Return to Transcripts main page


US Gun Control Debate; Current State of Afghan Daily Life

Aired January 30, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

For the first time since 20 small children and their educators were gunned down in their school in Newtown, Connecticut, Congress is holding hearings now on gun violence. The Senate drama is pitting the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, against the former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who took a bullet to the head in a mass shooting in Arizona two years ago.

Today she kicked off the proceedings with an emotional call for action.


GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.


AMANPOUR: Gabby Giffords still has some difficulty speaking, of course. And look at just how she laboriously hand-wrote those words on a sheet of notebook paper.

From the opposite corner this morning came the NRA's Wayne LaPierre against not just gun control but even background checks.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: When it comes to background checks, let's be honest. Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.


AMANPOUR: One thing may be changing, though -- the abject fear the NRA has inspired in politicians for decades. Previously on this program one lawmaker told us how she had been hounded out of office by them.


DEBRA MAGGART, FORMER TENN. LEGISLATOR: Well, I can tell you, in Tennessee, the way the NRA operated, they made it to where no policymaker, no lawmaker could have an honest meaningful discussion about any gun rights legislation because everyone was afraid of them.

AMANPOUR: Taggart (ph), as we said, lost her state congressional seat after the NRA came after her. But today's polls show that a full 87 percent of Americans now favor universal background checks, as do 74 percent of all NRA members.

The killing of all those small children in Newtown looks more and more to have been a watershed moment. Take a look at this graph. Press and public attention to this issue remain high, unlike in the past, when it quickly fell off, even after Giffords was shot.

And having not touched this issue before, Newtown has also spurred President Obama to action. He says he'll use all the powers of his office to help avoid further tragedies. And two weeks ago, he signed a sweeping array of federal actions aimed at preventing gun violence.

He's called, for instance, for renewed research into the public health aspect of this scourge, something that was shut down under heavy pressure by the NRA 17 years ago, as gun policy expert Tom Diaz explained to me.


TOM DIAZ, GUN POLICY EXPERT: 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 facts. So they've done things like prevented -- they tried to eliminate the unit in CDC that did this research and then what they really did was just cut their funding out.


AMANPOUR: And in a moment, I'll be speaking with the doctor who did that vital research. But first, a look at some of the other stories that we're covering on this program tonight.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This media mogul has brought flash, dash and even an Afghan idol to the stage. He insists that after NATO makes its exit, the show will go on.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And just as Gabby Giffords inspired America, so, too, this little Pakistani girl inspired the world with her courage. Now as Malala Yousafzai puts her young life back together, the final piece is quite literally falling into place.



AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, Dr. Mark Rosenberg was the head of research on gun violence prevention at the Centers for Disease Control when funding was cut off.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg joins me now. Welcome to the program, Doctor. Thanks for being here.

DR. MARK ROSENBERG, CDC: Thanks, Christiane, for having me.

AMANPOUR: What do you think now that President Obama has authorized more money and has asked for more money and for research to begin again at the CDC. What different will that make?

ROSENBERG: I think it makes a tremendous difference. It gives us information as to what works. And right now we're at a tremendous disadvantage. We don't know what kind of laws or policies work. And it's a life-and-death problem. We've got to find out.

AMANPOUR: So when you -- when we say a public health hazard, a public health issue, explain to me the kinds of questions, the kinds of things you need to study to come to whatever you're going to come to.

ROSENBERG: Four simple questions: this isn't complicated, esoteric rocket science. But we ask four basic questions.

First, what's the problem? Who bought what where when? So got shot with what under what circumstances?

Second, what are the causes? What increases your risk and what can protect you?

Third, what works to prevent these kinds of shootings?

And, fourth, how to implement those things that work?

These are the four basic questions that we need to know the answers to.

AMANPOUR: And we've been talking about how the funding for this research that you were conducting previously was cut off.

What does that mean? In these intervening 17 years, what -- how has that affected this issue here, not just the political debate, but the issue of life and death?

ROSENBERG: It means that we've been going blind. We don't know what kinds of policies work. We don't know whether allowing more people to carry guns results in more killings or prevents some of these deaths. We don't know whether licensing or registration or gun bans in a certain city like Chicago will reduce deaths or what their impact might be.

