Meet the Press - May 29, 2022

Roland Gutierrez, Cedric Alexander, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Tony Montalto, Cory Booker, Pat McCrory, Cornell Belcher, Ashley Parker, Ali Vitali

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: The tragedy in Texas.

KIMBERLY RUBIO:

It just keeps happening, and nobody does anything about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Another mass shooting.

POLICE RADIO:

We’ve got a six-year-old female with a gunshot wound to the right side of her face and jaw.

CHUCK TODD:

Another grieving community.

ANGEL GARZA:

How are you going to look at this girl and shoot her?

CHUCK TODD:

Another political debate about what to do about guns in America. From Democrats:

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY:

What are we doing? Why are you here, if not to solve a problem as existential as this?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

No amount of bloodshed seems to be enough for MAGA Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

And from Republicans:

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Let states decide what they want to do in their particular states.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals the Democrats have, none of them would have stopped this.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, growing questions about why police on the scene took so long to stop the shooter.

STEVEN McCRAW:

Of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision. Period.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning we'll hear from Democratic Senator Cory Booker, and the former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, about the easy availability of guns. I'll talk to a former police chief about how the rescue attempt went so terribly wrong, with the state senator who represents Uvalde, a former mayor of Baltimore, and a Parkland parent of a child killed in that school shooting, and to our panelists: Cornell Belcher, Ashley Parker and Ali Vitali. Welcome to Sunday and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning, and I hope you're managing to enjoy a bit of this Memorial Day weekend. Sadly, though, it's become our uniquely American ritual of words after each episode of this uniquely American serial tragedy: “Thoughts and prayers.” “Nothing we can do.” “No law would have stopped this.” “The real problem is mental illness.” “If only the victims had been armed.” “More thoughts and prayers.” How do we allow an 18-year-old -- in this case Salvador Ramos -- to buy assault rifles and accumulate more than 16-hundred rounds of ammunition? All legally, mind you. Whether it's guns or climate change or protecting our democracy, we no longer have a politics that can meet these crucial moments that we face. Will the deaths of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas change things? Unlikely. The murder of first-graders at Sandy Hook didn't. No member of Congress has been voted out of office for being too pro-gun. Not one. So until the majorities who claim they want tougher background checks and to get assault weapons off the street vote like they mean it, we can expect to hear more calls for thoughts and prayers. And that's it, because this current version of the Republican Party is being held hostage by a vocal minority obsessed with an absolute right that does not exist. In the days following this massacre, deeply troubling details of this botched police response have emerged. Here's the timeline as we now know it, according to police right now.

[START TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

11:28: After shooting his grandmother, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos drives his car into a ditch, emerges and shoots at two people outside of a nearby funeral home. 11:30: The first 911 call. An officer heads to the area, unknowingly driving past the suspect. 11:31: Ramos enters the grounds of Robb Elementary School and fires multiple rounds outside the school. 11:33: Police say Ramos enters the school through a propped open door and starts firing at least 100 rounds. Originally, police say an armed officer engaged Ramos upon entry.

STEVEN McCRAW:

There was a brave consolidated independent school district resource officer that approached him, engaged him.

CHUCK TODD:

But now …

VICTOR ESCALON:

He was not confronted by anybody, to clear the record on that.

CHUCK TODD:

11:35: Uvalde Police officers enter the school and are grazed by bullets from the gunman. 12:03: 19 officers are in the hallway. Now, the first 911 call comes from inside the classroom with the shooter. A student reports multiple people dead.

SCENE BYSTANDER:

They say there’s a lot of injury?

CHUCK TODD:

Officers do not enter the classroom. The school district chief of police assesses that children are no longer at risk, despite the calls coming into 911 reporting students still alive in the classroom.

STEVEN McCRAW:

Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period.

CHUCK TODD:

Outside, concerned parents beg officers to do more.

LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER:

Get across the street. Get across the street.

MAN AT SCENE:

You know that there are kids, right?

CHUCK TODD:

12:15: Border Patrol tactical squad arrives but are told by local law enforcement to wait to go after the gunman, according to two senior federal law enforcement officials. For the next 35 minutes, several more 911 calls are made by two students inside the room – on which operators can hear shots being fired. But little else is known about this period. 12:50: Law enforcement uses keys from the janitor to open the classroom door and kill the suspect.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde. Senator Gutierrez, welcome to Meet the Press, sir.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I know you've spent a lot of time with some of the families of the victims. Just relay some of the conversations that you've had, some of the – some of the frustrations, the anger, the grieving, whether it's on the response time or the fact this happened in the first place.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Chuck, this has been an incredible episode over the last three days. These families are destroyed. Yesterday, I met with yet another family. And the father, outside of his home, he couldn't let go. And I couldn't let go of him. We were both just crying at the time. It was so, so devastating. That particular conversation, their little girl had been shot in the back with one bullet, through the kidney area. She likely bled out, according to the first responder. Who's to know what would have happened to that little girl, had officers showed up, timely? Had they gone in, timely? So I'm not blaming anybody, but we have to have accountability as to what happened, and who was there at what times and which agencies take operational control, when. Those are big questions for me, going forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think there should be – someone should be held criminally account for the poor response?

