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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
GPS Special: Global Lessons on Guns
Aired December 8, 2013 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Welcome to a GPS special: GLOBAL LESSONS ON GUNS. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
On December 14th, 2012 a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut shocked the country. The horrific tragedy jolted the nation's conscience. Yet as awful and traumatic as Newtown was, that gruesome day in December was not an anomaly. It was part of an American trend. 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook that day. But every day in 2010, the most recent year of complete data, an average of 86 people were killed with a gun.
In total that year, there were more than 11,000 gun murders. More than 19,000 gun suicides and over 73,000 nonfatal gun injuries. This American reality is truly unique. Compare it to other rich countries. In 2009, the United States had six times as many gun homicides per hundred thousand people as Canada; 16 times as many as Germany. And 33 times as many as England and Wales. As far as gun violence is concerned, America is on another planet.
So can Americans learn something from other countries on this crucial issue -- of keeping its citizens safe? In this hour, we're going to travel the world to look for solutions. We'll visit one country where liberals and conservatives actually reached an agreement that caused shootings to plummet. In South America, we'll meet a former guerrilla once imprisoned on gun charges. We'll show you how he reduced violence in one of the world's most dangerous countries.
But first, let's visit a nation whose people are obsessed with video games even more so than Americans. Is gun violence an even bigger problem there? Let's get started.
ZAKARIA: In the weeks following the Newtown massacre a clearer picture of the shooter Adam Lanza began to emerge. Alienated and alone he played military video games in his basement for hours on end, according to reports. With access to a small arsenal, he turned video game fantasies into reality leaving 26 dead at Sandy Hook.
So in our search for global lessons on guns, we wanted to find a country that could teach us about gaming and gun violence.
We decided to visit Japan because few nations on earth have more avid gamers than the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese play many of the same violent video games that we do. In 2012, consumer spending on video games in Japan was second only to the U.S. But there's another factor to consider here when it comes to gun violence -- Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. The basic premise of those laws: if you want to own a gun, good luck. Japan's Firearm and Swords Control law states no person shall possess a firearm. Before listing a few narrow exceptions for hunters and other categories.
For the brave few still willing to apply for one, they face an intricately designed bureaucratic obstacle course. Just ask Rick Sacca, a former U.S. Marine living on Mount Fuji. He says he's one of only a handful of foreigners in Japan to legally own a gun.
Back at his house, he showed us the binders full of paperwork he's had to deal with over the years. They were a bit overwhelming, even to explain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What all do you have to do?
RICK SACCA, GUN OWNER: It is -- such a -- initially -- want to help me?
ZAKARIA: Sacca took over 20 hours of lectures, a written test, a shooting range class and he passed a criminal background check. A doctor gave him a full physical and psychological exam. He also visited the police station more than five times where he was interviewed in an interrogation room.
SACCA: Are you having any problems with alcohol? Are you having any problems with drugs? Are you having any problems with relationships, family, work, money?
ZAKARIA: The police also questioned Sacca's family, his coworkers, even his neighbors. And to top it off, he had to give them a detailed map of his home.
SACCA: To produce a floor map of where your firearm will be stored in your home. It's kind of unusual. And photos that actually detail all of the locks that we have to have in there and show that it's done properly.
ZAKARIA: It took Sacca over a year to get approved.
SACCA: That's our actual firearms license.
ZAKARIA: And he must renew his various licenses regularly.
SACCA: The intrusion that occurs with the process regularly would never ever be tolerated in the U.S.
ZAKARIA: It's a process meant to discourage people from even trying to get a gun and it works. Japan has fewer guns per person than almost any other country -- less than one firearm per 100 people, according to one estimate.
And the country's gun murder rate is astonishingly low. In 2012, this nation of 130 million counted only four gun murders -- that's right, four. By comparison, the United States had over 4,600 gun murders per 130 million people in 2010.
JAKE ADELSTEIN, REPORTER: Japan has so little gun violence that every time a shot is fired in Japan, it's national news. One of the guys pulled out a sword and slashed --
ZAKARIA: Jake Adelstein was a reporter for Japan's largest daily newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun for 12 years.
ADELSTEIN: This is the area where they stop and made to get out and this is where they made the arrest.
ZAKARIA: He authored a memoir of his reporting days called "Tokyo Vice". He says there is a dark side to the Rising Sun but it seldom leads to shots fired.
