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Is America Gun Crazy?; Discussing Syria's Christian Population

Aired July 23, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and injuring scores more in a Colorado movie theater this weekend, appeared in court today around a horrifying anniversary in Europe.

It's one year since Andres Breivik killed 77 people when he went on a shooting rampage in Norway. But what was a tragic aberration in Norway is almost routine here in the United States. In just this one year, there have been almost 15 mass shootings in America. And so my brief tonight, "Gun Crazy." Yes, it is the name of a film, but it is also the state of America.

Americans own more guns than anyone else in the world and suffer more gun deaths than any other industrialized nation. So once again, an American president visits the bereaved.

And along with countless politicians, mourns the tragic loss, the senseless deaths, as if all of this were a natural disaster, as if a man did not deliberately and easily buy four guns, including one that is the civilian version of an M-16, and then buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition and then purposefully spray the inside of a movie theater. They never call it murder and they never do anything to change it.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons, like the AR-15 used in the Colorado killings. That law expired in 2004. In 2011, after Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head, bills were proposed to ban high-capacity bullet magazines likes the ones used in Colorado.

Those bills have gone nowhere. Neither President Obama nor his challenger, Mitt Romney, have called for any change in America's liberal gun laws, leaving it to the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to say what needs to be said.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: This requires -- and particularly in a presidential year -- the candidates for President of the United States to stand up and once and for all say, yes, they feel terrible; yes, it's a tragedy; yes, we have great sympathy for the families, but it's time for this country to do something.


AMANPOUR: But will this country do something? We'll talk about that in a moment. But first, here's a look at what's happening later in this program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Amid the mounting violence in Syria, a courageous priest takes on the regime. Where do Syria's Christians stand?

Then Iraq war sent a million refugees fleeing into Syria. Now civil war is sending them back home again. But with Iraq in flames, they may be going from the frying pan into the fire.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in just a bit. But first, Adam Gopnik is a writer and cultural critic for "The New Yorker" magazine. And Alan Korwin is a gun rights advocate. Both of them join me.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here. Let me go to you first, Mr. Korwin, in Arizona. You can't see this, but I'm going to flip open for the camera 62 pages. It's from the Brady Group, and that is just the number of mass shootings in the United States since 2005.

Mr. Korwin, is it not time to have some shame about this?

ALAN KORWIN, GUN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, I'd like to see this problem fixed. And the question is, how do we fix it? As I grew up, this sort of thing was unheard of, unspeakable, unfathomable. And yet guns were more readily available than they are today.

There was no paperwork. There were no background checks. There was no federal control. There was no age limit. I could buy a gun through a comic book by mail order. Today, we have all sorts of controls but this is starting to happen and the question is why.


KORWIN: What has changed in our culture that has encouraged this?

AMANPOUR: All right, Mr. Korwin. It is also very easy, as I said, to get these kinds of guns, which this man got. He even got some of his equipment online. That is easy today in the United States. Not only that, he would -- if it hadn't jammed, the gun, he would have been able to kill many, many more people. So it was a fault in the gun.

But there is something to be -- that can be done. For instance, reinstating this ban on federal -- the federal ban on assault weapons, which has expired. Why is it that the gun lobby, people such as yourself and the NRA, have simply shut down any debate on this vital issue?

KORWIN: I'm not the gun lobby, Christiana (sic). The -- what you're suggesting is it would be OK for him to use all kinds of other guns to --


AMANPOUR: No, I'm not. I'm just saying in this particular instance - - you said I wish we could do something to stop it. There is something that can be done to stop it, at least in this incident. No assault weapons, at least make it more difficult. But there's no debate about it in this country.

KORWIN: Well, there is a debate and it's ongoing all the time. The only thing that can stop a madman with a gun is another person with a gun. And the president suggested what would happen if his children were in that theater, the answer to that is easy. The Secret Service would have shot this guy.

The question is why wasn't there somebody in the audience trained and armed who could stop him? We had two similar incidents, one in Aurora in a church, where a parishioner stopped a madman who was trying to kill everybody. Unless somebody is there with countervailing force, a piece of paper and a law book won't stop him.

And there's so many guns in private hands now, that you could ban every gun sale from now till forever, and this could still happen. Your only protection is you as the first responder to do something about this kind of crazy activity.

And my question remains, what in our culture enabled this while all through my childhood, no such thing was possible? And I would suggest the irony of this is we had people waiting to watch blood-drenched murders on the screen and then experience blood-drenched murders. And maybe there's a connection there.