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Listen, I think certainly for me in Texas going forward, I don't know that there should be criminal negligence or anything like that, or criminal accountability, but we have to make sure that this never happens again, because you and I both know there's probably going to be one of these instances happening again in this state and others. We have to learn from this for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this a gun problem –

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

We have to make some changes.

CHUCK TODD:

– or a security problem?

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Oh, this is absolutely a gun problem. And it's all of those things. It’s a – Abbott thinks it's a mental health problem. Sure it is. Well, then go fund it properly. We're dead last in mental health funding in the United States. You know, we've got a crisis of infinite proportions in these United States. But at the end of the day, if we don't have accessibility to militarized weapons, this doesn't happen, just like it doesn't happen in the rest of the world.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, your career –

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

They still have mental illness in England and Asia.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Go ahead, I’m sorry.

CHUCK TODD:

Your – your career – fifteen years, you've been in elected office in the state of Texas, in the House and the Senate. And I've actually been really focused on the last 15 years of gun legislation in the state legislature. An astonishing amount of lifting of regulations on guns has taken place over the last 15 years. I'm putting on screen just what has been done in 2021 to weaken gun laws in the state of Texas. Can you explain why there is this fervent attempt every legislative session to find some way to send a message that, "Hey, we're going to weaken gun regulations in this state, whether it's a hotel, a car?” I mean, all sorts of bizarre pieces of legislation that get thrust upon you guys in the legislature.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

You know, I can’t imagine what the fealty is to the NRA. I can only suppose that it's money to fund their campaigns, and I say "they" being my Republican colleagues in the House or in the Senate. At the end of the day, what has happened over these years has been simply preposterous, culminating last session with their open carry bill. Not one law enforcement agency -- everybody in Texas -- every law enforcement agency said "don't do this." I gave a closing argument on that bill. I said because of this bill, kids are going to die. I never thought that that bit of hyperbole was going to happen in my community. I never thought.

CHUCK TODD:

What are you going to say to the president today if you get a chance? What do you want him to do?

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Well, I want him to comfort the people that he's going to visit with. That's first and foremost. I want him to assure, as I have, that we're going to have the necessary resources for them going forward. No family in the United States should have to go what these – through what these folks are going through. It is – these people are destroyed. They lost their 10-year-old children. Some of these folks, they lost their only child. It's horrible. Secondly, to make sure that we have the resources we need going forward, we’ve talked about a grant already to raze this school. We're looking at things that are going to make – try to bring – make people whole, but you and I know that we're never going to be able to bring these children back. And so he's doing what he needs to do. I appreciate all the effort. It's more than we've seen from our governor.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Gutierrez, again, who represents the district. I know you're from San Antonio, but you represent Uvalde there. Appreciate you coming on and spending a few minutes with us. Thank you.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, we want to broaden our discussion out a little bit. We're going to continue this about guns and school safety with three people whose lives and jobs have been directly impacted by gun violence. Cedric Alexander is the former police chief of DeKalb County, Georgia, which is largely in suburban Atlanta; Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a former mayor of Baltimore; and Tony Montalto lost his daughter, Gina, in the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. As president of Stand With Parkland, Montalto has pushed for increased background checks and for a federal red flag law. Look, I'd like to start with you, Cedric. I want to put up a quote here from an active shooter prevention expert that the Washington Post had, and this is what he said about what happened there. I want you to sort of break down what happened in the response here. He said, "The first responding officer – I don't care if it's the Deputy Dawg cartoon guy – he goes in and he stops the shooter. That's just part of the job. … You've got a ballistic vest. You know what the kids have? Crayons. You are duty bound to do something. If something is telling you to stay outside, you disobey that order." Is he correct?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER:

Well, here's what has to happen is this: in those events, and certainly we found this out post-Columbine, officers on that scene who arrive first, you go inside that building. You follow that gunfire. And the whole intention is here is to move that gunfire away from those innocent victims, who are innocent and who are defenseless. You move that gunfire towards you. You have an opportunity to win that gun battle. There is no other option. There's nothing else to talk about. That's what we have to do today.

