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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the Parkland School Shooting

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HUGH HEWITT: Welcome, morning glory, America. It's Hugh Hewitt. That music means it is time for the Hillsdale Dialogue, the last radio hour of the week, when I am joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, or one of his colleagues, as I was last week, by Dr. Matt Spalding from the Kirby Center in Washington D.C. Dr. Arnn is with us, I believe, from Michigan this morning. Am I correct about that, Dr. Arnn?

LARRY ARNN: I'm in Washington, the District of Columbia.

HUGH HEWITT: Oh, you're in the center of all that is bad in America. OK.

HUGH HEWITT: It is. First of all, I've got to tell you, all things Hillsdale available at hillsdale.edu. Go sign up for Imprimis, the speech digest, which is absolutely free. Go watch all of the Churchill series before Gary Oldman takes the Oscar in a few weeks, because he's going to win the Oscar. And all of our conversations dating back to 2015 are collected at hughforhillsdale.com.

Dr. Arnn, I was berated last night by a fan of these segments-- very accomplished individual, gentleman of about my age, who said, you need to do more of the old stuff. You've got to go back to the books, to the great works. You haven't nearly gone deep enough. So I told him I'd pass that along, but that as there was so much happening, it became inevitable that you and I would end up talking about this unusual era in American politics. It's sort of like being broadcasting during the Civil War and ignoring Antietam.

LARRY ARNN: Yeah, yeah. Well, we should talk about current events. But you know, heck, why don't we talk about old books, too?

HUGH HEWITT: We'll do both.

LARRY ARNN: That's a better thing to do.

HUGH HEWITT: Old books next week. This week, though, I've got to talk to you about an interview I just finished with your friend and mine, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And I want to play it for you and get your reaction to it. And of course, it begins with Florida. Here's the beginning of that conversation.

HUGH HEWITT: So pleased to welcome back to the program United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions. General Sessions, welcome. Thank you for joining me.

JEFF SESSIONS: Thank you. Good to be with you again.

HUGH HEWITT: I had invited you earlier this week to talk about-- and we will spend most of our time talking about opioids. But obviously, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has your attention. Yesterday, you declared, we must confront this problem, and I know each and every one of you in this room feel that way. What do you intend to do, Mr. Attorney General?

JEFF SESSIONS: There are a number of things that we are going to do. We've already, at the direction of the president, commissioned a campaign to crack down on criminals with guns. Our prosecutions are up 23% already this year, the highest I think in 10 years, but there's more that we can do there.

We also know, Hugh, that we need to do a better job of receiving warning signs and acting on them. And our team, as we wrestled with this yesterday, we think that somehow, some way, school systems have got to be emboldened to confront kids that they think are dangerous. Parents need to be encouraged. And when police and law enforcement get information, they need to act better.

There's an intersection between violence and mental health that we've not effectively dealt with. You talk to professional law enforcement officers, like the sheriffs I met with yesterday. That's one of the things they believe strongly in.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, General Sessions, I've been talking about this a lot. People want to call in about troubled kids. But if you're a district superintendent or a principal, you're looking at a lawsuit if you do that. I think we need to authorize and immunize these people, and that we need a no-buy list like we have a no-fly list, and maybe a rebuttable presumption.

These are legal terms. But if a principal or a school district superintendent says, this kid cannot buy a weapon, I think he ought to go on a no buy list. What do you think of that?

JEFF SESSIONS: Hugh, you're touching on something. People are afraid they'll get sued. They don't know what their rights are. They've been told that unless somebody has been declared officially by a judge to be incompetent or mentally ill, they're not able to do anything but treat them like anybody else.

And a school principal said it in some ways. Parents-- they have a right to protect their children, and we need to make sure, as you suggest, that they feel empowered to do so.

HUGH HEWITT: All right. Dr. Arnn, let's go to that we have a no-fly list, a no-buy list, but principals and school district officials-- they really are afraid of getting sued if they blow the whistle on kids who are marginal.

