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CNN'S AMANPOUR

America's Gun Control Debate; France Assist Government Forces in Mali

Aired January 15, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. It's been a month now since the massacre of 26 children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. And Americans are demanding action to stop an epidemic of gun violence.

But in a country that is dangerously divided, the response to the gun crisis has become one more political battlefield. In Florida, teachers are learning now how to shoot to kill. They're training to defend themselves and their students against a school invasion.

Meanwhile, here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have rammed through the toughest gun control laws in this country, the first state to act in response to the Newtown massacre.

In Washington, President Obama has promised to announce his plans for new laws and executive action later this week. But he's up against a right-wing juggernaut. Americans who fervently believe that taking away their guns is a threat to their liberty.

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LARRY PRATT, PRESIDENT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: We're in a war. The other side knows they're at war, because they started it. They're coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They're coming for everything because they're a bunch of socialists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: President Obama confronted this kind of longstanding rallying cry from the gun lobby at a press conference on Monday.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government's about to take all your guns away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So enacting some kind of common-sense gun control is going to be a tough challenge. And in a moment, I'll talk with a former NRA member who's now leading the fight against the most dangerous weapons being found in American homes.

But first, here's a look at what's coming up later in the program.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Al Qaeda didn't die with Osama bin Laden. It is alive and making a stand in West Africa. Are the French riding to the rescue or riding for a fall?

And in China, where toxic air has been hazardous to your health, something new is emerging out of the deadly smog, a cry for reform from -- guess who? The Chinese government.

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AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, Tom Diaz. He was a gun enthusiast who had a change of heart when he interviewed gun victims and their families for his work as a congressional staffer. Now Mr. Diaz is a leading proponent of sensible gun safety measures. His book, "The Last Gun," is due out this spring.

Welcome to the program.

TOM DIAZ, CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER AND AUTHOR: Thank you so much.

AMANPOUR: Americans after Newtown, for sure, have basically overwhelmingly now support some kind of sensible gun safety measures: 85 percent support background checks, ban on assault-style weapons, as you mentioned, supported by 55 percent; ban on the high-capacity clips that you say, 54 percent. What is the chance of the NRA being brought into this discussion as part of the solution?

DIAZ: Zero -- less than zero.

AMANPOUR: Zero?

DIAZ: The NRA has made it clear, Wayne LaPierre, who's the executive director, has said there are no shades of gray in this debate. It's black and white. You're either with us or against us. And the NRA's consistent position longstanding for at least two decades has been we will not compromise on any gun control legislation.

AMANPOUR: You were a member of the NRA. You said wind me up and I will quote whatever it is they want to me (inaudible).

DIAZ: Exactly, yes.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about that. And what is that kind of misspeak that these kinds of guns could be used for hunting?

DIAZ: Well, it's a bootstrap type of argument, that if I can make the argument that this weapon, which was designed for use on the battlefield, to kill and injure a maximum number of people at close to medium range, as quickly as possible, if I can make the argument that, well, no, I use it to hunt coyotes or I use it in marksmanship competition, that somehow it will insulate region.

AMANPOUR: Do you think there's a hope in hell that assault weapons will be banned? Will the president be able to push that through? Will it happen?

DIAZ: I think if the president and other political leaders in Washington are willing to stand up and say it's not a fight that we're going to win in a year or two years or maybe three years, it's going to take a long time. The Brady law took probably eight years to pass. If we say, well, it's got to be done this year; I think the chances are really not very good.

AMANPOUR: And what about the high-capacity magazine clips?

DIAZ: That's possibly more likely because people who are threatened by the idea of their gun being taken away -- hunters, for example -- know that there's no real reason to have 20-40 rounds of ammunition. They know that, in many states, the number of rounds of ammunition you're allowed to have in a hunting rifle may be three or five, max.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the assault weapon ban and we all refer back to what happened under President Clinton. But you're saying that just wasn't enough. Why? Is it because of the grandfathering of millions of these things that were still out?