CHUCK TODD:

It looks, in hindsight, as if you had a bunch of first responding officers –

CEDRIC ALEXANDER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

– who perhaps feared they were out-gunned. Is that what you think may have happened?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER:

Well, I don't know what was going through their minds and heart, but here's what I do know: is that when you respond to that, to that scene, that is your training. That's what you've been training to do for the last 23 years. So, that's what you do. Whether you go in there, you take whatever you've got with you, and you go in there and you deflect that gunfire away from you. These innocent babies had absolutely nothing, nothing, so it is your responsibility, it's my responsibility, if I'm the incident commander or I'm the last person hired, I've got to go in there. I've got to deflect that gunfire. I've got to follow that and find that target and I've got to neutralize that target as quickly as I can until other help comes. That’s what I was sworn to do. That's what I get paid to do. Is it dangerous? Yes, but it comes with the territory.

CHUCK TODD:

Tony, you've been advocating figuring out some ways to so, to give more access to security assessments for schools. Explain what you think could be the answer for schools.

TONY MONTALTO:

Well, it's a multi-faceted problem, Chuck. Stand With Parkland looks at securing the campus, better mental health screening and support programs, and finally, if you choose to own one, responsible firearms ownership. We've worked with the U.S. Secret Service and its National Threat Assessment Center to go around the country and educate and train local school staff, local law enforcement and local mental health professionals on the results of their studies, which are behavioral threat assessment process. And this threat assessment process identifies children who are exhibiting troubling behavior, and then it gets them the help they need long before they resort to violence. That's the key, is being proactive and preventative. And then we also need to have a monitoring piece where we monitor them and make sure that they're on track for the best possible outcome.

CHUCK TODD:

We had two – we've had two 18-year-olds in the last month, okay, legally purchase these weapons. This is not illegal. Legally do this. Would this have prevented this?

TONY MONTALTO:

Well, in the New York case, he was subject to a threat assessment, but they failed on the monitoring piece, so that might have helped stop that. The shooter this week in Uvalde – which we feel for the families, without a doubt – that shooter had some information that he put out online. And if someone had come forward and mentioned that, we might have seen some intervention before the tragic loss of life.

CHUCK TODD:

Stephanie, I invited you on because I wanted to – this gun problem we have in America is – we focus on it when there are mass shootings, but it's every day. There’s not a city in America – there's something like, I think, only two states that, where gun violence is down, not up.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

It is a horrible problem of gun violence and, you know, sometimes I feel like with the division in our country, we want to talk about, is it the violence in our cities or the mass shootings? It's all of it. It’s, it is dealing with a complex problem with complex solutions. I think part of it starts with us owning who we are as Americans. I think sometimes we need to find mirrors that work in our country because too many people look in the mirror and see – they think they see someone who values life, but if you say you value life and you let these babies die and do nothing, and you can, your mirror is broken. So, I really think we need to start looking for ways that parents and people who have been impacted by the daily violence and these mass shootings can come together and, and work with our elected officials on some real common sense gun reform.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask all of you, though, Cedric, is this a gun problem or a security problem?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER:

It's a combination of it all, but it certainly is a gun problem in this country. And we've got to find a way to get our arms around this, particularly with assault rifles. There are assault rifles that are out there. You're talking about high velocity, 3,000 feet per second tools of nothing but destruction. What's the purpose of them being out on our streets? And police quite frankly, being a former police chief twice, that is one of the most – if anything keeps me up at night, it's knowing that the possibility of my officers and people in the public are going to have to come in contact with these weapon – this type of weaponry. And there needs to be a real conversation around these assault rifles and how they're so easily, easily attained by anybody who wants them. You don't have to go to a gun store, Chuck. You can find them on the street at this very moment in any city, U.S.A.

CHUCK TODD:

Stephanie, do you feel like law enforcement in Baltimore is out-gunned?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

I think law enforcement in, across the country is out-gunned. We have more guns than people in this country, so I don't think there's any way to look at those numbers without seeing that we're out-gunned. And we're out-gunned in a country that says, if you listen to the polls, that, that the vast majority of us believe in responsible gun ownership. So, I know it's possible for us to do better.

CHUCK TODD:

Tony, you have to live this tragedy over and over again, something you'll never get over.

TONY MONTALTO:

That's correct.

CHUCK TODD:

And I, and nobody should expect you to. Does the public need to be shaken more by its lapels? My friend, Jeh Johnson, has called for what he says is an Emmett Till moment, where Emmett Till's mother put the pictures of what happened to him, right, for all of us to see. Do people need to see this violence firsthand? And if that – is that something you'd be comfortable with as a parent?