So we're operating without that knowledge. And basically we're operating blind in this very critical area.

AMANPOUR: We -- let me just interrupt you there, or ask you, because you mentioned Chicago and today it's front-page news here in the United States, that despite the gun laws in Chicago, there has been a continuation of gun violence, a terrible continuation of gun deaths. And, indeed, you know, the -- almost terribly tragically, ironic story of a young girl who performed at President Obama's inauguration being gunned down in Chicago just today by a gun.

ROSENBERG: I think it illustrates the position we're in, Christiane. We just don't know what works and we don't know how to do it because we've been kept in the dark. We haven't been allowed to collect the data that we need that could let us judge a ban like Chicago's on guns works.

And we don't have the evidence to know what sorts of policies might make a difference. We just don't have enough evidence to be able to judge it. We certainly don't have enough data to say that the gun restrictions in Chicago don't make a difference.

You need to do large studies, look at large numbers of people, look at large geographic areas. They take time to do, but they're critically important. So we do know what works.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, you say a lot of -- we do know certain things; we don't know other things. There's obviously been the studies that you and others have done, that your organization and others have done, into, for instance, car deaths.

How is that analogous to this?

ROSENBERG: Well, in 1996, there were about the same number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes as from firearm injuries. And the reason that the motor vehicle crashes were such a low number was that in the 1960s, we had an epidemic of young people dying on the roads. And we said this is unacceptable. We don't want this to go on.

And the government put hundreds of millions of dollars into motor vehicle research. And what we found were things that helped us redesign cars. So we made safer cars. We put in seat belts and air bags and front- end protection and rollover protection. We also made safer roads. We put in speed bumps.

We put in barriers on the side. And we took out traffic intersections with red lights and put in traffic circles. We made roads safer and finally we made drivers safer. We did a tremendous effort to take impaired drivers off the road. But making cars safer, roads safer and drivers safer, bit by bit, made a huge difference.

And motor vehicle crash death rates are down by 31 percent. It's been a huge success story. And it was based on research and finding out what worked. But in this area of firearm injuries, we were basically prevented from doing that research and not us at CDC.

The American people were made to go forward without knowing what works. And we have gun deaths every year. We have 30,000. So if you talk about 16 years in which research wasn't allowed to be done, that's 480,000 lives that might have been saved. That's a lot.

AMANPOUR: Doctor, let me just ask you to respond to a graph that we're going to put up. You can't actually see it, but the majority of deaths in this country are by handguns.

I've put this up because I want to just have you answer the issue that's the political issue. You know, people are saying -- certainly the NRA leaders are saying that if you talk about gun control, you're talking about taking away everybody's guns.

What do you answer when they say to you that your research is politically motivated?

ROSENBERG: Our research basically says let's use science to save lives. It did tremendous work in saving motor vehicle crash deaths, tremendous progress in saving lives from cancer, heart disease, stroke. It's a huge way to proceed and to know how to proceed.

I should add most of those deaths that you show in the chart there, Christiane, are suicides. Most gun deaths are not homicides; they're suicides. And these are our children. They're our parents or our brothers and sisters who are killing themselves. These are preventable deaths.

AMANPOUR: And let me --

ROSENBERG: If we can just start to find out how.

AMANPOUR: Does your area of study focus also on what many people are talking about now and figuring out the effect on young children who are, by the way, being recruited by the gun manufacturers to use guns younger and younger? The effect on young children of violent TV shows, of video games, of all of that kind of stuff, does that play a part into your research?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. We're not researching gun control per se. We're looking at what can be done to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. And it involves a wide range of things, better ways to detect people with serious mental illness and better ways to keep firearms out of their hands, looking at the culture of violence, looking at domestic violence, looking at child abuse and the role that these play.

I should also say that our research proceeds with two principles. The first principle is that we want to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The second principle equality as important is that we need to protect the rights of legitimate gun owners. We need to do both. They are givens before we even start the research.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. Well, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, thank you very much indeed. We'll keep monitoring this, and hopefully we'll have you back. Thank you so much.