ADELSTEIN: I have not met a cop who has fired his gun in the course of duty. And I mean I know a lot of cops. I mean since 1993 I've been working as a reporter in Japan, mostly on the police beat.
ZAKARIA: In fact, guns are so rare and tightly regulated here, that even mobsters avoid using guns.
Known as the Yakuza and often recognized for their full body tattoos, Japanese organized crime doesn't lack for muscle. They have reportedly had enormous reach in business and politics. Once described as largest private equity group in Japan by Morgan Stanley.
But many don't like conducting business with a gun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Guns are like nuclear weapons -- weapons that the Yakuza has but won't use.
ZAKARIA: A former Yakuza boss sat down with us to give us his take on the mob's attitude. He insisted on wearing a mask but showed us his tattoos and his partially missing finger. Another Yakuza trade mark to prove his identity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Guns are kept and controlled by strict regulations within the Yakuza organization, so it is prohibited for members to take the gun out and use it.
ZAKARIA: That's because punishment for gun infractions are very high in Japan, he says. Simply firing a gun can get you life in prison. And if a foot soldier in the mob gets caught with a gun, his boss can also be held responsible. So these days, the Yakuza conduct business using less efficient methods.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There aren't specific orders on what weapons we should use but obviously there's only knives or Japanese swords instead of guns to kill.
ZAKARIA: Jake Adelstein says Japan's lesson for the U.S. is a simple one.
ADELSTEIN: If you make strict gun control laws and you assign cops to enforce those laws and you actually enforce them, the rate of gun deaths in the United States would plummet. But you have to do it.
ZAKARIA: So despite lots of barbaric video games gun violence barely exists in Japan but the country does seem different from America.
Well, next we will visit a country with lots of guns just like the U.S. but not a lot of gun violence. Find out their secret when we come back.
ZAKARIA: If there's one country with a love for guns that rivals America's, it's the nation best known for its Alps -- Switzerland.
Welcome to the Felt Scheutzen -- Switzerland's annual field shooting festival that's said to be the largest shooting competition in the world. Towns and villages across the country stage tests of marksmanship.
Families bring the kids. And after the competition, there's a gigantic party. One festival in the town of Salvenach (ph) was especially boisterous this past year. The winners of each event were cheered wildly. And the champion of the prestigious 300-meter competition, known to all as the shooting king, was wheeled out triumphantly to the tune of cow bells.
Switzerland is, by many measures, a gun-lover's paradise. According to one estimate the Swiss rank third in the world with 46 guns per 100 people. Trailing only Yemen and, of course, the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, fire.
ZAKARIA: Why is Switzerland armed to the teeth? Well thanks to a tradition that dates back to the dawn of the nation, it's citizen militia that forms its army. All able-bodied men from farmers to financers serve at least 260 days in the militia. They are all trained to shoot and most of them keep their guns at home.
Militiamen can hone their skills at their local shooting clubs, gun appreciation societies that boast hundreds of thousands of members offering classes, competition and camaraderie.
URSULA LUTZ, GUN OWNER: We do competitions together. And we are young people and we are older people.
ZAKARIA: Pistol-packing Ursula Lutz has been shooting for most of her life. At this day on her club, she hits the bull's eye 18 out of 20 times. Not bad for a 70-year-old.
LUTZ: I was very surprised, yes. I never did it.
ZAKARIA: Even the youngsters here are expert marksmen. Dave Hah- Bairt is all of ten years old and started training two years ago. His advice for the inexperienced -- don't fidget while shooting.
Despite the Swiss people's enthusiasm for guns, gun homicide rates are much lower than the United States. Six times lower, in fact. Supporters of gun rights in America have claimed that the Swiss prove one of their main points -- lots of guns doesn't necessarily mean lots of gun violence.
But that's not the whole story here in Switzerland.
DR. MARTIN KILLIAS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ST. GALLEN: Their interest definitely is not that any crazy man with a criminal history should go out and be able to buy a gun at any spot.
ZAKARIA: Dr. Martin Killias is a professor of criminology at the University of St. Gallen. He points out that many Swiss gun law is are much stricter than those in America.
KILLIAS: There are nowadays far more controls than there used to be in the past.
ZAKARIA: Everyone who buys a gun must pass a background check. Automatic weapons are banned and gun purchases must be registered with the government.
