'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for April 17, 7 p.m. ET

Guests: George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Amie Steele

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Do people kill people or do guns kill people? 

Will we see a new debate on the question of gun availability, or will fear of political reprisals by gun owners shut it down before it starts?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Tonight, massacre at Virginia Tech.  Police identified Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student, as the shooter who murdered 32 people at the school in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.  Today, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush traveled to Blacksburg for a memorial service for the Virginia Tech shooting victims.

We begin tonight with Brian Williams‘ interview with the president and first lady.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, thank you for talking to us. 

You have all too much experience in dealing with grieving families, going back to 9/11 and this nation‘s two wars.  How is this different, beginning perhaps with you, Mrs. Bush? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Well, I think just the whole violation of it.  The idea of a community, a college community that is, as this one is, a very tight community.  And to think of these parents that we just met, whose children are here, who they were so proud of, whose children were doing so well.  And then to hear that they were one of the ones. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know, I said yesterday that this should be a sanctuary.  And I think what makes this different is that a parent or a loved one thought their child was, you know, learning to enrich their lives, and the next thing is they are dead.  And it‘s just the shock and the suddenness and the location that makes this a very, you know, traumatic experience for not only those who lost a loved one, but the whole community here.

It is an interesting place here.  I don‘t know if you sense this, but I certainly have, that Virginia Tech is a viable, strong community.  And it‘s going to require this viable, strong community to help—help people recover.

WILLIAMS:  You have two daughters who are now out of college.  I have a daughter who is a freshman now.  With that as context, what do we do about these guns? 

G. BUSH:  My attitude is, you know, there is going to be plenty of time for debate and a political discussion and a policy discussion.  And now is not the time.  I am more interested in helping people heal right now, and that‘s why we are here.  And there will be, as I say, there is going to be a lot of discussion like there has been after other incidents about what is the right policy and the wrong policy.

The right thing now is for this county to pray and help these people heal. 

WILLIAMS:  Is this not a part of homeland security?  By that, I mean, the early reporting indicates that these guns may have been legally purchased.  This young man may have waited the mandatory month-long waiting period, and if it turns out that it‘s the classic profile of a loner who exhibited trouble, isn‘t that a trend that deserves now more resources?

G. BUSH:  Well, I don‘t know what you are talking about spending money on, but it is certainly something people ought to pay attention to.  In other words, and that‘s one of the things that after the Amish school shooting, we had a symposium, and one of the things the experts told us was that adults need to be paying attention to different kind of behavioral patterns.  You can‘t predict obviously, but you can discern if somebody needs help and/or is the type of personality that may act up.

This is a difficult situation here, Brian, because there is 20,000-something kids who go to school here, and 10,000 professors or whatever.  I mean, it‘s a lot of people in and out.  It‘s, you know, it is just a terrible tragedy. 

And I was impressed by the spirit I found here.  It‘s pretty interesting, at the very end of the service—and I know you are witnessing it—to see the English professor get up and she gave...

L. BUSH:  Nikki Giovanni, she was terrific. 

G. BUSH:  Unbelievably spirited address.  And then the student body, the faculty, yeah, they got up and just, you know, they basically said, you are not going to get our spirit.  And I was impressed. 

WILLIAMS:  Mrs. Bush, Columbine had an incalculable effect on children the age of our daughters. 

L. BUSH:  This will have a huge effect too, and on little children.  So it is really important for parents to reassure their kids.  Some children will be afraid to go school, especially little children.  Older students, college-age students, probably will realize the randomness of this, and also ways they can protect themselves if they ever happen to be in a similar situation. 

But on the other hand, children—we—all of us, adults, need to listen to children, teachers and counselors and parents and pastors, and we really need to listen to their concerns and try to let them know that they are loved and that many people are working to make sure they are protected. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. President, final question.  So you do not see a leadership or a federal role for you at all in the aftermath of this mass shooting, beyond trying to heal the immediate feelings? 

G. BUSH:  Oh, I think we ought to make sure we understand the facts. 

And as I said, there will be an ample policy debate. 

But Brian, you are talking to a man who has been—came to this school to help this school heal.  My biggest concern at this moment is to help the Virginia Tech community recover.  And if my presence and my three minutes or words, or what it was, and spending time with those affected, or some of them who were affected, helps, that‘s all I can do at this moment.

But there will be ample time for these kinds of discussions.  Trust me, there is going to be a lot of debate.  And I understand it and will participate in it. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. President, thank you very much. 