TONY MONTALTO:

Personally, no, I would not be comfortable with that. It's terrible to lose your child or to lose your spouse, especially in a school shooting, where they should be safe. I would not want those pictures of my daughter out there and made public. Sadly, I may not have that choice as the trial of the killer proceeds in Florida. But Cedric talked about the power of those weapons. People who shoot them, people who like them should imagine what they do to the bodies of children in schools. We do need to have a look at ourselves. And what we really need is to stop pandering to the folks on the far right and the folks on the far left. We need to come together as an American family and do something about this problem. Congress has yet to act. We've seen President Trump and President Biden support red flag laws. Where is Congress acting on this? These are also proactive. They allow people who are concerned about someone to report them, have due process and then have the weapons removed before they resort to violence. And that's what we have to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you all for coming. Keep in mind, folks, they needed to do DNA match to identify some of these bodies in Uvalde. Thank you all. When we come back, I'm going to talk to Democratic Senator Cory Booker and the former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, about whether there's any hope for federal gun legislation that could make a difference. And as we go to break, we remember the 21 victims – 19 children, two teachers – who so tragically lost their lives on Tuesday.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Whenever there's a mass shooting, especially one involving children. We collectively ask, "Will this change anything?" Experience offers no reason for optimism. Still, a bipartisan group of senators has begun meeting with the very modest aims of expanding background checks and encouraging state red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. So, joining me now, are Democratic Senator Cory Booker, a strong proponent of limiting the easy access to guns, and former North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, who's been a supporter of gun rights and has had the endorsement of the NRA in the past. Both Senator Booker and Governor McCrory were also mayors of big cities. And I should add, we asked each of the Senate's 50 Republicans, every single one of them, to join us and none agreed on this weekend. Senator Booker, let me start with you. It looks like, if anything happens in the Senate, it will be very incremental. You have called for some bolder proposals. Is this the time, what is this time for? Incrementalism? To get something? Or bold, if it leads to nothing?

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Well, whatever we can get done. If it saves a life, it's worth doing. And so, my colleagues who are entering the bipartisan talks, I fully support that, but I'm under no illusion that we're going to do the things that need to be done, that the majority of Americans overwhelmingly support, Republican and Democrat, that can create significant safety. And we know, even though the CDC has been undermined by the gun lobby, where Senate Republicans won't allow, research, basic scientific research on gun violence, we know enough to know that there are things we can do that will dramatically lower gun violence. And so, the question is when will we do it. And the problem is, I return again and again, to how change has been made in America. When our children died, for example, a bombing in Birmingham, when four little girls died, the nation rallied. Movement continued until we demanded change and it was made. And those people who did not make the change, the Civil Rights Movement, Suffrage Movement, paid at the polls. Until that happens, we are going to see, at best, incremental change, but as far as a federal level, I'm not that hopeful.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, neither one of these laws, the red flag law or this expanded background check, would have done anything. Both of these 18-year-olds legally purchased everything they used, including the massive amount of ammunition and body armor. It feels like you're going to solve a problem that doesn't address the problem.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Well, again, this is not a one-move solution. There must be many things done. But we know background checks make a difference. We know gun licensing, supported by the majority of Americans, makes a difference. Heck, when Connecticut did it, their gun violence rate fell 40%. When Missouri got rid of it, their gun violence rate raised 20%. So, we know what works, but I am sorry, we are at a point in this nation where we are going to have to mobilize a greater movement. Just expressing regret or sorrow-- until the redemptive power of the love for all of our children is greater than the destructive power of the love of our guns and money and power, until that redemptive love of our children turns into action, then nothing is going to change. And so many generations before us knew this. As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand." If there's no struggle, there is no progress. We have got to begin to hold our congressional leaders more accountable for change.

CHUCK TODD:

What role should the White House play here? It looks like right now they're standing back and the president is not going to get involved in these talks because he wants to see what happens. But we’re getting to a point. But you know, I've heard from a lot of Democrats on the road who are sitting there going, "Hmm, voting rights? Nothing. Hmm, gun violence? Nothing. Abortion rights? Nothing." How concerned are you that there's this appearance-- it's not just an appearance anymore, that Congress is just functionally inept, incapable of dealing with the major problems facing this country?

