courage to take some steps in the right direction. Maybe not all the steps that we need, but more steps than the NRA will allow. And if he does, he'll provide political cover for others to as well.

COOPER: You think him coming forward on this would provide enough political cover to buck, for some people to buck the NRA?

AXELROD: Yes, I think that -- I think that it would. I think it would be a risky move for him with his base. I also think as a political matter that he would make some inroads in places where he needs to like in suburban areas around the country by doing it. But at the end of the day, one hopes it's not all about the political calculus, that there -- that he was moved somewhat by the people in the room, even if he need a note card to remind him to tell them that he's listening.

COOPER: It's interesting to me that you feel sort of the voice of these students could possibly be some sort of -- I don't know if "watershed event" is too strong a word, but could actually make a difference.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, listen, Anderson, I don't want to be pollyannish about it. But I've been in tears the last few days watching these kids. I want to believe that America can respond to them. The hard- bitten political side of me says it's going to end the way all the others have ended. But I've seen movements in this country before, the civil rights movement is one, where the young people really led the way and pricked the conscious of the country. Maybe that will happen here.

COOPER: David Axelrod, i appreciate your time.

Students from Stoneman Douglas High School today met with Florida lawmakers and with Florida Governor Rick Scott. Many students spoke at the state capitol, including Sofie Whitney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOFIE WHITNEY, STUDENT, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: People are talking about how we aren't serious because we're children. But have you heard my friends talk? We're serious. We are here to discuss with our state legislators how we can prevent what happened to us. We are going to make a change. We will not give up. This is only the beginning of our history. Please be on the right side of it. Help us. Help us so children don't fear for going to school. Help us so mass shootings aren't inevitable. Help us so our children, our grandchildren, and their children after that don't have to march for their lives. Help us for our 17 fallen brothers and sisters. Help us so no one else dies. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE

[20:55:14] COOPER: Sofie Whitney joins me.

Sofie, you had a chance to speak with Governor Rick Scott tonight. Can you tell us about that -- what did he say to you and your fellow students? What did you say to him?

WHITNEY: We were actually pleasantly surprised to hear how receptive he was to our ideas. It was more of like an open conversation between us and him. We started it off talking about the policies that we would like to see in the upcoming bill, and he would respond with different ideas to maybe make it a little different than our ideas. But he seemed to really hear what we were trying to say.

COOPER: When you and I talked last night, you told me that if you were to craft your own bill, it would address mental health, background checks, some kind of waiting period, banning assault rifles. I'm wondering how many of those specific topics came up.

WHITNEY: Just about every one, except for banning assault rifles. But that was in a perfect world, that's a lot to ask for in one session.

COOPER: The legislature in Florida, their session ends in just a couple of weeks. Were you able to get a sense at all today of how much it's going to take to get something done before then?

WHITNEY: Well, according to Governor Scott, he said that there will be a bill proposed this Friday. But that wasn't a positive. But I'm hopeful that he actually might follow through.

COOPER: Did he say what would be proposed?

WHITNEY: A bill that kind of combines all of the things we're talking about including background checks, a lot of mental health examinations, hopefully raising the age to buy a gun, a waiting period.

COOPER: I know you've mentioned before that actions speak louder than words. Did you leave today's meeting believing that action actually will be taken? Because I mean a lot of times people will say things to your face and then there's no actual follow-through.

WHITNEY: Yes, well, I won't believe everything he says until we see the bill. But I'm going to be hopeful just to keep morale high. But I think that there's a good chance that we're going to get at least some of the stuff that we want out of this bill.

COOPER: I'm wondering also at the protest today what you saw today, how you if he felt about how it went, and what you're expecting from the town hall tonight?

WHITNEY: Well, most of the kids on the trip weren't allowed to actually leave to go outside to see the rally. But there were a lot of people protesting inside. I mean it was really good to see people joining us, and a lot of kids standing with us. And from the town hall tonight, I have a lot of friends speaking there. I'm really hoping that Senator Rubio is as responsive and receptive as Governor Scott was tonight.

COOPER: Well, Sofie Whitney, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

WHITNEY: Thank you for having me.

COOPER: Well, the town hall is now just a few minutes away from starting. I want to check in with our Alisyn Camerota who is there.

Alisyn, first of all the turnout for this, I mean I didn't realize what a large event it was going to be, it looks like there are thousands of people there. You also see Senator Marco Rubio in the state, Senator Bill Nelson, Congressman Deutsche from the district where the school is. It's an enormous turnout.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It is an enormous turnout, bigger than we expected. There are something like 7,000 people here. That's a security estimated for us. And you could -- if you didn't know, Anderson, that something, this unspeakable tragedy had happened, you would think that this was a pep rally for Stoneman Douglas School, because there is so much school spirit here. When they ask the kids -- the students, the kids to stand up, this arena erupted in support and love for them. When they asked the teachers of the district to stand up, the arena erupted. And when they asked the principal of Stoneman Douglas to come out, it brought the house down, people just applauding in sustained claps for a long period of time.

There's a lot of love and support in here. We also just watched the sort of 16 to 18 most recognizable faces of the survivors walking out and now they're onstage right behind me. It -- this has already been a remarkable night. It's going to be a very emotional night. People are already yelling some questions to the lawmakers, they're not waiting for it to start. So it is just going to be an extraordinary conversation. The mood in here is filled with love as well as lots of demands and questions from these students who are still in so much pain.

COOPER: Alisyn, thanks very much.

Time now to hand it over to Jake Tapper. He's going to be leading the CNN Town Hall which we're calling "Stand Up." As Alisyn said, there are some nearly 7,000 people in that auditorium, according to security. Community members, parents, teachers, lawmakers, legislators, and of course, as you saw, students not only from that school, but from surrounding schools as well.

[21:00:05] Marco Rubio is on the stage. The students from Stoneman Douglas, "Stand Up", the CNN Town Hall: Stand Up, The Student of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action, starts now.