G. BUSH:  Sir.

WILLIAMS:  For your time.  Mrs. Bush, always good to see you.

L. BUSH:  Thanks, Brian. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that was Brian Williams, of course interviewing the president and Mrs. Bush earlier today. 

Now let‘s get the latest tonight from Virginia Tech itself.  We‘re joined by NBC‘s Kevin Corke, who is in Blacksburg. 

Kevin, thank you for joining us tonight.  What are the things down there, the elements, the realities we can‘t see on television?  What does it feel like? 

KEVIN CORKE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  You know, it is almost like Columbine, in the sense, Chris, that it is enormous.  The magnitude of this story really defies imagination in so many ways.

I mean, we talk about tragedies, yes, we have been there, we‘ve done that.  But to this level, such incredible devastation in a town that is very small, as you know, very close nit.  Young people, all the promise of the world.  It is difficult to describe, really, for folks who have not been here, just how this has hit and impacted this particular community. 

One other thing I want to point out very early on is there has been a little bit of a debate, Chris, about why didn‘t they shut down the campus when they knew that they did not have a gunman in custody after the first shot.  And I just want to make sure that people understand this, especially people in New York who might have this perspective.

Think about Central Park.  It‘s 800 acres, 800.  Gigantic park.  This campus is over 2,600 acres, three times as large and more.  So you can imagine the enormity of that task, how difficult it might have been. 

There will be lots of time for questions and second-guessing.  But there are people here, the community in particular, that are simply saying, at this point, give us a moment to heal. 

MATTHEWS:  The president said that it is the time for that healing and not the time for a policy debate over a number of questions, but you have raised one, which is the local security question.  How good a job did the university do protecting its students after the initial shootings yesterday. 

But what about these two other questions that Brian Williams raised with the president and first lady?  The first being what do you do when you have a kid that looks like a profile of a kid who might go on a rampage?  And secondly, what do you do about the availability of these ammo clips that allow a person to impulsively fire off 75 rounds in just a couple of minutes, killing 32 people?

CORKE:  Difficult to say the least, Chris, and I come at this from a perspective of, look, you can‘t make the leap necessarily that if you have a car—that, you know, cars kill people.  Yes, these things happen.  But you can‘t ban all cars because cars sometimes kill people.  And yet, it certainly bears the argument that, look, the fact that people can walk into a pawn shop or walk into a gun store and get a gun—it is certainly going to be there for debate.  And I think you‘re going to see people play that debate out over the days ahead.

By the way, there is one other thing that I think will really raise eyebrows around here as this story begins to flesh itself out.  You may have noticed tonight, Lisa Myers made the point on “Nightly News,” and we confirmed this in our conversations with the Virginia state police—there was more than two hours after, a two-hour gap after the first shooting before the Virginia state police were even notified.  And even then, the university didn‘t say, look, send some cruisers, send some people, but the state police sent them anyway. 

That is going to raise some questions.  Look, why didn‘t you notify them right away?  Could they may have helped in maybe securing at least a perimeter, or scouting around and looking for this perpetrator?  These are questions that we‘re going to hear a lot more of in the days to come. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s great talking to you.  Kevin, Kevin Corke down in Blacksburg, Virginia.   

We will have more from the Virginia Tech campus later in the hour.  Coming up, reaction to Brian Williams‘ interview with the president.  We just saw it.  Let‘s talk about it with Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum.  They usually argue.  Maybe they won‘t tonight.  This is a somber time.

Plus, does the Virginia Tech massacre—and that‘s what we‘re calling it—make gun control an issue for ‘08?  I don‘t think so based on our conversation so far.  Even today, that issue, gun control, is politically too hot to handle.  We‘ll talk more about that in a moment, ahead.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will the Virginia Tech tragedy force Congress to debate more gun control?  What about the presidential hopefuls themselves?  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst, and Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst. 

Bob, we just heard the president and we heard others—Jack Kingston in the earlier hour—say this is no time to be talking policy.  It‘s a time for healing.  Is it a time to reexamine the availability of gun clips, of semi-automatic pistols, et cetera?  

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think it‘s a time for healing and a time for prevention.  The president talked about holding a symposium.  How about renewing the ban on assault weapons and on these ammunition clips that allow people to fire dozens and dozens of rounds in a few seconds?  And how about closing the gun show loophole?  The overwhelming majority of the country is for that.

And it wouldn‘t prevent every one of these tragedies, but it would prevent some of them.  And maybe these 32 kids losing their lives is a time when we ought to step back and see if we can transcend politics and find some middle ground here and adapt some rational policies that will save lives in the future.