DIAZ: Yes, grandfathering basically means it exempted all of the existing illegally owned guns at the date that it all went into effect. So manufacturers ramped up production; importers brought in a lot more guns so that when the law went into effect, there were millions of guns that weren't covered, even though they would have been by the definition.

So one problem is grandfathering. If you do that, you have a problem.

The other problem was the definition of what was an assault weapon went off on what I call bells and whistles. Does it have a ban (inaudible). Really not that important.

Should have focused -- and the new law, I hope, will -- on the ability to take the high-capacity magazine.

AMANPOUR: Now you have said and you've pointed out that the number of Americans killed every year in gun deaths far outstrips the number of terrorist victims around the world. Let me read here.

"Worldwide deaths in terrorist attacks killed every year -- 13,000 approximately. Gun deaths in the United States in one year -- 31,600."

There's such a huge disconnect. Is this -- is this to be called terrorism, what's happening with these gun deaths?

DIAZ: Well, there are people who believe that it is a form of slow- motion terrorism. The point that I try to make is we've spent $2.25 trillion -- that's trillion, not billion dollars -- on so-called homeland security since the events of September 2001.

We spend a minimal amount -- in fact, we even tried to shut down gun research at the Centers for Disease Control. It's a question of national priorities. I think that stems from the fact that most Americans of goodwill simply do not know how many of their fellows, their brothers, their sisters, their mothers, their fathers, people they know, are killed every day, every week by guns in America.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying that American are not aware of the scale of this problem, some might say catastrophe. Why not? I mean, there are all these organizations. You talk about the CDC and the possibility of trying to, you know, put out figures and numbers on public health and injury.

Is it the NRA who's squelching that?

DIAZ: Well, the NRA and the -- and the gun industry have had a campaign to shut down information because they lose every time the argument is based on fact. So they've done things like prevented the -- they tried to eliminate the unit in CDC that did this research. And then what they really did was just cut their funding out.

They've shut down the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms from releasing data which it's -- it has millions of cases of gun use in crime. But you can't release to the public, only to (inaudible) law enforcement. They've insulated the gun industry from litigation. It's very difficult to sue the gun industry in the United States.

AMANPOUR: Is there any reason for optimism that you can see? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? If so, what is it?

DIAZ: I do think there is. We know from demographic polling data that young people, people of the kind of changing America of different ethnicities, different races, are not as fascinated by guns as -- I may dare say this -- sort of the old white male which we saw defeated in the last election. So there's hope in young people, in different cultures, who are not fascinated with guns.

I've also seen, very interestingly, some trends in agencies that -- public agencies that invest, for example, the California Teachers' Union said we're not investing in companies that sell guns that are illegal in (inaudible). So I see social changes, trends, different ways of looking at guns, not tomorrow, maybe not this year. But over time, certainly there's going to be change.

AMANPOUR: Tom Diaz, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

DIAZ: My pleasure. Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And you heard me mention earlier the idea of arming teachers, giving them lessons on how to shoot to kill. But does anyone want the future of American schools to look like this, like these Florida public school teachers in a firearms training program?

I want to talk now with one teacher, a professor, who has a unique perspective on the idea of armed educators.

Azar Nafisi is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She was famously a teacher back in Iran. She wrote a book about her experience, the best-selling "Reading Lolita in Tehran."

Welcome to the program, Azar Nafisi.

AZAR NAFISI, AUTHOR: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And the real reason I want to talk to you is because I was stunned to hear that your own son was at Virginia Tech that terrible day in 2007 when an armed student came in and massacred so many of his classmates and teachers.

What was going through your head as you waited for news?

NAFISI: Well, Christiane, I was thinking that we and our children survived through a war and a revolution and all the time that we were in Iran we were never worried about our neighbors, people in the streets, people in schools shooting at us.

What we were worried about mainly was gun violence coming from the government. And now I brought my son to this country to be safe, to be free, and in a small town named Blacksburg, Virginia, he is locked up as his fellow students are being massacred.