LARRY ARNN: One aspect of this is we do have so very many laws these days, and they conflict. And so if you remember the Virginia Tech shooting a few years ago, which is one of the worst, there was a wonderful New York Times article about that, where they interviewed the dean, and they interviewed a lot of people. And they found out that the dean of students was aware of this young man, was very troubled about this young man.

And there was a federal law that prevented her talking to the parents of this young man unless she made a finding that it was an emergency, and she was liable to him for that finding. He could sue her. And there was a Virginia law-- it might still be on the books-- and it forbade the college for sending a student home because of mental troubles.

So in other words, higher education institutions are turned into a place where mentally troubled people are to be taken care of. And so she was caught between a rock and a hard place. And it's characteristic of the government today that it's on both sides of every question.

HUGH HEWITT: That is exactly right.

LARRY ARNN: And so what's a person to do? And I can tell you, when you get a troubled kid-- Hillsdale College is full of kids, and some of them are troubled, right? They have depression. And you spend most of your time with them, and you need to be liberated to deal with them and to involve their families in the dealing. And you're right that a place where a bunch of kids gather-- and there's been a lot of school shootings now.

Think of this, too. Here's a problem that's not a governmental problem. If this young man was a very troubled young man, and everybody knows he's a troubled young man, and he's been thrown out of school and forbidden to the place, and what happens to him is he becomes a national celebrity for 48 hours or 72 hours, right?

And then everybody who's thinking of this kind of thing watches that on TV and says, I've got a miserable life, and I might even want to end it. And here's a way to go out in glory. And so that thing-- these people should be scorned. And it would be better if their faces were not shown and their names were not identified.

HUGH HEWITT: And that is my approach. After we have identified killers one time, we don't go back to them. I do want to read you The Washington Post though this morning. This is very disturbing-- a front page story by Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, and Emma Brown.

A tipster alerted the FBI in September to a disturbing comment that had been left beneath an online video. Quote, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter," read the comment posted by YouTube user, and it gives the name of the killer yesterday. Two FBI agents interviewed the caller, Mississippi bail bondsman Ben Bennight, the next day. The Bureau checked public and law enforcement databases for anyone by Cruz's name who might be of concern, the FBI said, but could not identify the person who left the comment. Five months later, of course, he went on a rampage that killed 17.

Now, there's so many things disturbing about those two paragraphs. One is that they named the informant. I'm not sure if he objected to it or not, but he should have, because that makes him an informant. It puts him in the story. But number two-- they couldn't find someone who had posted something on YouTube, which tells me that YouTube ain't helping us.

LARRY ARNN: No. And you know, if law enforcement is focused on its job, first of all, you're very right. The school officials are the persons to alert, because they've got all these kids. They're working with them every day.

I can tell you, we're helping to sponsor a bunch of charter schools. And the headmasters of those schools are always worried about those kids. So they should be the initial source of an alarm about a kid, and then law enforcement should attend to it-- and especially when there's evidence that this young man is intending such a thing.

HUGH HEWITT: But also, if you blow the whistle on someone, Americans are reluctant to do that-- the see something, say something. They're reluctant to do that if they're going to get involved. And sure enough, they've involved the tipster in this story.

What does that tell everybody in America? If something happens, you're going to be in the middle of it. I just think it's one of the worst decisions that the Bureau made, even if this guy said yes-- just one of the worst decisions that could possibly be made if you want people to see something and say something.

LARRY ARNN: That's right. And this particular thing-- did he buy a gun, by the way? Did he get it at home? I think he got it at home.

HUGH HEWITT: He bought it. He bought it. It's legal to buy an AR-15 in Florida. And he's not on any list, because no one put him on a list. That's why I think we need a no buy list for principals.

If Larry Arnn calls me up and said, I've got a student in Hillsdale. I'm the Michigan sheriff, and I think he's a little bit off. And we're working with him, but I don't want him buying a gun. I think that ought to go on a list. It's a rebuttable presumption. You can get off the list. But that's just common sense to me.

LARRY ARNN: I will tell you in the work of administering a college, I want to say a word for the Hillsdale city police force, because they're nothing but helpful. And we talk to them all the time, and they never fail to give us good advice and do what they're supposed to do.