MATTHEWS:  But Bob, when you were advising previous presidential

candidates, you know, Gore and Kerry, did you ever say we have got to push

Democrats have to push gun control as a presidential debate issue?  Or did you say, be careful with that issue? 

SHRUM:  Well, Al Gore did, and people argue that he was hurt by it.  He, for example, called for registering new handguns.  And lost West Virginia.  And if he had carried West Virginia—and I‘m not sure that‘s the reason he lost it—if he had carried West Virginia, Florida would have been irrelevant. 

Democrats have gotten afraid of this issue, but in the end, you know... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as a political—putting back your old hat on, as a person helping people win elections, would you say even in the aftermath of this, which—the afterglow of this will last for a few weeks, even, maybe a couple of months, maybe a couple of years—would you say it‘s safe now to trod on this very tricky terrain? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t think it‘s entirely safe, but I think it‘s entirely proper and I think it‘s the right thing to do. 

You know, Bill Clinton led on this issue when he was president of the United States, and I think Hillary Clinton could lead on this issue now. 

We‘re not—people are not talking about confiscating guns.  The NRA sometimes I think should be named the National Republican Assembly.  All people are talking about—and it‘s perfectly rational—is banning these assault weapons and banning these semi-automatic clips that let people kill dozens of other—dozens of their fellow citizens in a few seconds. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, is it a slippery slope?  People are afraid that if you go to get rid of—take reasonable steps against the availability of dangerous weapons and ammo belts et cetera, but you know, the next step will be confiscation? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first, let me just say that even the Democrats—the governor of Virginia himself said, look, let‘s not use this, exploit this tragedy to start riding the old hobby horses.  And the Democratic majority leader...

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t vote for Kaine. 

BUCHANAN:  No, but...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you quoting him? 

BUCHANAN:  Because I‘m saying the Democrats themselves—Harry Reid says, let‘s not have a rush to judgment.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s from Nevada!  This is what I‘m talking about.  Aren‘t they just afraid of the political fallout of raising the issue of gun control? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, some of them may be, Chris, but they look as liberals who are reflexive individuals, who immediately when something happens says let‘s take away everybody‘s guns. 

Look at what this kid did.  This kid went down there, he bought a gun, he filed off the serial numbers, he waited 30 days.  He carried it illegally onto campus.  He discharged it on the campus.  He murdered 30 people.  He was going to go to the chair or get himself killed, and he killed himself.  He is going to be stopped by a gun law? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, would he be stopped by the inability to get a hold of a gun that could fire 75 rounds in a couple of minutes? 

BUCHANAN:  Colin Ferguson—you had, excuse me, Ms. McCarthy on here

Colin Ferguson committed his mass murder on the Long Island railroad in the state that has the toughest gun laws in the nation.  That did not stop him. 

I think the president was exactly right.  He said, look, let‘s take a look at all this.  Fine, but let‘s not have this sudden rush to judgment and everybody bringing out their favorite hobby horse.   

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s listen to Brian, because he pressed him on it. 

Brian Williams pressed the president and the first lady on this very point. 


WILLIAMS:  So you do not see a leadership or a federal role for you at all in the aftermath of this mass shooting, beyond trying to heal the immediate feelings? 

G. BUSH:  Oh, I think we ought to make sure we understand the facts. 

And as I said, there will be an ample policy debate. 

But Brian, you are talking to a man who has been—came to this school to help this school heal.  My biggest concern at this moment is to help the Virginia Tech community recover.  And if my presence and my three minutes or words, or what it was, and spending time with those affected, or some of them who were affected, helps, that‘s all I can do at this moment.

But there will be ample time for these kinds of discussions.  Trust me, there is going to be a lot of debate.  And I understand it and will participate in it. 


MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, I know you remember when Bob Kennedy was killed by a handgun in Los Angeles.  People like me wrote their congressman and said, do something about it.  We have these periods of heated discussion and then they fade because people who care about guns, Second Amendment people, think about it all year round, and people that are concerned about gun violence may be concerned about it right after a tragedy.  The people who win tend to be the people who are year-round concerned about the Second Amendment.

SHRUM:  I think that‘s true.  We have had a roll call of death from President Kennedy to Robert Kennedy to Columbine to now Virginia Tech, and we have changed a little, then we‘ve gone backwards.  We‘ve never done what we need to do. 