ROSENBERG: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And before we take a break, if you're concerned about the number of assault weapons and multiple ammo clips on the streets of America, check out this piece of military hardware. That's a portable missile launcher, purchased a few days in Seattle, Washington, believe it or not.

After law enforcement seized it, they're trying to determine if it's legal. If it is, they may have to let the owner keep it. And we'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Whenever we mention Afghanistan these days, it's with a collective sigh, a frown and shaking of heads. What will become of the massive investment in lives and dollars and very real improvements made by the United States, by NATO nations and the Afghan people over the past 12 years?

Like this, for instance, the first new railroad built in Afghanistan in nearly 100 years; and this, strong advances in literacy and education for girls and boys. At the same time, there's also been dramatic cultural change.

Before the war, there was no television at all, just a radio station playing an endless loop of Islamic prayers. Today, TV is a staple of Afghan life. There's a 24-hour news channel. I wonder where they got that idea? But they also have a Western-style sitcom about a bumbling government minister. And "Afghan Idol," a singing competition with young hopefuls and a smart-aleck set of judges.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Some things are still taboo. But what happens to television if the Taliban regains a foothold? And the broader improvements in the infrastructure and education that have changed the fabric of life for Afghans?

My next guest states very firmly that the paste is out of the tube and potentially impossible to put back. He's Saad Mohseni. He's the media mogul behind Afghanistan's Tolo Television. And we welcome him now to the studio.

It's good to see you again.

SAAD MOHSENI, TOLO TV: Good seeing you, too.

AMANPOUR: Thanks for coming in. So you heard all of that. You're responsible for a lot of this media landscape that's changed there. What is at stake after 2014 when the forces pull out, the U.S. and other NATO forces?

MOHSENI: I mean, we've made tremendous gains as you mentioned before. And I think we have to ensure that the political transition is smooth enough for us to not give anything back.

The country doesn't want to change. The people have grown accustomed to media, to television, to mobile phones and you know, the media, for us, it's been a tremendous achievement to facilitate social change. And the people certainly don't want to go back.

AMANPOUR: You have said that, you know, you've had a huge and very successful media empire there. What will happen and do you envision the Taliban coming back into any sort of power? What will -- what effect will that have on your business?

MOHSENI: Well, they don't deserve to have too much of a say. I mean, the Taliban, to this day, their approval rating doesn't exceed 10 percent, even in the south, where they basically originate from. Their popularity remains at under 30 percent.

So we have to be careful not to give too much away in terms of consensus (ph) --


AMANPOUR: Is there a risk?

MOHSENI: Of course there's a risk. That's why I think that the U.S. government, the Europeans and others who are trying to bring the two -- the different groups together, they have to ensure that what the Taliban are given ultimately reflects their support within the country.

AMANPOUR: What might it mean for somebody like yourself? I mean, we know that the women and the girls are terrified. We know many people are terrified if the worst happens and they get too much control. But from a business point of view, does that worry you as well?

MOHSENI: Yes, it does. I mean, but Afghanistan has made, you know, enormous progress since 2001. We talked about previously about urbanization, how the country's very close to 50-50 in terms of urban- rural, which is, you know --


MOHSENI: -- huge impact in terms of, you know, tribal issues become less important; sectarian issues become less important. Education, you know, we're around 30-35 percent.

But if we keep the students consistent, about different parts of the country in terms of girls and boys attending the school, we will exceed Pakistan's literacy rate in a decade. And we'll be up to sort of 80-odd percent in 21/2 decades. That's an enormous change for the -- for the country.

And also in terms of the economy, I mean, the economy has grown sort of double-digit for the last 10 years. And if that were to continue, that's going to impact the way that Afghans see themselves. And their role within the region itself.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the economy, something like 90 percent of the Afghan budget is foreign aid. All the infrastructure and people and businesses and aid and all of that that's come with all these foreign forces. If that is withdrawn, what impact and how do you make that up?

MOHSENI: Well, there's an enormous black economy in the country. I think the government budget relates more to government services, infrastructure and that sort of thing. And I think it's very important that continues because we don't want basically a period of 2-3 years where just things collapse. And that would certainly weaken the central government.