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Well, first of all, when we say nothing has changed, it is a diffusing comment because things are changing. The kids from Parkland, Gabby Giffords's organization, Moms Demand Action. They have changed dozens and dozens of laws all around this country, state after state, that is making a difference. That movement is growing. And I say it's like judging the 1950s Civil Rights Movement as not great--

CHUCK TODD:

[INAUDIBLE]

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

It took many--

CHUCK TODD:

This is decades long, you believe.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Sometimes longer. We just passed legislation to get, to make lynching illegal. It took a century to do it. But I think this is a movement that is growing. And I think what we need now is not professions of impotency or despair. We need people that are going to choose to do the hard work of organizing and galvanizing like the Civil Rights Movement, the Suffrage Movement, LGBTQ Movement, to save our children's lives. We have to have people get off the sidelines and get into the arena.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you a quick question on police reform. Your negotiating partner here, Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, put out an interesting, what I would call a backhanded compliment, on the president's executive orders. He seemed to be supportive of him and he simply said, "The fact is Democrats used a filibuster they call racist to block my reforms that they're now embracing." Was it qualified immunity? Was that the sticking point and why you guys were in agreement on about 80% of this, but that was the breaking point?

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

No. I mean, this is just like the issue we're talking about now. There's so much wide agreement. I was able to get the FOP who represents the majority of police officers in America-- we were able to come together around a bill, the International Association of Chiefs of Police come together around a bill. We should stop talking about the margins in this country. There are so many issues, from police reform to common sense gun safety, that the majority of us agree on it, but that's not enough. There has got to be more activism and engagement or we're going to lose our precious democracy. We are so out of step with the rest of the world. Everything we're talking about today does not happen in other countries, just here, because we tolerate it. And that's the question, is how much endurance do we have for horror and wretchedness, pain, and death, when we have the ability to change it and we just need more people engaged?

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Cory Booker, you and I have been on the show way too often--

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

--after these moments of tragedy. Thanks for coming on--

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--and giving your perspective.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me turn now to Pat McCrory, former governor of North Carolina, former mayor. I want to start with an old quote because I would like you to help explain to the viewers where the gun rights movement moved. In 1999, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA went to Congress and said this.

[BEGIN TAPE]

WAYNE LAPIERRE:

We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show, no loopholes anywhere for anyone.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Something has changed from then to now, where reasonable regulations were at least openly debated by gun rights officials. And now, you can't do anything without it looking like you're anti-Second Amendment. What happened?

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

Actually, the NRA I could argue is the more moderate gun group because if you go to many states, including my own in North Carolina, there are now some grassroots gun organizations that are making the NRA actually go more to the right on this issue and different from what the chairman or the president of the NRA has to say. So they're being pushed, politically, more to the right on this political issue, as President Trump was during his term, where he was going to institute some policies and then, he was pushed to reverse that decision. But, you know, I think we need to be very strategic in how we say this. One thing we can't have is the candidate from – the governor candidate in Texas saying, "We need to get rid of all guns," or, "We need to confiscate guns," because that's going to make people back into the corner even more and go, "Wait a minute. They're trying to take away our guns?" Because there's a reason for guns right now that people are buying them. In fact, right now, gun sales are up right now after this tragedy. And the reason –

CHUCK TODD:

But the gun manufacturers market the tragedy. I mean, that's what sort of grotesque about this, don't they? I mean, they are marketing towards this violence in a weird, in a weird, perverse way in order to increase gun sales.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

There's a feeling out there of an institutional breakdown, not just at the federal government level, but at the local and state also because we're all involved. And we were both mayors together at one time. And at that time, every one of our shootings that occurred when I was mayor, you'd take it personally. And you’d go find out the 17- or 18-year-old kid who was involved in the murder, who killed – you'd go back and find out that that incident could have been prevented long ago. There was a breakdown in the family. There was alcohol and drugs in the household. There was domestic violence. There was a dropout in school. There was violence in the school.

CHUCK TODD:

But that – every country in the world has these issues, but they don't have, they don’t have the easy access to the weapon.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

I don't know if every country in the world has what we're seeing of an institutional breakdown in all of our organizations. It's like spaghetti right now. No one's talking to each other at the local, state and federal level. We even saw this at the shooting, where we had all these different police agencies come, and they're not communicating with each other. Even with the 911 call, that's at the micro level. At the macro level, from the federal, state and local, it's just a disjointed policy and disjointed operation of that policy. And what we have right now, from a business standpoint, I'd look at it and go, "We've got angry young men who are doing most of these killings, whether it be in Chicago or whether it be in mass killings. It's angry young men. And we've got to target our resources towards these angry young men that you and I have seen killed or doing the killing, and then somehow prevent them from getting this, these weapons of mass destruction."

CHUCK TODD:

And I want to get to the weapon. Kevin Cramer, who's a Republican senator from North Dakota, basically he's been one of the few that sort of has admitted the political reality. He could support the most modest effort, maybe raising the minimum age to buy a weapon of war from 18 to 21, and he'd lose a primary, and he'd get walloped in a primary with this. Is that the bottom line here, why elected Republicans are afraid of touching gun regulation? They're willing to talk red flag laws. They're willing to talk all these other things. But they won't touch the guns.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

Well, I was the mayor for 14 years and I had reduced the murder rate by over 50% due to some tough law enforcement, and some mentoring and other programs. I lost the primary two weeks ago to a congressman who had a gun in his front trousers in a commercial.