HUGH HEWITT: That's what security professionals usually do. I'll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. We'll go to the end of my conversation with AG Sessions on the Kefauver hearings that we need and why we need them. And it's not just about guns, people. It's not just about guns. Stay tuned.

Welcome back, Americans. Hugh Hewitt with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. All things Hillsdale are available at hillsdale.edu. Good for the soul, good for the country, good for you to go and sign up for Imprimis to watch the courses on the Constitution, on Winston Churchill, or to listen to all of our conversations dating back to Homer in 2013 and moving forward in time and space. And we will return to those, as we have been admonished to do so by listeners. And they are all collected for hughforhillsdale.com.

Dr. Arnn, on MSNBC just now, the lower third, the chyron, said, the epidemic of gun violence in America. What I brought up to the attorney general at the end of our conversation I'd like to get your comment on. Here's what we said.

HUGH HEWITT: A lot of people don't remember the Kefauver hearings, but they really focused on organized crime, and they woke America up to what was happening. Last question, Mr. Attorney General. I think we need a set of Kefauver hearings. I think it should be joint Senate and House on all of these things-- not captured by one particular group or the other, but just generally to educate the country. And I think the audience would be enormous for them. What do you think?

JEFF SESSIONS: Look, I don't know what the audience would be. I think there would be a sizable audience. But I'll tell you one thing-- it's time for this country to take more seriously our culture and the health of our society.

And there are a lot of things out there that can be available to an unhealthy young person, for example, that could drive them over the edge that most people don't even know exists. So there are a lot of things that need to be discussed, you're right. A more highly sophisticated understanding of how children or even adults tip from stable to unstable and to violent probably needs to be a part of this, too.

HUGH HEWITT: Now, Larry Arnn, the background to that was we had been talking about the dark web, on which it is possible to buy fentanyl and heroin from abroad-- guns. We'd been talking about a New York Times Sunday Magazine story that comes out this Sunday, "Do you think porn affects the way teenagers think about sex?" Very disturbing article on what happens to young men who become quite addicted to porn at an early age. And we had been talking just generally about the coarsening of the American soul. In other words, we're talking about Plato's Republic.

LARRY ARNN: Yeah, we are. You know, if a society doesn't pay attention to its children-- we pay endless attention to our children, and we do a lot of it in a bureaucratic way. More than half the people who work in the public schools are not teachers.

HUGH HEWITT: That is remarkable.

LARRY ARNN: Isn't it? So we have these charter schools, and the ratio is something like 6 to 1 in favor of teachers. And that means that there's a whole lot of people employed to manage the system, right? And that means they're not in contact with the students.

But isn't everything like that? There's data. There's lots of it that shows that if a child grows up in a home where his parents live together, the outcomes are significantly better for other children. So why is there not a national move to repair the family, to people to get married and stay married?

And we just have so many other priorities. I mean, gracious, the national debt is a mess, right? And we need to do something about that, and that will take-- with a bit of discipline and self-restraint, we could put the entitlement programs on a sustainable basis, make them secure, and that's very hard to do.

And so, yeah, we've got very important and large political dysfunctions in the country, and we've got decaying family structure. You know, I don't think it's decaying anymore. It has decayed significantly and stabilized where it is, if you look at the divorce rates and the illegitimacy rates, but they're high.

HUGH HEWITT: We are talking about the ruins. And I'm not glorifying the '50s or the '60s pre-sexual revolution, because there was a lot of dysfunction there-- obviously segregation, obviously a lack of opportunity for women, obviously a lot of discrimination. But there was structure, and there was protection of the young to a greater degree than exists today. And this dark web problem-- what your students are exposed to-- is unlike anything you and I were at our respective universities when this was happening.

LARRY ARNN: Oh, yeah. And I can tell you about running a college. What you have to do is get a bunch of kids who are committed not to do those things, and then not many of them will.

HUGH HEWITT: Hold back, and let's return to that, because I think that's doable if you ask. But you've got to ask them. Stay tuned, Americans. It's the Hugh Hewitt show.

Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt, joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. And we're talking about something very important that actually binds all of the Hillsdale Dialogues together from the time we began to this morning in the aftermath of a massacre of 17 students in a Florida high school, which is, how do you produce good people, and how do you improve them? And that's the project of Hillsdale College.

And there are some people out there who believe there are scientific means of doing that and that there are scientific solutions-- technical solutions-- to every problem. But Dr. Arnn, you stand against that proposition. So does Hillsdale.

LARRY ARNN: Yeah. We have a national goal that politicians love to talk about that everybody ought to get a college degree. Very large number of people go to college, and the graduation rates are small-- less than half. And so, why?

Well, college is the kind of thing like every really difficult and fine thing that you do in your life. You will never do it well unless you really want to, because the motivating force inside a human being is in the human being's own soul. Workers do better when they work hard.

So that young man who shot up those kids in Florida, that young man-- he was not fit for high school. And there wasn't anything the teachers could do to help him, because he would not be helped. And so they rightly sent him away. And that's because to sit and learn, the idea that you can be made to do that-- that is a defiance of human freedom itself.

So the point is, you want to structure the society so that people are responsible for themselves, and their wishes, and their hopes, and their loves can gain expression through their actions. And if we would just focus on that, then-- like these numbers about kids who grow up with single parents, right? A lot of them come out great, by the way, and God bless them. And God bless the mothers and the fathers who raised them by themselves. But the averages are not good.

And the reason they're not good is they need a man in the house to show them how a man should act-- both the girls and the boys-- and they need a woman in the house to show them how a woman should act. And they watch that, and they're formed by that. And if the society is not doing that, and there's violence everywhere, then the only thing to do is-- however hard that is to fix and however dysfunctional our political system, it's still true that that remains to be addressed. And until it is, there's going to be problems.

HUGH HEWITT: And there will be, and that's going to keep going on. But at the beginning of the break, you started to say, to create a college, you have to get people who will agree not to use fentanyl, not to submerge themselves in porn, not to buy guns on the dark web and threaten each other. You've got to get them to buy into that. How do you do that at Hillsdale?

LARRY ARNN: Well, we recruit by telling them, don't come here. I hereby warn all of the prospective students who are listening to the show, don't come to Hillsdale College. It's very hard. It's cold. It's a little boring town. You won't like it.

And after you say all that, and then you've got to sign this honor code. And it commits you not only to ways of behaving, it commits you to goals, which you, on your honor, undertake to serve. And it has to be on your honor, because you're the one who's got to serve them.

Now, if you do that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, you get success. And then if you are successful in the majority of cases, then the number of cases you have to deal with that are not successful is smaller, and you're better able to deal with them. It's not perfect, it's just good. And it works.

HUGH HEWITT: But that project has been largely abandoned by higher education, has it not?

LARRY ARNN: Yeah, and that's because we substitute the idea that you can do it for them. Isn't that the whole therapeutic, bureaucratic, centralized state? Isn't it the idea that experts-- remember that phrase that's so important-- experts can do it for you better than you can do it yourself. And they can't. There's just too many of us.

And anyway, each one of us is human. We actually find our human lives in the business of solving human problems according to our wishes and our hopes. The reason you should focus authority in education with teachers and parents and the school as the sovereign unit is because they're the ones close to the problem. And if you focus authority outside it, you'll get so much silliness.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, I focused yesterday-- I had Secretary DeVos on as my guest and had a wonderful conversation with her. At one point, I asked if she would not please turn her Civil Rights Division on the National Collegiate Athletics Association for the simple reason that I believe they had become a state within a state, and they're acting like a government.

And if they're going to act like a government, they've got to be held to the account of a government and respect freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. And they are not doing so. And I asked her as well to turn that Civil Rights Division on accrediting institutions that are penalizing religious institutions by denying their students opportunity, for example, to do student teaching-- in other words, to stop these quasi-state entities from imposing a code that is not common or agreed upon.

LARRY ARNN: Yeah. The NCAA is-- I speak as an institution that's a member of the NCAA. It's a mess. And you know I speak as the head of an accredited institution-- going through that process as we speak.