Movies like this and video games and TV shows that we see today are nothing like the calm entertainment we used to have.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to ask Adam Gopnik, our cultural critic, about the culture. But first I want to ask you, do you think assault weapons in the hands of civilians, not in the military, in the hands of civilians should be banned? Do you think civilians should be allowed to buy 6,000 rounds of this kind of ammunition?

Just a simple question.


AMANPOUR: Do you think they should be able to have --

KORWIN: Assault is a type of behavior, not a type of a hardware. This fellow assaulted people with a regular sporting shotgun and a sidearm. Americans buy 5 billion rounds of ammunition a year and use it for shooting sports, use it for legitimate purpose. Where would you limit it ? Could they buy it and stockpile it? Limiting the ammunition is not the answer, Christy (sic).

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me turn to Adam Gopnik.

You can hear Mr. Korwin does not want to blame the weapons, but the truth of the matter is --

KORWIN: Right, blame the shooter.

AMANPOUR: -- AR-15 is the civilian version of an M-16. There is no sporting purpose whatsoever to that. Is it the culture, Adam?

KORWIN: Well, that's false.

ADAM GOPNIK, CNN CULTURAL CRITIC: No, it's not the culture, because here's the way you can think about it. All across the world we see incidents like this. We see gun massacres. We've had them in my native country of Canada. Had them in Norway, we've had them in Australia.

And in each place, when these massacres happen, where a crazy person gets their hands on weapons and kills people, the response of the country, of the society, the community is to tighten up the gun laws. Happened in Australia, happened in Canada, where you can't get your hands on a weapon like this.

What happens? Are there more gun massacres? No, just the opposite. The gun massacres stop. Now we can't -- it's like vaccinating your children, Christiane. We vaccinate our children and we know that the incidence of measles and smallpox drops. Can we eliminate childhood illness? Of course we can't. That's not a possibility. Can we bring it down dramatically? Of course we can.

And in every other civilized country in the world, every other modern industrialized country, the level of gun violence is incomparably less.

They see the same movies that we do. They're watching Batman tonight in Canada. They're watching it in Australia. They're not going to have -- I guarantee you, they're not going to have gun massacres. It's a function of the number of weapons and the ease of availability of those crazy military weapons in the United States.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Korwin, you said, "That's false," when I said there's no sporting use for an M-16.

KORWIN: You said an AR-15 --

AMANPOUR: Yes, which is the civilian version --

KORWIN: -- (inaudible).


KORWIN: The AR-15 is a modern sport utility rifle. It's one of the best rifles made. It's used in competition for sport, for hunting. It's got every use that an old wood bolt-action rifle ever had. Adam made a mistake. If you look at Europe as a whole, there are gun massacres there like crazy.


AMANPOUR: No, no, no, Mr. Korwin, it's not true.

KORWIN: (Inaudible) suppresses these --

AMANPOUR: Mr. Korwin, it's not true. We spend our lives covering this stuff. It's not true, that. That is just simply not true. We've --

KORWIN: I've seen the lists.

AMANPOUR: We've enumerated the gun crime and we've talked about, on this program, just now, the fact that something is actually done after these gun crimes in order to prevent them from happening again. And by and large that --


AMANPOUR: -- has worked. But let me ask you something, because you seem to be saying there's no appetite in this country, Mr. Korwin. I looked at a couple of polls talking about, for instance, should handguns be banned. And as you can imagine, most people said, no, they shouldn't be banned. Many people said yes, but most people said no.

However, if you take the bigger issue of gun control, the Pew poll has said that it's almost evenly split. When it comes to gun control, some 45 percent of Americans say yes; 49 percent say no. So that is more nuanced.

What is it, though, about people like yourself, Mr. Korwin, who simply don't want to have this gun control debate? And that's not false. There is no gun control debate right now that's going on, of any import.

KORWIN: Oh, we're having a gun control debate right now --

AMANPOUR: Because I called it.

KORWIN: -- constantly, and I'm always in it. I'm always in it. What -- it's -- if all he could have was revolvers, would that solve the problem? If he couldn't have had an AR-15, would that solve it? You know, one of the biggest issues was? He was in one of these make-believe gun- free zones.

And if anything comes out of this, it's the idea that hanging a sign on a door that says "no guns allowed" simply doesn't work. It keeps the innocent disarmed and it allows this kind of tragedy. We need a gun-free zone liability act where if you make one of these phony gun-free zones and it causes harm, you can be held liable.

We've had case after case of an armed citizen stopping an attack. We had one in an Internet cafe the Friday before this. We had one in Aurora. We had the Colorado Springs issue where a guy went into a church and Jean Assam (ph) took out her gun and stopped him. That's the only way to stop somebody from attacking unless you want to wave a magic wand and make guns disappear, which isn't going to happen.