For me, it‘s not a position I am taking as a result of this tragedy.  It is one I have believed in for a very long time.  Of course, it won‘t prevent every tragedy, but as I said, it will prevent some. 

What stunned me yesterday was that the president‘s first statement out of the White House press secretary expressed sympathy and shock, and then said, and by the way, I strongly support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  So the first person I heard inject policy into this was actually the president of the United States. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me take up your point, Chris, about California, and the murder of Robert Kennedy by that—I guess he was a Jordanian or a Palestinian...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  He had a political cause. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  That was back in ‘68. 

1992, when they had the mass riots, the Koreans were unarmed in their community and they were assaulted horribly.  Right after that, 500,000 guns were purchased in California, most of them by women, because they were terrified that the government in a situation like this could not protect them any more than it did the Koreans. 

You have got to understand the motivation when most folks in their homes who have guns, they are scared of a breakdown of law and order, and that is an enormously powerful thing.  They are not out to shoot or kill anyone.  They want to defend their family...

MATTHEWS:  How do we pass a law that allows a person to have a gun for protection in their home, but if they walk out into the street with it with a predatory purpose, we punish them with everything we got.  How do you do that? 

BUCHANAN:  You do if they walk with a predatory purpose.  But look, I mean, let‘s take another Virginian.  Senator Webb has a concealed carry permit.  In Virginia, you have got to go to a judge to get that, but he carries a concealed weapon permit.  What if one of the guys in that classroom was an off-duty cop with his gun?  I mean, then those kids might have had a chance. 


MATTHEWS:  Bob, respond to that point.  Do people need a Wild West ability to defend themselves when the law can‘t get there in time? 

SHRUM:  Yes, it sounds like Pat wants to create Dodge City.  And like he‘s saying...

MATTHEWS:  No, it already exists.  He‘s trying to give the good guys the same guns as the bad guys.

SHRUM:  No, no, it doesn‘t.  Let me tell you something, his solution appears to be that all these kids at Virginia Tech should have been armed and should have been carrying weapons in class.  Let me tell you, if we create that kind of society, we‘re going to create far more violence. 

Now, I want to say it again. 

MATTHEWS:  No, he didn‘t say that, Bob.

SHRUM:  No one is talking about taking away all guns... 

MATTHEWS:  (inaudible).  Pat said would it not have been good, felicitous, fortunate, if a former police officer who had the right to carry had been in that room at the time, and he was armed.  Wouldn‘t that be better than what happened?

SHRUM:  I don‘t think actually you can rescue him from saying earlier that 500,000 people in California, many of them women, went out and bought guns.  It sounds like he thinks the solution is for everyone to pack, so that somehow or other, if an attack occurs, you can fight back. 

I don‘t think that‘s the solution. 

Pat, why can‘t we ban assault weapons?  They are only used to kill human beings.  They can‘t be used to hunt! 

BUCHANAN:  Why don‘t you—look, you have advised eight presidential candidates; they have all gone down the tubes. 


SHRUM:  You know what, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  And you want to advise (inaudible) gun control...

SHRUM:  ... I never worked for a president of the United States who went to jail.  I never worked for a president of the United States who went to jail...


SHRUM:  ... scandal.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  We‘ll be right back.

SHRUM:  I would rather George McGovern—been with George McGovern who lost that election, than with Richard Nixon...

BUCHANAN:  Good for you.

SHRUM:  ... who tried to steal the Constitution. 

Now, let‘s talk about the issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to be right back with more with Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum, talking about the issues of Richard Nixon, George McGovern.  But more importantly, the tragedy of today and yesterday, and if can prevent—or, as Laura Bush said, is this one of those random occurrences that we can‘t do anything about.  That is sort of what she said, but we‘ll see when we come back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum. 

Let‘s take a look at what the governor of Virginia—you quoted him, let‘s watch him now.  Governor Tim Kaine, Democrat.  Here is what he had to say.  He was talking about the—his concern that people who are gun control advocates would use this tragedy to try to win more support for their position, and he thinks it would be what he calls a—what did he call it?  A hobby horse, he called it.  Let‘s take a look, in his own words, here is the governor—we don‘t have it yet.

Anyway, let‘s go to Bob.  What did you make of that, that he dumped on people who were gun control advocates even before they could be advocates this afternoon?

SHRUM:  I will say two things.  First of all, I‘m, as you know, I am not in this business anymore, and so I don‘t have to try to keep every Democrat in the country happy.  And I think there are a lot of Democrats who have made a purely political and politically driven decision that they‘re not going to deal with this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you can see that, Bob...