CHUCK TODD:

In every TV ad.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

In every TV ad. And that was a more powerful message to the constituency voting in that primary. He was tougher. I was weaker. And yet, my record of accomplishment in fighting crime is unsurpassed.

CHUCK TODD:

But it's about the gun. It's not about the record.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

It's a symbolism. It's a symbolism. And right now, we’ve got, we've got people who don't trust the criminal justice system. We're letting criminals go. You see the DAs in LA, the DAs in some of these cities, where they're letting criminals go after crime, after crime, after crime. And people are going, "You know, I'm going to take this into my own hands. I'm going to protect my family. I'm going to protect my home. I'm going to protect myself in a car."

CHUCK TODD:

Is this a cultural problem? So what you're saying is a cultural problem.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

Absolutely. The violence is a cultural problem that this country must face. And it's got to be common sense. I agree with the senator. We've got to come up with some common sense solutions. I'll give you one quick example.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quick, we've got to --

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

Our sheriffs in North Carolina can do a red flag check on any handgun permit because they know who the troublemakers are. So they can turn down someone. I had to fight to keep that power for the sheriffs as governor.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, because they want to take all those things away, state after state. Pat McCrory, I appreciate it, and before that, Senator Booker. Thank you both. When we come back, we've heard a lot this morning about the epidemic of mass killings in the United States. Is there any reason to believe this time will be different? We're going to speak with the panel next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Ali Vitali; Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher; Governor Pat McCrory is back with us and Ashley Parker, the White House Bureau chief for the Washington Post. During the break, Senator Booker was actually reading our minds because he talked about all the advertising that features guns. And that's exactly what we put together, is a mash – Ali and Cornell – just how important guns are to Republican primary politics. Look at this mash of just – these are ads that are airing around the country right now.

[BEGIN TAPE]

J.R. MAJEWSKI:

And I'm willing to do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE:

In 2022, I'm going to blow away the Democrat Socialist Agenda.

GOV. KAY IVEY:

You don't know who's got what in their purse. Lipstick? An iPhone? Or maybe a little Smith & Wesson 38.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Ali, Kevin Cramer I think sort of said it best, right, which is, "This is all about the primary voter."

ALI VITALI:

Yeah. It's always all about the primary voter, though. I feel like this is one of the key litmus tests, when you look at Republican primaries, of how pro-gun are you? You cannot be too pro-gun in a Republican primary. So I think that's the permission structure if you're in an election year. But not everyone here in Washington is. And I think that it really does speak to the climate here on the Hill, especially where I spend my time, that none of these 50 Republican senators wanted to come on and talk to you at a time when, in theory, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has blessed this effort towards something bipartisan. And I think the thing that I looked at was McConnell's words. This is a guy who says what he means and very carefully means what he says. And what his blessing was, was directly related to the problem, so an outcome directly related to what happened here in Texas this time. So you look at the way that this group is bipartisanly breaking up the issues. Yeah, you're looking at school safety, you’re looking at background checks, you're looking at red flag laws. But like, if the mood on the Hill is so unoptimistic, there can be all the blessings that you want for these conversations. It just matters what actually happens.

CORNELL BELCHER:

I think when you look at that – those advertisements that are happening out there, it is – we can't decouple sort of what's going on with guns from what we see – the nationalist movement in this country. And, Chuck, it is, it is frightening to think that we are mixing easy gun access with the rise of nationalism and this toxic sort of hate, grievance politics, replacement politics. And we're lighting – and we’re mixing sort of easy access to assault weapons in this toxic mix. And my God, this cannot be the way forward for this country. And it's not a right or left problem, but you can’t – look at that nationalistic movement that you're seeing there. And we've got grievance politics, and we have replacement theory and, "Let's all grab assault weapons." This cannot be the way forward for this country.

ASHLEY PARKER:

And one thing that's fascinating is that the conventional wisdom, which used to be true, used to be that this is about the power of the NRA. That was potentially true after Sandy Hook, when they were trying to do Manchin-Toomey. I talked to a number of people who said, "If the NRA hadn't come out against it, they might have been able to get something done." Now, the NRA is incredibly weakened through errors of their own making. But it is now about, as Ali said, primaries in the Republican Party, and being an absolutist on the Second Amendment has become codified in that party. It is incredibly galvanizing. That's why you're seeing it in these ads. And I was talking to Senator Chris Murphy, who of course, guns are a personal passion project after Sandy Hook, after Buffalo, not even after this latest shooting, and his theory of the case, and it’s interesting, it'll be interesting to see what happens, is that Democrats need to try to make this as galvanizing for this side as Republicans have for theirs. And that will be the only way that things change. But it's unclear to me and to a number of Democrats if Democrats can do, make gun control as powerful as featuring guns in political ads.