GOPNIK: I -- look, the notion that the only way to stop this is for everyone to walk into every movie theater heavily armed to the teeth. First of all, it's absurd, because the incidents are not that frequent. So what you'd end up with is a country armed to the teeth on knife edge at every moment, ready to blast somebody. That's no solution. That's not a country I think any reasonable person wants to live in.

AMANPOUR: So what should happen? We've talked about the politicians who basically decided to take a hands-off issue from the president to his challenger on down.

GOPNIK: Here's what I think. I think that there's actually room -- and I think your poll shows it, for a rational compromise in all of this. Nobody disputes that 2nd Amendment says -- talks about something being well regulated. The words are right in there.

We can accept the idea that for many Americans, the possession of handguns, of rifles, are fundamental to their identify, their sense of autonomy. And those of us who are opposed to it have to live with that. And simultaneously, people have to accept the idea that these kinds of military weapons simply have no place in civilian hands.

And the key thing, Christiane, is that if you don't have to build an absolutely high wall, that's not how crime is. You build a reasonably low wall, it discourages people, and you'll be amazed at how quickly these things will end or disappear. It's happened in every other civilized country and it can happen here.

AMANPOUR: Very quickly and finally to you, Mr. Korwin, is there room for a rational debate and a compromise on this issue that allows the 2nd Amendment to stay in effect but prevents the kind of horror that we keep seeing regularly here?

Yes or no, a rational (inaudible)?

KORWIN: We are having rational debate. But banning one type of gun or another is not going to solve the problem because people will still be armed. The idea that you can vilify a gun and leave this cultural situation in place won't solve the problem.

I would support what you're saying if I thought it would have the right effect. It will not. It cannot. If you took away his AR-15, he's still armed. People are still at risk. The phony gun-free zone --

AMANPOUR: All right.

KORWIN: -- enables these kinds of people.

AMANPOUR: All right.

GOPNIK: We've come to some point of concession, and it seems to me crucially we can make progress on this.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let's hope we can.

KORWIN: Absolutely. We must.

AMANPOUR: Good. On this program, we have.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much indeed for joining me today.

GOPNIK: Glad to be here.

AMANPOUR: And to learn more about the power of the National Rifle Association here in the United States, you can watch a report about the lobbying group at When we come back, we'll turn to a man of peace, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio. He spoke up for the opposition in Syria and he incurred the wrath of the Assad regime.

But first, take a look at this picture. That is President Obama on Sunday, visiting the bedside of one of the victims of the Colorado massacre. But will sympathy ever translate into action and legislation? We've been discussing it. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, and now we turn to Syria. What's often ignored in the civil war between Muslim factions is the fate of Syria's 2 million Christians who are caught in the middle. Whose side are they on? Do they see the secular Assad regime protecting them from radical fundamentalism? Or do they stand with the uprising?

Father Paolo Dall'Oglio came to Syria some 40 years ago to work on Muslim-Christian relations. He refurbished a 1,000-year-old monastery and invited Syrians of all faiths to talk and to pray together. But as the rebellion mounted, Father Paolo was forced to take a stand. And for that, he was kicked out of the country. He joins me now from Washington for his first television interview since then.

Father Paolo, thank you very much for being with me.

FATHER PAOLO DALL'OGLIO, EXILED PRIEST: And to for you for having me.

AMANPOUR: What precisely was your offense in the eyes of the regime?

DALL'OGLIO: I just had the -- asked to protect the people in the hospitals, to stop to torture people, to protect the campus of universities, to bring back to people the freedom of express their opinions and to ask for democracy. This all that I asked for. And for this, I've been kicked out.

AMANPOUR: In the many, many years and decades that you were in Syria as a Christian, as a Catholic priest, were you able to operate freely there? Were you able to worship and to be a pastor to the Christians freely?

DALL'OGLIO: We had to recognize that the society of Syria that is plural in its health from before the system of Ba'ath and Assad regime, we have always been able to meet together and have a real freedom of religion expression.

It is in a way an effect that the 40 years of regime where it followed totalitarian regime repressing all hope for freedom and libertarian, the church was free to express the religion. But not to go on promoting the freedom of people and the -- yes.

AMANPOUR: Well, in that -- in that regard, then, where do the Christians stand in this -- in this war, in this uprising right now? Is it -- is it, as I said, as I posed the question, do they think that the Assad regime will protect them as a minority like it has the Alawite minorities, or are they with the rebellion?