MATTHEWS:  ... by the press releases that did not go out today.  You saw that.

SHRUM:  Yes, absolutely saw it.  It is not a political hobby horse to stand up now and say, for example, let‘s ban assault weapons, or to have stood up last week and said it.  It‘s actually politically difficult.  The politically easy position to do and to take is to do what the governor of Virginia did. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, you‘re a Virginian.  Would he have been smarter to have said let‘s talk about that later, let‘s look at these ammo clips?

BUCHANAN:  Look, we‘re not down there.  This is a horror show down there.  Kids—I saw Van Zandt, who is a good guy, just about break down watching what‘s going on on campus.  They‘re going across there, people are crying.

And here comes a political question out of the box, and I understand the...

MATTHEWS:  The president raised it.

BUCHANAN:  I know he did, and I understand what the governor did.  He said, look, let‘s not get on the hobby horse now.  We‘re down here for healing.  You‘ve got to be there where they are.

And so I admire what he did. 

But look, if folks want to have a debate on it, let‘s have a debate.  If you have got arguments, bring them up.  You can bring them up.  Nobody is stopping folks. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, explain to me—let me—I‘m going to get something by you that both of you might agree with.  It seems to me that people who are in the NRA—let‘s take a look at the governor.  Let him speak for himself.  Here‘s the governor of Virginia, just a few moments ago, really. 


GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA:  You know, people who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride, I‘ve got nothing but loathing for them.  This is not a political hobby horse or a crusade or something for a campaign or for a fund-raising mailing.  At this point, what it‘s about is comforting family members, doing what can be done to make sure that they have the ability to see their family members, that bodies can be released to families, and helping this community heal. 


MATTHEWS:  Your response, Bob?

SHRUM:  Well, I agree with that, as a general proposition.  On the way to help the healing, however, the president made sure that he endorsed the NRA position, as did Senator McCain. 

You can‘t have it both ways.  You can‘t say, don‘t talk about policy, and by the way, I stand with the NRA.  I really—look, everybody in America is crying for these kids.  You look at them, and they look like people we all grew up with, people we know, people we care about.  But we also have to worry about the kids next time.  And that‘s why I think this is a time to see if we can find some middle ground.  Not to take people‘s guns away, but to get rid of these assault weapons or these ammo clips.

BUCHANAN:  Look, I agree with Governor Kaine and I understand his reaction, and I think his reaction was very tough.  Very tough.  But I think it was right in the circumstances in which he was there.  And I think the debate can take place here, it can take place on the Hill.  That is fine.  But for the folks down there, for the president of the United States down there and the governor down there, to have people—excuse me—get in their face and say, why aren‘t you leading on gun control; I think most people will find that offensive, Chris, whatever their—many of them, whatever their position is on gun control. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, thank you very much, Bob Shrum.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.

Up next, the latest on the gunman himself and why—well, we will never know for sure—why he went on this murderous rampage, the best we can figure out so far.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve been worrying about Governor Corzine‘s recovery. 

Ninety-one miles an hour, though.

Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s coverage of the massacre at Virginia Tech yesterday.  NBC NIGHTLY NEWS anchor and managing editor Brian Williams is at Virginia Tech right now.  Earlier today he interviewed President Bush and the first lady.

Brian, your reaction to the president‘s reaction?  He did not want to talk about gun control.

WILLIAMS:  No he did not.  Chris, while there have been accusations that during the first day of this story, the conversation way too quickly became about—especially on the Web and somewhat on the air, red states, blue states, gun laws and all of that while we had 33 dead people on this campus.

The president was saying what a good number of other people were saying.  There is time for that debate.  It has become germane because it has become part of the public conversation.  The balance between the rights contained in the Second Amendment and the right of these college students to enjoy what are often the best four years of someone‘s life, say nothing of those who were here in grad school.

So, no, the president was having none of the political conversation today.  We heard the quote from the governor of Virginia on this same topic today.  And after all, he was here to kind of lead in the morning and assist in the morning in this very sad place.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are famous, Brian, for knowing more facts than most people do when they debate these issues and one of the facts at hand here is not the general question of whether we should have a Second Amendment but whether we should have kept the law that was already on the books involving these many bullet clips, these 15 bullet clips, whatever.

Isn‘t that the debate now where it stands?  Whether we should have continued that law or not?  Not a generalized discussion about gun control.