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

I think it's fair.

CHUCK TODD:

Pat, put it, put it in political terms here. Look, I – my theory on why Mitch McConnell blessed this small effort is he's worried about suburban voters and Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta and perhaps Charlotte –

PAT MCCRORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

– meaning that you've got to look like you want to try to solve the problem. Your primary opponent, Ted Budd, is a gun-store owner. Does he – is this a negative for him in his general election or a positive for him?

FMR. GOV. PAT McCRORY:

That's going to be interesting because in the primary elections – you've got to remember, the demographics have changed in the last 25 years. Democrats used to have control of the rural voters in the old days, especially in the South. Now, that is almost all Republican voters. And in the rural areas, guns are a part of the culture. And I'm talking about law-abiding, good people who – guns are a part of the culture. And so there's no way with the congressional gerrymandering, and even in a U.S. Senate race – you know your votes are in the rural areas, are you going to say anything about guns because they're law-abiding citizens, primarily, who like guns and it's a part of their hunting, it's a part of their protection. But now, the urban centers, especially in Georgia and North Carolina, and you've got two Senate races now in the general election – one I wish I was in, but I'm not, that's life – you've got a different demographic. And it's going to be how the soccer mom responds to this. Now, in one way, the soccer mom is going, "I don't like this crime in our cities. And I'm, I’m mad at the DAs who – and the ‘Defund Police’" but they also don't like the major shootings. And so there's a conflict there.

CORNELL BELCHER:

It – can I get back in here a little quickly, because I want to pick up on both the points that Pat made. If this is not the year of the angry mom, I don't know what's going to be the year of the angry mom, right?

CHUCK TODD:

So true.

CORNELL BELCHER:

And the truth of the matter is --

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Whether it's shop – cost of living, school safety, all of those things.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Or, "How about you taking away my right to choose what's happening with my body," right?

CHUCK TODD:

And, "My body," right.

CORNELL BELCHER:

And if you look at – take the right to choose with it, I think there's an opportunity for Democrats. If Democrats make this election about anything except what's happening in our schools, and what’s happening, sort of, these mass shootings, and a woman's right to take care of her body. If they make it about healthcare, they make – but Democrats have historically run from this because they've been afraid of this issue. But it is now, I think, a galvanizing issue. Both choice – really quickly, you know, there's a non – there’s a nonpartisan group called The Highland Project. And they just did a poll of African American women. And those those African American women who are less likely to vote – once they heard about Roe v. Wade being overturned, 60% of them are now more motivated to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Good point.

ALI VITALI:

But I also think if you're going to put this in through a gender lens, I often look at the message and the messenger. And what a lot of female lawmakers pointed to after this mass shooting, but we've made the point, that a lot of these mass shooters are young men. There is a gender lens here that studies show that all of these young men have a common link of hating women. So there is a gender lens through this, too. Abortion, gun rights, all of these things. These are Democratic guardrails. It's whether or not they can galvanize them. You're right.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to pause the discussion here. And by the way, as we go to break, as we do every Memorial Day weekend here at Meet the Press, we want to remember the American service members who died in the line of the duty and since last Memorial Day. This list includes 13 killed in the terror bombing during the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. As has become routine, calls for more restrictive gun laws echoed across the country after this week's mass shooting in Uvalde. Gun control advocates want this time to be different. But if something is going to happen, it will likely need to happen fast. Let me show you why. Look, overall the country is more divided on guns than I think people realize. As you can see, when we've asked this question, 45% fear that politicians will go too far, 50% fear it isn't going to go far enough. Huge political divide here between the two parties. Essentially polar opposites here. Three quarters of Republicans fear that government will go too far. Now, if you ever want to see action on guns, the time to do it politically is right after one of these shootings. As you can see, right after Parkland, you saw 67% wanted more strict laws. After Sandy Hook, nearly 60%; after Columbine, 66%. But it does fade over time, and that's the important thing here. Look, when you throw out individual ideas: universal background checks, raising the age to 21, the three-day waiting period – all of this stuff is very, very popular. But I want to bring you back to the first polling number I showed you because three quarters of Republicans fear that government will go too far. And that is what happens in a Republican primary when any Republican advocates any of these ideas. When we come back, President Trump at the NRA convention changes his opinion on guns. He’s become more pro-gun. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. This was a week that was pretty tough on Donald Trump politically. But he was at the NRA convention, and here's what he sounded like on Friday when it came to the issue of guns.