Well, the truth is, one thing the government could do in these private things is prevent monopoly. And with accrediting, they have the simple power to do it, because they've taken over the Department of Education. Under George W. Bush and then Obama-- have overtaken or taken control extensively of a set of regional accreditors that were formed as private institutions about 80 years before there was any Department of Education.

And so one thing they might do is just make sure that there are lots of options available to one for who accredits you. And since the accreditation is the gateway to the federal money, we don't take that money. But everybody who does-- and that's almost everybody-- they've got to go through it. And you could fix it that way.

And if there was a way to offer-- if we had six good options of who to join for athletic association, we would pick one that would form around people like us. We have found an athletic conference like that to be part of, but why not a whole NCAA? There are two. There's the NAIA and the NCAA. There should be five.

And another thing is when we think of college-- at least sophisticated people, we were using that word during the break-- when they think of college, they think of the Ivy League. And when they think of the NCAA, they think of Alabama playing--

HUGH HEWITT: Florida, yeah.

LARRY ARNN: Right. And just remember what those places are like. Those athletic departments-- and there's about 20 of them. And there can't be more than 20, because there's not mind space for more than 20 famous things. They have $150 million plus annual budgets, and they spend almost all of the money inside the athletic department.

And so there's a kind of an arrangement, right? And the arrangement is, if you will make me nationally famous, if you will make me a household word, then we will let you keep all this money. And I will have that fame worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars for free. And that's the deal, right?

And then beneath them, there are a tier of colleges that all want to be like them. And they become like them-- the successful ones-- in their area, and they get something for that. But if you want to get up in that division, they come and look at your press box. And did it cost $12 million to build? And do you have a capacity for 30,000 people or whatever the numbers are?

And so you've got to put on a big show. And you know, I like college football. I like big time college football. I like to watch it at the end of the season.

HUGH HEWITT: Even though you're from Arkansas, and they've never had it there?

LARRY ARNN: Come on. I can't really defend the University of Arkansas against Ohio State, but I can Hillsdale College. Our players can read.

HUGH HEWITT: Well done. Well played, Mr. Bond.

LARRY ARNN: If you're going to be nasty, take that. And actually, there's brilliant Ohio State football players, let me quickly add.

HUGH HEWITT: You're lucky, because they're big. Joey Bosa-- you don't want to run into Joey Bosa somewhere, my friend.

LARRY ARNN: I don't want those guys pissed at me. Yeah, but see, in other words, this stuff is-- my late father, what a wonderful man, right? And we were Razorback fans. And I can remember watching ball games with him after I came to the college. And he looked at me one time, and he said, how could that boy on national TV possibly do that? And I said, dad, do you remember that that boy is 19 years old?

It's a miracle they do what they do. So anyway, that's the charm of it. In college basketball now, all of the programs, even Duke, run by a very honorable man-- science has got to the place where apparently you can know that there's about 15 guys in a graduating senior class of a high school. And if you can get three of them, you can win a national championship.

And those 15 guys are recruited on the view that two years or three years from today, you're going to be making $10 million a year. You're going to be here for a while, and then you're going to go on and play in the NBA. And the point is that the institutions and all of the ones that I've named are old, and they have high purposes written in them. And it would be better if they serve those high purposes wholeheartedly including in athletics.

HUGH HEWITT: I agree with that, and I don't have a lick of hope that they will turn. Because institutionalized into their governance are different metrics of success that have to do with endowment size, application size, the number of rejections, and a variety of other metrics which are wholly disassociated from people living the happy life. It's not at all connected anymore.

LARRY ARNN: So Robert Maynard Hutchins, famous guy at the University of Chicago, stopped the football program, and that was very controversial. And you know, I would do that. I could do it, too. I don't, because they behave themselves, and they have the same entering credentials and a better graduation rate than the rest of the college. But is there a living person or a group of people who could do that at one of these big-time colleges-- would have the power to do it?

HUGH HEWITT: No. It's not possible. I'll be back with Dr. Larry Arnn, and we'll connect all the dots for you, as well as a quick course in the Second Amendment, because you're going to need it for the week ahead and the conversation you're going to hear. So don't go anywhere. Dr. Larry Arnn will be right back.