So for me, this is not a political issue. Every Republican and every Democrat is also a parent. And they also want their children to feel good and secure. For me, this is an existential issue, as a mother and a teacher.

AMANPOUR: You talk about being a mother and a teacher. You've seen these alarming pictures and you've heard this alarming debate about arming teachers, training teachers how to shoot if a madman came into their classroom. I mean, is that -- how do you react to that? Would you be able to arm yourself?

NAFISI: You know, Christiane, I find it so ironic that as we take out from our schools, beginning with elementary schools, music, literature, poetry, arts, everything that our children should be there for, to be taught empathy and curiosity and knowledge about the world, which is really the basis of self-confidence and freedom, if we want our children to have the confidence to live in this very complicated world, and as we do that, then we replace it with armed guards and armed teachers.

You know, one of the reasons I finally resigned my job in Iran was because if I had to go to the university thinking about the way I look or the way I talk and I constantly had to be worried about that, I could not give my all to my students.

How can a teacher with a gun think about teaching the students about beauty and harmony and love and life, which is also very, very much a part of the American heritage and American history?

AMANPOUR: Do you worry that if, in fact, that does happen, it could be open season, people would be going to movies and elsewhere with guns?

NAFISI: What are we going to do about the churches and the movie houses and the malls? What are we going to do about this violence that is enacted against individuals about whom we never hear?

We -- you know, so the whole point is that this country is going to be radically and fundamentally changed from the America that we believed in, from the America that I brought my children to, because I felt that this was the place where if you had an idea, if you had a dream, it could be actualized?

AMANPOUR: And as a new American citizen, reflect a little bit on what this epidemic of violence means, this view of America?

NAFISI: You know, over the past few weeks, I was sort of going over what -- how my husband and I prepared our children before we migrated to America. The way my children knew about America, the way they fell in love with it was through "The Wizard of Oz." It was through a guy named -- a small boy named Huck Finn, who'd rather to go to hell but do the right thing.

It was through Martin Luther King, I mean, when you think about civil rights, you realize that the answer to violence is not violence. The best and most important fights in this country, the fights for women's rights, the fights for civil rights has not been won with guns.

That is why people like Ronaldo (ph) and I come to this country and by golly, we're going to keep that image and that dream of America which brought us to this country.

AMANPOUR: Azar Nafisi, thank you very much indeed ,eloquent as always.

NAFISI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So how can we protect school children without that last resort of putting guns in schools?

Take a look at this picture. In China, where there was a vicious knife attack on a school the very same day as the Newtown massacre, there they're teaching children to defend themselves with brooms. And after a quick break, the enemy that just won't die -- they keep saying that Al Qaeda is finished. But tell that to the people of Mali in West Africa.

Al Qaeda inspired rebels are waging a bloody civil war there with French troops on the ground and more on the way we'll weigh the chances for victory when we return.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn our attention to Mali. The man behind the current military operation there, French President Francois Hollande, has spoken publicly again about the ongoing French airstrikes, saying the aim is to stop, quote, "terrorist aggression" and to secure the capital, Bamako.

The U.S., Europe and the African Union have been talking for months about stopping the heavily armed Islamists who've taken over Timbuktu in the north and more than half of Mali. And finally, France took action. But it's a move that's fraught with risks.

Joining me now from Mali is Adam Nossiter, the West Africa bureau chief for "The New York Times".

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AMANPOUR: Adam, can you tell me -- you're in Bamako. Has the French intervention blunted the advance of the Islamists?

ADAM NOSSITER, WEST AFRICA BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's difficult to say because on the one hand, the Islamists have stopped moving forward in the north. On the other hand, they have managed to infiltrate somewhat in the west.

And they've taken over a strategic town, village, really, on the border with Mauritania. And the French have been bombing around them. But the Islamists are well dug in in this area.

So it's hard to say just exactly how successful this five-day French bombing campaign has been so far.

AMANPOUR: We've heard some reports from people who were in the north, who say that, at least in some areas, they're now able to go out and do things like smoke on the streets and women can take their headscarves off. They feel a little bit more liberated there from those Islamists.

