Lawmakers at odds over stricter gun control legislation

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 19, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VT.: We have to make it harder for people to be able to purchase weapons. We have people know who are on terrorist watchlists who can purchase a weapon.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD, R-OKLA.: I have no issue with more extensive background checks. I have no issue with slowing down purchase for people who show all the basic warning signs.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We are going to make school safety the top priority. We're also going to work with the Congress and leaders around the country to more effectively give law enforcement tools to deal with people suffering with dangerous mental illness.


JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: Political leaders way in in the wake of 17 students being gunned down in Parkland, Florida, in that latest school shooting, one of the worst that we have seen in this country.

Let's bring in our panel now to talk about where we go from here: Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and publisher; Anne Gearan, political correspondent at The Washington Post, and Mollie Hemingway, the senior editor at The Federalist.

So we have now Republicans saying something needs to change. We need to do something in the wake of this. But we heard similar language after the Las Vegas shooting in which Republicans seem to support this idea of banning these bump stocks. So Anne, are we getting close to critical mass that something will happen? Or will be talked about and like we have seen in the past it will fade away?

ANNE GEARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Certainly history suggests that there will be a moment here like there was with bump stocks, and then it will go away. That said, I think this really does feel like there is a different current in the water. And I think we see evidence that President Trump feels there is something different about this time too.

The main difference to me I think is these kids. It is really hard to look away and really hard to ignore 17, 18-year-olds who are blaming adults, blaming the president, blaming the political system, blaming both parties for not doing enough. And if that level of action and political engagement continues, it's going to be hard for everyone to look away.

ROBERTS: Tom, can these students go up against the entrenched beliefs on both sides of the aisle here in Washington?

TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: They can. I think as Anne said, they are pretty effective communicators for their cause. The problem is with these instants we always see in hindsight what we should've seen in foresight. And you can go back. The interesting fact, John, the last three mass shootings in Florida, Omar Mateen, Pulse Nightclub, June, 2016, Fort Lauderdale airport shooting in January, 2017, and this one, all three perpetrators were on the radar of the FBI. In fact, the one who shot up the Fort Worth airport went into the FBI office and said he was being mind- controlled by the CIA, said all these crazy things, and still managed to get a gun, go down there and do this.

So the FBI think I think really did drop the ball not just in this incident but in others. And that's part of the problem. We have the dots. They are all there, we are just not able to connect them.

ROBERTS: Mollie, one of the big questions is where does President Trump come down all this and what is the appropriate role that he should take on? Let's listen to what the Ohio governor John Kasich said he thinks the president should do.


GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-OHIO: We need leadership out of the executive. This is a great opportunity for common sense steps that can be taken just in the area of background checks. Of course the president can lead on this and should lead on this.


ROBERTS: So the president supports enhanced background checks, but really what he is supporting is to enforce the laws that are already on the books to make sure the federal government and the states report to this NICS criminal background check database which they are not doing now. So how much leadership are we going to see out of the president?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: People do seem to want government action at times like this, and if they do care about government action, there are all these opportunities as Tom pointed out with the Florida examples. But also this is the third shooting I can think of where there was specific government failure. The Charleston church shooting, the Texas church shooting, there was failure to put people on the list that would make it so that they would be caught during a background check.

Here you had multiple people giving specific, credible assessments that this guy was going to do exactly what he did. Rather than put new laws on the books that are not followed I think a great thing for the government to do would actually be to make sure that the laws that are on the books, the guidance that is on the books is faithfully executed rather than have another thing that isn't followed.

ROBERTS: It seems like a simple thing. Here's the law, here's what the law stipulated. Everybody, let's get together and make sure that we are faithfully adhering to the laws and we're sharing all of this information. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

GEARAN: The NICS system does have one soft spot which is that states are not compelled to turn over the information. And what the Cornyn-Murphy bill would do is add incentives and encouragement to states to do that so you would have a better collection of information.

But in this particular instance, if the FBI had followed up, if a number of other potential fail-safes which are not actually a law had been in place, this guy might've been stopped. But there is one law that would have prevented at least him doing exactly what he ended up carrying out, which is an assault weapon ban. He was able to legally buy an AR-15 which would not have been the case 15 years ago. And so that is a high hurdle for Congress to consider taking up the assault weapons ban again, but certainly you're going to hear calls for it.

ROBERTS: So the FBI, as you pointed out, Tom, is being called out for missing a very big warning signal here in failing to connect the dots. Ohio Governor John Kasich said people should be held accountable for that. What should happen in your estimation if the FBI is told at it's headquarters that there is a credible threat against a school in Florida and never passes that information along to the local field office?

BEVAN: Somebody should be suspended or lose their job.

ROBERTS: Should that be the FBI director?

BEVAN: Oh, I don't know that it necessarily has to be the FBI director, but certainly the people who fielded that information and failed to pass it on as was part of FBI protocol. They did not follow FBI protocol. There should be consequences for that.

I think The FBI could actually undertake a broader investigation about the cases that I mentioned and others. Why they are not able to connect the dots, why the are not able when they have people who have all these red flags and warning signs. Omar Mateen was on a terrorist watch list for two years. They interviewed him, closed the case, took him off there, and he managed to commit the crime. So the FBI can do a lot of internal investigation and perhaps come up with some ways of doing things better in the future to try and prevent these things from happening, because they keep happening.

ROBERTS: All right, we'll leave this discussion there. A lot more to talk about. Next up, the Russia indictments suggest how vulnerable are this year's midterm elections to interference.

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