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. This is Hugh Hewitt. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest, president of Hillsdale College, all things Hillsdale at hillsdale.edu. Dr. Arnn, the headlines of the day linked to the Second Amendment are from The Washington Post-- "The Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact," from Bloomberg, "Nothing in the Constitution prevents sensible gun rules," and from WKBN Youngstown, "Husband of Gabby Giffords-- we can't be stupid about the Second Amendment."

Now, it is absolutely true that the United States Supreme Court has ruled in Heller and McDonald that the Second Amendment is an individual right. It belongs to individuals like free speech, like free association, and that it is subject to reasonable regulation. But no one actually ever talks about what the specific sensible gun rule that they want to impose is, and that's where the problem comes. Most people who are gun owners are afraid that confiscation is coming at them, and most people who are gun control advocates don't really know what they're asking for.

LARRY ARNN: So these are toxic politics, I'll just say to start with. And one of the reasons these stories command the attention of school shootings and other shootings is that people want to use them as a weapon to advocate their position on gun control. But your summary of Heller is exactly right. It is an individual right.

And by the way, it would be an individual right whether the Supreme Court had ruled so or no. And it would even be an individual right even if there were no Constitution, because you have a natural right to defend yourself. But that's right. In civil society, sensible rules about the exercise of that right are, of course, lawful.

And one, for example, is that there are prohibitions in America against owning and use of fully automatic weapons. Semi-automatic weapons are allowed. And fully automatic weapons mean that they just keep firing when you press the button. And so that's been forever a law, and the National Rifle Association endorses that law.

And that means that the law that you just stated that you recommend as being in this program-- the list of people who can buy a gun and cannot be enhanced to make sure you include people who are identified by schools as being dangerous. And of course those things are legitimate. And the background checks should not be an impediment to people purchasing a firearm, just to people who can't be trusted with one purchasing them. And so, yeah, of course that's right.

But the other thing though is if we were actually to undertake-- because it's hinted at in The New York Times this morning-- undertake the task of regulating every gun in every home where there's a child to make sure there's a lock on it, well, you just have to remember, that's a big power. And the government is very powerful anyway. And so will they use that well? Will they use that consistently?

I mean, gracious. Do a Google search about FBI today, and see what the stories are about, because they seem to be involved in politics.

HUGH HEWITT: They do, indeed. Andrew McCarthy and Byron York-- we are diverted because of the tragedy from attention on this, or we would be talking about this. There is a growing suspicion. And it was told to me earlier this week by Congressman Kevin McCarthy that at the end of the day, the bigger Russia story will be the abuse of the Fourth Amendment by team Obama than any collusion between campaign Trump and Russia.

LARRY ARNN: You know, I had dinner with the very great Mollie Hemingway last night that's all over this story. And look, I don't think it's disputed. We haven't seen the Schiff memo, because it's not been released. Schiff is the ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee.

But I don't think this is disputed-- that the FBI used a dossier by a partisan, Christopher Steele, to get a surveillance warrant on an American citizen who was an unpaid advisor to Donald Trump. They did that repeatedly after they knew that he had spoken to the press. They did it once after he had been dismissed by the FBI for disclosing information without warrant to the press.

HUGH HEWITT: And they didn't tell the court.

LARRY ARNN: And they didn't tell the court. And they didn't tell the court that he had made partisan statements against Trump in the course of his revealing this dossier that he contrived. And so the point is, that's politics, right? That's law enforcement involved in politics. And thank God that we have procedures and due process rules that they're supposed to comply with, because when they don't, it glares.

HUGH HEWITT: It does glare.

LARRY ARNN: And they haven't here it looks like, right? And so that's a big story.

HUGH HEWITT: And we're going to get to the bottom of that. And we're going to keep talking about that, and we're going to go back to the great books. One of the suggestions last night is that we do each of the plays of Shakespeare, which would mean you have to wake up Professor Smith. But you think about that, because I was getting hammered by people who miss our conversations about great books. But I tell them it sort of does matter what we do here on politics every single week.

Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, thank you. All things at Hillsdale, hillsdale.edu.

C.S