[BEGIN TAPE]

FORMER PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Now, this won't come as a surprise, but Donald Trump was on another side of the gun issue not that long ago, when he actually was sitting president. This is after Parkland.

[BEGIN TAPE]

FORMER PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important. We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Not surprising, Donald Trump's been on every side of every major social issue in this country over the last 40 years. So not a surprise on this. But I think it goes to, is he leading his party or is he letting this wing of the party lead him?

ALI VITALI:

Well, even just taking what he did as president, again, there was this hope that he could move his party. And after Parkland what you had was there was what you just showed, there was he brought a group of bipartisan senators in. He turned to the Republican senators in the room and he said, "You have to stop being petrified of the NRA."

The next day he brought in a lobbyist from the NRA, a closed-door meeting. They both tweeted that it went great, and guns disappeared. And so in all of these issues Former President Trump has the impulse, as you said, to be on both sides of the issue. But he will always retrench back to where his base is. Because on these cultural issues, at the end of the day, he's afraid of them.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, though, Ali, even Texas's Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick thought, "Maybe this is the wrong week to go to the NRA convention." You know, this did seem to separate even sort of, "Okay, what's a bad look?"

ALI VITALI:

Well, kind of. I mean, Senator John Cornyn didn't go to the NRA either, but they made sure to make the delineation that that was a scheduling conflict that came before what happened in Uvalde.

CHUCK TODD:

How impressive, how they got that scheduling conflict before Uvalde.

ALI VITALI:

Right. And then of course you had Governor Abbott, who was trying to have it both ways by both appearing virtually, but not going physically in person. So yeah, certainly, this is one of those moments that separates in the moment.

But I still think that the larger permission structure in conservative politics is to be as conservative as possible on this. And on Trump, though, he was never, of course we've talked about the ways that he's not wed to much ideologically. He wants to go where the adoration will lead him. And in those rooms at his rallies, certainly this always got the largest cheers. But at the same time, the Republican Party doesn't need Trump to lead them on the gun conversation right now. Republican senators on the Hill are doing it all by themselves. The NRA doesn't even need to give them that roadmap anymore.

CHUCK TODD:

Cornell, does it help Democrats politically to have Trump be the face of this, though, on the gun movement?

CORNELL BELCHER:

It doesn't hurt. But I think Democrats are going to have to make their opponents the face of this. And I think it's interesting that what Senator Booker was talking about is set up these votes, and let them vote down these very popular things, and then let's go back and run against it. And again, I'll say this time and time again-

CHUCK TODD:

That's not Senator Schumer's strategy.

ALI VITALI:

Yeah.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, I think it hasn't been. But I think if you're looking at sort of the headwinds into the midterms, Democrats, listen, we're supposed to lose everything. History says that. We have an opportunity to change the dynamic, like George Bush changed the dynamic with national security.

You know what? The economy was a big issue when George Bush was running his midterm also. They never talked about it; they talked about national security. If Democrats are not talking about saving children's lives, and stopping hate crimes, and a woman's right to choose what happens in her body this election cycle, well then, shame on Democrats.

Because we have an opportunity to drive the gender gap. One quick point about gender gap, again, angry women, mom voter. And if you look at 2014 and 2010 there was barely any gender gap. Women broke, I think, two points in 2014 for Dems. They broke 19 points in 2018. If women break 19 points going into 2022 for Democrats, it's a different election.

CHUCK TODD:

Pat, why did you struggle, without Trump, why did you struggle as sort of the non-Trump candidate compared to the Georgia Republicans? What would be your-?

FORMER GOVERNOR PAT MCCRORY:

Well, one is I had a Club for Growth, a Super PAC, that is now just spending money. They made me something that I wasn't. I saw some of the commercials against me and almost voted against me. They were so inaccurate and so false. But false advertising works.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a lesson that you could've taken out of Georgia?

FORMER GOVERNOR PAT MCCRORY:

Well, I'll tell you the big lesson for the general election is going to be this, is what are the Reagan Republicans like myself, what are the Independents going to do, who go, "Biden's policies are disastrous?" They don't like Harris, they don't like the policies.

The economy is in the tank. And yet they don't like the character of Trump, but they liked his policies. That's going to be the big swing vote, is which way do they go? And that's going to determine, I think, the Senate in the future and maybe the Presidential election.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you all for being with us today. Thank you for watching. Try your best to compartmentalize, and enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day weekend if you can. And remember, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END