WILLIAMS:  In some quarters it is.  I was en route here yesterday afternoon when—I already saw the first debate on the Internet, Chris, making this red versus blue state.  It has happened again.

It was unseemly but of course in the Wild West of our electronic life, who is going regulate—you cannot regulate that kind of taste.

Here again, yes, we have a .22 and we have a 9 millimeter.  Both apparently purchased - well we know about the 9 millimeter.  It was purchased within the law.  Nothing untoward about the purr chase.  And the waiting period, of course, was enforced in this case.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go the other aspect of this story as it develops.  Perhaps it is going to be the emerging, number one back story.  That is the psychological stresses of students and perhaps more stress on the student from abroad who comes into a new culture trying to learn English as his major.  That going be one of the stories.

The fact that this student did evidence - in fact he said on the e-mail something like, I am going kill people at VTech today.  Where there earlier signs that should have been noted and acted on?

WILLIAMS:  Well that is what - they are now combing this campus.  Now that they have a name and a face and an identity they are going back over all those who had contact with this gunman.

And it has become almost cliched after a paroxysm of violence in this country where we hear these buzz words, Chris, like loner.  The troubled past.  The signs, once they canvas the friends and associates come forward and say, you know, I did see an idea that something bad was coming.  A ticking time bomb is the phrase you always hear.

I asked the president, is this not part of a kind of homeland security?  If this is an identifiable trend.  Is this something resources can be put into to prevent this kind of thing on college campuses?  That is what the discussion will become, now, on college campuses.

MATTHEWS:  You know as well as anyone that the president was scored heavily by political opponents and by the media for his failure to arrive in New Orleans quickly after the tragedy down there of a very different kind.  Do you—can you report that the president is aware of that sensitivity and for that reason among others he showed up so quickly at the site of the horror here in Virginia?

WILLIAMS:  Well this was a very, very quick appearance for him.  Little more than 24 hours after the incident.  You‘re right, his first view of the destruction of Katrina was really the left dipped wing on Air Force One.  He came down at the end of that first week.  In the defense of the White House they always say the same thing for good reason.

And if you saw this motorcade here today and heard the fighter jets that came overhead quite low this morning and then choppers that carried him away this evening, you know you have been around these traveling road shows.  He cannot travel by himself.  And it is a spectacle.

They do not want to affect anything on the ground and in Katrina their response was they did not want to take away any resources from the recovery.  So it is up to us to take that on face value or not.

MATTHEWS:  What did you take of the first lady‘s reference to this incident as random?  I guess that means that anyone could be a victim of it but do you think she might have implied that these kinds of things just happened or was it just simply that you never know who is going be hurt by them?

WILLIAMS:  I took it to mean that, you know, but for the grace of God children walk around feeling safe and happy on college campuses every day and for reasons known but to someone else, this is where this terrible thing hit.  That this was a beautiful, albeit windy day here in the Blue Ridge Mountains on this campus.  A very insular community of 26,000 and now this—now they will be known for this.

There are still students walking around that have not seen a lot of this coverage and when you say to them, how does it feel to be forever associated with this largest act ever of gun violence in the United States, they have not heard it put that way yet.  And they are still coming to grips with how that terminology sounds.

MATTHEWS:  How we all wish they were still known for basketball. 

Brian, thank you for joining us.  NBC‘s Brian Williams .

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  At Virginia Tech for us tonight.

Up next, the mood of the students of Virginia Tech.  We‘re going to talk to the editor.  This is going to be very important.  The editor of the campus newspaper.  I love talking to college newspaper editors.  They know what they are talking about and they are one of the people most involved.

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We are back with HARDBALL‘s coverage of the massacre at Virginia Tech.  Today more details emerged about the gunman and how he got his weapons.  This as President Bush joined the Virginia Tech community to begin the healing process.  Here now is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.


DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As students gathered in mourning today at Virginia Tech, investigators and campus police identified the shooter.  Cho Seung-Hui, originally from South Korea was 23 years old and a member of the senior class.

CHIEF WENDELL FLINCHUM, VIRGINIA TECH POLICE:  Cho was enrolled as an undergraduate student in his senior year as an English major at Virginia Tech.  Cho was in the U.S. with a residence established in Centreville, Virginia and was living on campus in Harper Hall.

SHUSTER:  One professor who had Cho as a student described him as troubled and said that based on his writings and behavior in class Cho had been sent to the university‘s counseling service.