But I think that there is a viable economy and I think we have to, you know, continue to work in terms of allowing the private sector develop. The country's, you know, quite enormous; size of France; population of 30 million people; strategically positioned. I think Afghans can do much to really contribute to the region.

But I think that that's why it's so important for the internationals not to abandon Afghanistan. It's important for us to actually take stock of the huge achievements we've made but at the same time not to abandon the country.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk to you through your hat as a media executive, because you've been able to see from the very grassroots, for instance, the improvements in the press landscape. You know, we hear a lot of things; the government cracking down on journalists and this and that if they don't like what they're saying.

But you have had your confrontations with President Karzai. In fact, he gave his first-ever interview to you, to Tolo Television, after he was elected. He's been decent for free press, would you say?

MOHSENI: I would have to say yes. You know, media has become the fourth pillar of our democracy. And much of the credit should go to President Karzai. We criticize him, you know, obviously; we've done exposes on his cabinet ministers and so forth. We criticized the corruption within the state.

But you know, once he said to me, he said, you'll appreciate me one day. And I think he's been very tolerant of free press in the country. We have 60-70 odd television stations in the country, hundreds of radio stations. And you know --

AMANPOUR: What does that mean? I mean, it is just so weird to think about it, because I remember being there in 1996 and before, you know, when the Taliban was there and you -- as we said, there was no television and you couldn't -- you couldn't -- there was no connection of the country by media.

And now everybody's talking to each other.

MOHSENI: Exactly. I mean, we can't go back. And I think this is -- I mean, we are different to Pakistan. We're different to Iran. We're different to Central Asia. We're even different to Turkey in terms of our -- the freedom that we have as a -- as a media -- as a sector itself.

We don't have total freedom, but we have a lot more freedom that most of our neighbors. And for us, that's really important. You facilitate social change, but at the same time, media's played an important role in terms of exposing the corruption. It allows society to let off steam.

So we do play a very positive role in the country.

AMANPOUR: I want to also ask you about the political future of Afghanistan. I'm going to play a little bit of an interview that I did recently with President Karzai. And each time I ask him, "Are you really going to step down?" Will there be fresh elections for a new leader? And this is what he said to me.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Democracy is there. We will have an election year and a half from today. A new president will come to this country. A new government will come to this country. And I'll be a happily retired civil servant.


AMANPOUR: So he said that to me over and over, that there's no shenanigans, no hanky-panky. He's not going to try and, you know, manipulate the system to stay in office.


MOHSENI: Well, we'll have to take his word for it. He's said it often enough that it must be true.

But the single biggest challenge for us is the political transition, the elections of 2014. We have credible elections; I think we'll be OK for the next 5-6 years. We don't, there is a real danger that we'll see instability, especially in 2014, as U.S. troops withdraw.

AMANPOUR: Finally, just a one-word answer, are you optimistic or pessimistic about your future?

MOHSENI: Optimistic.

AMANPOUR: Good to hear it. Saad Mohseni, thank you very much for joining me.

And when we return, an update on Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani teen who stood up to the Taliban and almost paid with her life. And you'll never believe the souvenir she has to show for it.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as America continues to come to grips with the senseless slaughter of those 20 small children in Newtown and their educators, imagine one unforgettable young face that represents victims of both gun violence and religious extremism.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager, who was gunned down by the Taliban for merely wanting to go to school, she survived that attack when she was airlifted to a military hospital for emergency surgery that saved her life.

Later, she was transferred to a British hospital for more treatment and she was there reunited with her family. And earlier this month, she walked out under her own power, an inspiration to millions.

Now comes word that she's going back for more surgery, what doctors hope will be the last two procedures that she needs, as this incredible computer shows. After she was shot at point-blank range, a piece of Malala's skull was removed to relieve the swelling. The missing piece of bone was preserved in her abdomen to keep the cells alive.

But doctors fear the bone fragment may have shrunk. So, instead, they've used a model of her skull to create a titanium plate that'll be put in place to repair the damage. And they're also inserted a tiny electronic device to help her hearing.

As for that piece of her skull, plucky, indomitable Malala has asked the doctors to remove it and let her keep it a souvenir.

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