Tell me why the French basically had to go it alone. This has been a discussion that's been going on for months in the international community, how to stop the AQIM and jihadists. They pretty much had to go it alone. Nobody would do it, right?

NOSSITER: Well, the French were provoked into immediate action by an unexpected advance from an Islamist column in the north towards a very important town in the center of the country that possesses a strategic airfield.

So when the French saw the Islamist column moving toward the airfield at Sevare, they decided that they had to step in, that there was no more time for this endless round of planning and conferences and meetings. And they had succeeded in stopping that particular advance. The airfield at Sevare is saved and the city of Mopti, which is right nearby, was also saved.

On the other hand, it's not at all clear how quickly the French can dispose of this menace by bombing campaign alone, because what we're seeing in some of these localities is although the Islamists do leave their previous bases, only to go hide in the bush, and then take over surrounding locality. So we're not dealing with a conventional enemy here.

And I think this could be -- people are already starting to call it Afghanistan-style campaign.

AMANPOUR: So you know, it is hard to remember that Mali was a fairly stable democracy for a while, had been supported, a lot of the military, by the United States. And yet when push came to shove and this whole issue started months ago, these American trained military, a lot of them defected, just at the wrong time. And you've written a lot about this.

Give me a sense of what form and what created this mess that Mali's in right now.

NOSSITER: Well, it's been a long time coming. On the one hand, you had a government that was by and for the elite in this country, which is a rather typical African pattern, I'm afraid. So there was very little development of infrastructure and very little spent on the actual population. And that extended to the army as well.

Generals did rather well for themselves. The enlisted men did much less well. There was a deficit of equipment. There was a deficit of training, salaries were often not paid. So you have a demoralized and undertrained and underfed army.

You also had an army that was partly composed of an ethnic group, the Tuaregs, nomadic rebels in the north of Mali, whose ethnic group has been conducting sort of low-level rebellion against the state of Mali ever since its creation.

AMANPOUR: Right.

NOSSITER: So that when the revolt broke out a year ago, the Tuaregs who are already in the Malian army saw a good thing or so they thought. And left the decrepit Malian army and joined the rebellion. It so happens that many of these soldiers had also been trained by American special forces.

AMANPOUR: Right. And these -- this enemy right now seems to be outmanning and outgunning them.

Just what do they want? Is it just an Islamic caliphate? Are they just terrorists? Is it crime? Is it organized crime? What is it?

NOSSITER: Well, their goals have been rather vague. But when they've spoken of them, they have talked about establishing sharia law throughout Mali. They've talked about establishing an Islamic state. They've talked about chasing out foreigners. And so it does seem, though, it's a -- state-building is a rather secondary item on their agenda.

AMANPOUR: Adam Nossiter, thank you so much indeed for joining us. And we will keep an eye on Mali. There's the fog of war, as we've been talking about.

And in China, there's the smog of success, the unbridled economic boom in Beijing has spawned the worst pollution ever recorded there. It's even caused the artist Ai Weiwei and other Chinese to don air masks. But out of the toxic cloud, something new has emerged: constructive criticism from, of all sources, the state-owned Chinese media. Clearing the air, when we return.

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AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where deadly pollution could actually clear the air. Yesterday we showed you Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist, decked out in this gas mask. It wasn't just a protest, it was an act of survival. Pollution isn't a new thing in China. But as we've seen over the past few days, the capital, Beijing, has experienced the most dangerous pollution on record.

What is new is the government's response to the crisis. In a country that's notorious for squelching dissent, the Chinese leadership has heard the howls of protest emerging from the smog and it's been forced to allow state-owned media to call for reform.

This graph vividly shows why it had no choice. The air quality this week spiked high above hazardous, where hospitals reported a sharp rise in patients with breathing and heart problems. And the U.S. embassy provided hourly updates on its Twitter feed.

The weather forecast is now for clearing skies, but if China can find a way to balance its economic development with environmental sanity, the people there will breathe easier.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, amanpour.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

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