As investigators began poring through the records, today police provided new details about Cho‘s deadly rampage.  They say it began with Cho in an agitated and angry state of mind towards a female student.  Just after 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, Cho went into West Ambler Johnston, a freshman dormitory.

There officials say Cho shot and killed the woman he knew and also shot to death the resident advisor.  Two hours later Cho went into Norris Hall, a science and engineering building.  Armed with both a nine and .22 millimeter (sic), Cho chained some doors to keep students from leaving and then Cho went classroom by classroom on the fourth floor, emptying his weapons and reloading, killing several people at point-blank range.

TREY PERKINS, SHOOTING WITNESS:  He ran in, he shot our professor and he—we all just got on the ground really quick and he just continued to shoot.

SHUSTER:  Today President Bush ordered flags across the nation lowered to half staff.  This afternoon the president spoke at the campus memorial service.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you.  And asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected.

SHUSTER:  Amidst the grief, strong questions remain.  After the initial shooting it took two hours for university officials to notify students of any potential danger.

CHARLES STEGER, VIRGINIA TECH PRESIDENT:  I think we did everything we could based on what we knew at the time, as you appreciate you only have minutes to take these actions.

SHUSTER:  There are also questions about how Cho obtained his weapons.  Law enforcement officials say that based on a receipt found in Cho‘s backpack, he purchased one of the guns last month.  But both weapons, according toe officials, had the serial numbers filed off.  A step taken when somebody wants to eliminate any trail of ownership.

As a permanent legal resident Cho was able to purchase a semi automatic handgun unless he had ever been convicted of a felony.  Furthermore, under Virginia law, there is no waiting period for buying a weapon.  You don‘t have to register gun with police, there is no license required and no safety training.

Several students said that Cho seemed quite experienced.  Calmly and efficiently reloading his two weapons.

Investigators have recovered a not that Cho left in his dorm room, a note in which Cho listed random grievances but few details were available.

The Virginia Tech community is receiving an outpouring of support and condolences.  But the emotions are raw and the grief remains heavy.

And even as details emerge about the killer, the question students keep asking is, why us?  I am David Shuster for HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Joining me now is Amy Steele, editor in chief of the Virginia Tech student newspaper “The Collegiate Times.”  Amie you are the editor of the paper.  Tell us what the feeling is, what are the questions that students are asking right now.

AMIE STEELE, EDITOR, VA TECH “COLLEGIATE TIMES”:  Right now I would say campus is just sort of confused.  The students are just wondering how this sort of thing could happen in Blacksburg.  Blacksburg and Virginia Tech are both very small and tight knit communities and it is baffling to think this sort of thing could happen here.

I know a lot of people on this campus question why did the university take so long to contact students and let them know something had happened on campus and that is something we‘re looking to solve right now.

MATTHEWS:  Someone pointed out on the program tonight that you could argue that and maybe that‘s the right argument but your campus is very extensive, it is 23,000 acres or something.

Is it possible to put out an all points bulletin that all the students would benefit from in that two hour period?  Would it have been possible to warn everybody?

STEELE:  That is the students‘ argument right now.  They are asking if, would maybe more students been notified or shut down campus after the first shooting.  Would there have not been anyone in Norris at the time if they have evacuated campus after the first incident.  That means the 30 or so people that we killed in Norris, the numbers might be much, much lower.

MATTHEWS:  Is that where you stand or have you taken a position as a newspaper?  Is it your position as a paper that they could have notified the student body, and even over a 2,600 acre campus could have saved lives?

STEELE:  The newspaper has not taken a side in this issue as of yet.  We are waiting to hear all of the information come out and then we are going to take stance later on in the week.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the question of the student‘s psychological health.  Is there a perception among your fellow students that he was a troubled student?

STEELE:  Those the are the reports coming out as of now.  The latest I have heard is that was a professor who is in the English department in which he was an English major, that there are troubling papers, stories, things of that nature that were turned in as assignments that have just been described as troubling and very upsetting.

So apparently this is something that maybe had been ongoing.  As of now we have not found anyone who seems to have been friends with him.  The university is describing him as a loner.  So that is the problem we are running into right now is trying to find anyone on the campus that actually knows him.

MATTHEWS:  How unique is that?  I went to college years ago and there were kids that were loaners.  I was, too, once a while.  You see people walking alone.  They do not sit with anyone at lunchtime.  They look down.  That is not the same as being dangerous though.  Do you have a sense that there was a fear that this young student, this senior actually could explode like this?

STEELE:  That is something that we are all wondering right now.  We are just trying to get to the bottom of this and wonder what exactly happened.