The NRA, Killias says, would not be very happy.
KILLIAS: Oh, they would say it is a communist country, definitely.
ZAKARIA: In the militia, soldiers can take home their weapons but not their ammunition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, fire.
ZAKARIA: After a soldier has completed his service, he must now reapply for the right to keep his gun.
HERMAN SUTER, VICE PRESIDENT, PROTELL: You are penalized. Every militia soldier is a potential murderer.
ZAKARIA: Herman Suter is the vice president of ProTell, Switzerland's version of the NRA. It's named for William Tell, Switzerland's mythical marksman who according to the legend shot an apple off his son's head.
Suter sounds a lot like Charlton Heston.
SUTER: Only over my dead body. I will not give my personal arm away.
ZAKARIA: The truth is, many gun owner's attitudes in Switzerland are very different from the NRA.
Ursula Luz, the pistol-packing 70-year-old loves to shoot. But she is not interested in looser (ph) gun laws like in America.
LUTZ: I don't want people who walk on the street with the guns.
ZAKARIA: Switzerland may look like a gun utopia but it combines the availability of firearms with significant gun control.
Next, we'll visit a country where politics about guns was very contentious but liberals and conservatives there actually reached a political agreement on some far-reaching measures.
ZAKARIA: John Fidler, his wife Gaye, and Walter Mikac can relate to the horrors of the Newtown massacre all too well.
JOHN FIDLER: He just walked up and stood in front of people and just shot them. Shot them in the heads.
WALTER MIKAC: I know what it is like waking up the next day. It's your birthday. You wake up alone and there's a card on the bedside table that's not been written in, and there's no noise in the house. And it's not going to change for quite a long time.
ZAKARIA: The Fidlers and Mikac were forever changed by the worst mass shooting in Australia's history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heard the gunshots.
ZAKARIA: On April 28, 1996 over 30 people were shot dead at a crowded tourist destination -- a historic prison in Port Arthur, Tasmania. 28-year-old Martin Bryant arrived at the site, ate lunch, then walked into a cafe and pulled a semiautomatic rifle out of his bag.
His first shots killed three of the Fidler's best friends, Wally Bennett, Kevin Sharp and Kevin's brother, Ray Sharp, who were gunned down right in front of them.
J. FIDLER: I froze. I couldn't move. I didn't know what to do. I thought this is the end.
GAYE FIDLER, WIFE OF JOHN FIDLER: I said to John, (inaudible) and with that, he turned around and pushed me under the table. And the man behind me hasn't gone ahead. And now the others under the table told me to be quiet. And John told me to shush, and the we pretended to be dead.
ZAKARIA: Miraculously the gunman moved on. And the Fidlers escaped with their lives. Outside the cafe Walter Mikac's wife Nanette and their daughters Alana and Madeline had been having a picnic. Nanette flagged down a car so they could escape. But in that car was the gunman himself. Nanette pleaded for her family but the killer shot her and (inaudible) Madeline, then chased down Alana and shot her near a tree where she was trying to hide.
MIKAC: Like the doctor said Nanette and the girls are all dead. I just remember this primal scream. I really wanted to be with them. At that point in time, I would have been much happier to be dead than alive.
ZAKARIA: In all, 35 people were killed before Bryant was captured by the police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not take your children for granted.
ZAKARIA: It was said to be the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman the world had ever seen until 2011 when Anders Breivik shot almost 70 people to death in Norway.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: The overwhelm willing feeling was, this is terrible. We had to do something about it.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister John Howard had been elected just weeks before the massacre. Other mass shootings in Australia had provoked outrage, but with so many victims from different parts of the country, the Port Arthur shooting shocked this small nation of 18 million to its core.
HOWARD: In politics you either use political capital for a good cause or you watch it waste away and I felt that I had to use the authority of my office to change things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A dramatic reduction in the order of automatic and semiautomatic weapons --
HOWARD: Howard proposed the toughest gun laws in Australia's history -- a ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and pump action shotguns, mandatory gun registration requiring a reason for buying a gun, and new rules for storing guns. If they pass, they will represent one of the most dramatic changes to a country's gun laws the world had ever seen.
It wasn't going to be easy. Howard was a conservative and many of his supporters were rural gun owners who were dead set against tighter laws.
As he traveled the country to sell the plan, Howard met plenty of resistance.