DALL'OGLIO: We can't consider that a big number of people belonging to minorities in different ways. They believe that the regime was a solution to them. Now I think they are changing their opinion.

But many Christians have been imprisoned because they've asked for human rights, for democracy, for change. Many youth, Christian youth have been suffering with their Muslim classmates for the ongoing revolution.

AMANPOUR: And back to your story briefly, had you not left when they ordered you out -- well, had you not been a foreigner, an Italian, do you think that you would have suffered a worse fate? Do you think something worse would have happened to you than being deported?

DALL'OGLIO: I think I was in a concrete danger. And many people hoped that I would be kicked out in order not to be killed in that condition. And you -- also we have to take in mind that the society in Syria is losing any kind of coherence. And so everything can happen in these militias that act without waiting to have orders.

AMANPOUR: Have you come across those, the famous sort of shabiha militias?

DALL'OGLIO: I have. I know some of those people. We are in one society. It's completely interconnected. And some youth have been drawn to that ideology and this behave (sic) that negate the freedom of the citizens, the people --


AMANPOUR: What do they do? What do -- what is their order? What do they do?

DALL'OGLIO: Well, classical militias. They are parallel to the army, but more ideologically charged with energy and hate. So they can act out of any law, and they do.

AMANPOUR: We have seen reports. We've heard reports of Christians being attacked in Syria in these past few months. We've seen a convent that was attacked. We're hearing these reports trickle out. Is it the rebellion? Is it the rebels doing that against these Christian enclaves and places of worship?

DALL'OGLIO: We can't say and I think really deeply right at saying that the Christians are not tackled. They're not looked as a purpose for the revolution. They're not enemy of the revolution at all. The Christians have not been fought as such at all. Some of them are in the militias. Some of them are in the army. So far they are in the fight.

But the Christian as such is not the attacked in the -- I mean, I would say, in most of the cases. But the more the international community is not assuming responsibility for the destiny of Syria, for the democracy of Syria, then we are giving more opportunities to all kind of extremisms to have more power, to have more space, of action.

And so things that happen in Iraq against Christians can happen in Syria easily in the coming weeks if now -- and this is my request -- from the (inaudible) in my heart in the name of so many youth, democratic youth of Syria, of all belongings to Russia, to Iran, why to use Syria for regional conflicts? There is revolution for democracy. And there is civil war.

The United Nations should come and stop the civil war and bring back the possibility for the people of Syria to have (inaudible) toward democracy that they deserve.

AMANPOUR: Father, what do you make of the orthodox church, the Russian orthodox church not -- I mean, you know, sort of siding, it seemed to us outsiders, anyway, with the Assad regime?

DALL'OGLIO: It's really a pain to see our fellow Christians not being able to stand for the human dignity. And so far, also creating conditions for bad developments in the future. I hope that the Christians of Russia, our beloved brothers and sisters in this church of Russia, will be able to have the pressure on the Russian government to change the attitude.

This attitude will not protect Christians. This attitude will divide the country, will create after a while a ghetto of Alawites and Christians some way. But in the end of the day, this will be losing for the Christian on the cultural and moral space for the action, for the good of Syria and the Middle East.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned Iraq and what's happened to the Christian community in Iraq, and as we know, so many of them have left. What do you, in your heart and in your head, really believe will be the fate of the Christian community in Syria for the future? Will it be able to stay? Will they leave? Are they leaving now?

DALL'OGLIO: Many are leaving already. Many are displaced inside the country because of the conflict. Many will leave in coming weeks and months and we are losing our Christians and our Christianity. They arose inside the Muslim community.

The Muslim society, we are one society, we've been always one, Muslim, Christian and Jews. We've been one Arabic society. We want to bring this back. I don't know how many Christians will participate to it in the coming years. I hope to be there.

AMANPOUR: Father Paolo, thank you so much for joining me.

DALL'OGLIO: Thank you, to you and all. Thanks.

AMANPOUR: And we'll be right back with much more.


AMANPOUR: And a final thought, imagine a world where home is truly between Iraq and a hard place. During the height of the Iraq war, some of 1 million refugees fled to what they thought was safety in neighboring Syria. But now they're being threatened, as we've talked about, by the escalating violence in Syria and they only have one place to go, and that is back to Iraq.

Yet Iraq has been hit by the bloodiest day since the U.S. withdrew the last of its forces six months ago. Insurgents in Iraq launched (ph) a series of coordinated attacks that have left nearly 100 people dead and 300 wounded. Perhaps you can go home again, but home remains a very dangerous and uncertain place.

And that's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.