MATTHEWS:  What about guns?  Do—does it surprise you that a student at your school, at Virginia Tech had a gun—had a couple of guns—with these semiautomatic guns that could allow them to shoot so many rounds off so quickly?  Does that surprise you that a student was armed with such a dangerous weapon?

STEELE:  It is very, very surprising.  I feel that those weapons are probably difficult to get.  I mean, they are serious weapons.  They are not just anything you have laying around.

As far as being surprising, that I am not sure.  I do not really know any statistics of how many students own guns or anything like that.

Another issue that is coming up now, obviously is a ban on owning hand guns.  Many people are coming out saying if there was a ban and people could not own hand guns then this would not have occurred.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.  Good luck with your writing career.  Good luck with journalism.

STEELE:  Thank you, I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  You are, unfortunately for us all, at the center of the action right now.  Thank you.


MATTHEWS:  The editor of the “Collegiate Times,” the campus newspaper at Virginia Tech.  When we return, NBC‘s Justice Department, Pete Williams, our correspondent from the Justice Department brings us the latest on what we know about the gunman.  Let‘s get the inside, not just the profile. Who was Cho Seung-Hui.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  More now on the gunman himself, identified as a 23-year-old senior English major from South Korea, Cho Seung-Hui.  He is a legal resident of this country with a green card.  NBC‘s justice correspondent Pete Williams has more.  He has been looking into the young man‘s background.  Pete, give us a sense of this fellow.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, as you have been talking with the student journalist there, many described him as emotionally troubled, and those who knew him are saying that all of the warning signs were there.


P. WILLIAMS (voice-over):  Just over a month ago, federal investigators say, Cho Seung-Hui walked into this gun shop in Roanoke, Virginia, about 40 miles from the Virginia Tech campus and bought a nine millimeter pistol, a 50 round box of ammunition, and a 15 round magazine for loading the gun.

It was that gun, investigators say tonight, that he used to fire many of his shots in the classroom building where 31 people were killed including himself.  The gun shop owner told DATELINE NBC today he paid with a credit card.

JOHN MARKELL, GUN SHOP OWNER:  I feel despair over what has happened. 

I could not have done anything any different.  The law was followed.

P. WILLIAMS:  He bought the other gun he had in the shootings, a .22 caliber Walther P 22 a month earlier at a pawnshop in Blacksburg, Virginia.  As a permanent legal resident, she was legally entitled to buy them.  The man who authorities say committed the worst mass shooting in American history was born in South Korea, came to the U.S. with his parents to Detroit in 1992 and moved with them to Centreville, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC.  Neighbors say his parents were friendly and outgoing.

ROD WELLS, LETTER CARRIER:  They were always polite, always kind to me.  Very quiet, always smiling, just sweet, sweet people.

P. WILLIAMS:  But at Virginia Tech teachers and investigators say Cho was a loner who did not feel like she fit in.  Classmates say he wrote short plays for a class about students who were angry about teachers and parents.  A former teacher says he seemed depress but refused to seek help on campus.

LUCINDA ROY, VIRGINIA TECH PROFESSOR:  I was told you cannot force someone to go counseling, so even though I called counseling trying to get everyone to force him to go over, their hands were tied, too.

P. WILLIAMS:  Investigators here say that things he had written were full of anger, saying that fellow students, quote, “You made me do this.”

Federal profilers who have examined his writings and his past say he is more remarkably like the students who fired on their classmates at Columbine High School.  They say Cho felt picked on and bullied, that he thought it was him against the world.


P. WILLIAMS (on camera):  And one former classmate, Chris, who was in the writing class says that students there thought he was so obsessed with violence they actually in class talked among themselves about whether he would some day be a school shooter.

MATTHEWS:  This raised the issue of gun control.  Apparently the White House put out word yesterday that this is not a Second Amendment debate time.  Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia said let‘s not get back up on our hobby horses and be talking about this.

Do you sense this will re-arouse that debate?

P. WILLIAMS:  I think it will re-arouse the debate, yes.  Whether it will make any difference, I do not know.  As you well recall, Congress struggled mightily to produce the Brady law, and there does not seem to be an appetite for changing the gun-control laws.

And he bough them legally anyway, so I don‘t know what those changes would be, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great having you.  Thank you very much, Pete, on this grim night.  Tonight, in Blacksburg, students are gathering for a candlelight vigil.  HARDBALL will return tomorrow.  Our coverage continues now of the massacre at Virginia Tech.



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