HOWARD: Those decisions are not going to be changed.
ZAKARIA: Wearing a bulletproof vest at one rally.
TIM FISCHER, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TO JOHN HOWARD: It wasn't all that popular. There was a lot of critical outbursts in the media. But was it the right call, overall for Australia? Yes, it was.
ZAKARIA: Tim Fischer was Howard's deputy prime minister and somewhat unlikely ally -- a proud gun owner and a veteran of the Vietnam War. But he supported Howard's efforts wholeheartedly.
FISCHER: I'm totally opposed to automatics and semiautomatics being in the suburbs of Australia or anywhere.
ZAKARIA: Thanks to Howard's broad coalition, all of Australian's state and territories enacted the reforms within about two years of the Port Arthur shooting. To get rid of all of the newly banned guns, the government sponsored a gun buyback program paying everyone to turn in their illegal guns so they could be destroyed.
Over 600,000 guns were eliminated, an estimated one-fifth of Australia's civilian firearms. After the new measures were passed, some of Prime Minister Howard's right wing allies were voted out of office. But overall, the reforms were popular.
HOWARD: In a short period of time, they are rising out of a terrible tragedy. We did bring about a change which over the years demonstrated to save lives.
According to one study, gun suicides fell 65 percent in the decade that followed and while the sample size for gun homicides were small, they still fell 59 percent. What's more? There hasn't been a single mass shooting in Australia since Port Arthur. Still, for the victims of Port Arthur, painful memories will never be too far away.
G. FIDLER: One of the things that affect me the most is if we wake up to the radio in the morning and there's been shootings overseas, particularly America. And that really does make us take a step back sort of thing.
MIKAC: Almost like what happens in those events is not that far from this normal life. It is the cancer that's eating away the United States of America. But it is possible to change the way things are.
ZAKARIA: Australia offers a hopeful example for those who support gun control -- that political leadership can make a difference.
Up next, the remarkable story of a former guerrilla fighter turned big city mayor who reduced gun violence in one of the world's most dangerous countries.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): This is a Ciudad Bolivar, a mountainous shanty town in Bogota, Colombia. An area notorious for its high levels of violence.
Here and throughout Bogota, police take to the streets daily to confiscate guns and other weapons. At this bar, they find this knife. It is all part of an effort to disarm Colombia's capital and largest city, since General Luis Martinez, the head of Bogota's Metropolitan Police.
GEN. LUIS MARTINEZ, HEAD OF BOGOTA'S METROPOLITAN POLICE (through translator(: Bogota has a grave problem. And that is that on weekend it's the product of the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Crimes like homicide and personal injuries increase.
ZAKARIA: Bogota, a city of almost eight million people had over 1,600 murders in 2011 alone. Most involved guns. When Gustavo Petro took office as mayor in January 2012, he decided to take this crisis immediately.
MAYOR GUSTAVO PETRO, BOGOTA (through translator): In a country they had a president who said for eight years consecutively, arm yourself, self defend, create a culture of us against them. I propose a totally different thesis. Disarm yourselves. Let's all disarm ourselves.
ZAKARIA: So Petro instituted a trial ban on guns in public places. No weapons allowed on streets of Bogota, not in cars, not in bars. It is a bold proposal in a place where guns form the fabric of daily life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this very unique countries of Latin-America, very few people prefer to self protect and to investing their own security. These are cities of walls and cameras and fences and guards.
ZAKARIA: Jorge Restrepo (ph), the director of CIRAC (ph), an independent think tank that analyzes armed conflicts, points out that the right to bear arms is not enshrined in Colombia's Constitution.
In order to obtain a gun legally here, you need a permit from the military. To get that, you need to prove a genuine reason whether you want the gun for sport, collection, or for personal protection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then after demonstrating that, you pass some medical examinations and clinical examination background checks. And you can get a weapon.
ZAKARIA: Restrepo (ph) estimates tat there are about one million guns, legal and illegal, in circulation throughout Bogota. And what the ban does is allow cops to confiscate every weapon on the streets. The gun restriction which began as three-month trial, was generally supported by the public and was implemented by the military and the police. But Mayor Petro's measure banning weapons in public was not without great irony.
PETRO (through translator): Part of the reasons for violence is that we have armed ourselves. The state has armed themselves. The insurgencies. I was part of the Colombian insurgency.
ZAKARIA: That's right, Mayor Gustavo Petro, the second most important elected official in Colombia and one-time candidate for president used to be a member of the N-19 guerrilla group. An insurgency that once sought political power through arms struggle.
PETRO (through translator): The war hit us hard. I was imprisoned. They tortured me. The majority of my friends died.
ZAKARIA: He spent almost two years in prison. The charge, illegal possession of a firearm. Now decades since Petro first disarmed, he asked his constituents to do the same.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very notorious for man that wasn't armed against the state to say, let's get those guns back to the state. Those guns need to be in the hands of the security personnel and professionals of security. And we are going also to provide security to the people. That's the main focus of his mayorship. And he is being quite successful with that. In other areas he is a disaster. But in that area, he is successful.
ZAKARIA: Indeed, he has been so disastrous in those other areas that lawmakers are trying to impeach Gustavo Petro for lack of due diligence and for restricting competition.
Now the gun ban may be the only positive part of his legacy. And there are numbers to prove it. The weapons restrictions along with better strategic policing have reduced Bogota's murder rate by 24 percent in 2012. According to the mayor's office, this represents a three-decade low for the city. The ban has been extended and will be in place for the foreseeable future. And Petro thinks that the United States could stand to revolutionize its attitude on guns as well.
PETRO (through translator): I watch from afar, but it's undoubtable that there is a sickness within the American society with regards to an idolatry of guns which is part of its history. But which is doing it much harm.
Could it be that Bogota can say to Colombia and to the most violent region in the world which extends even close to Washington that we can escape violence.
ZAKARIA: If that sounds far fetched, consider this. Last year, Detroit and New Orleans had about 54 homicides for every 100,000 people. Bogota, Colombia had 17 homicides for the same population and that has declined since then.
ZAKARIA (on camera): Up next, a retired United States general who wants to take away soldiers' guns. Stay with us.
ZAKARIA (on camera): Every day in the United States, on average, about a hundred Americans die by suicide. More than half of these cases involved firearms. For members of the military, between 2008 and 2010 nearly two thirds of all suicides involve firearms.
One man says, enough. He is a seasoned leader from an organization that literally lives and dies by guns.
You're a general, you're an army man. You have spent your life around guns. You are comfortable with them. You know they can be used responsibly. But you also feel that when people are at risk, in terms of mental issues, it is very dangerous for them to have access to guns.
GEN. PETER CHIARELLI, RETIRED, FMR. ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: It is very dangerous for them to have access to guns. I believe that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Chiarelli will discuss the reports and suicide prevention efforts in the Army.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): General Peter Chiarelli now retired, took over as the Army's vice chief of staff in 2008. The Army's suicide rate had doubled since 2001.
CHIARELLI: This is an area we have to in fact attack.
ZAKARIA: And he was tasked with battling the epidemic.
CHIARELLI: I would be very, very careful in not underestimating the impact of 13 years of war on an all-volunteer force. I think we are seeing in the suicide numbers some of the affect of repeated deployments and high stress and trauma.
ZAKARIA: To better understand the issue, Chiarelli was briefed on the details of every single suicide that occurred during the four years that he was the Army's number two officer. In 2010, a eureka moment.
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: I do want to express our thoughts and condolences -
ZAKARIA: Admiral Michael Mullen then chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff had sent an article from a medical journal to the Pentagon's top brass.
CHIARELLI: It showed how this particular medical organization working with a high risk population of people, who could commit suicide, have lowered their suicide rate to zero for a three-year period, solely by recommending to people who were in crisis to separate themselves from their privately-owned weapons. That was striking to me.
ZAKARIA: But when he tried to institute it in the Army, Pentagon lawyers told him it was a no-go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our freedom is under attack like never before.
ZAKARIA: The NRA, they said, would block him. And that's exactly what the gun advocacy group tried to do.
The NRA got Congress to include a provision that barred military commanders from even collecting information about a troop's personal weapon. Was that frustrating?
CHIARELLI: It is frustrating when you work with at-risk population. The reason why it is so frustrating is that this science is so in exact. We need to have the ability to recommend to that individual that they separate themselves from that personal weapon. That's what's frustrating about it.
ZAKARIA: Frustrating also to a dozen senior retired generals and admirals who joined Chiarelli in lobbying Congress to amend the law. They argued it was directly prohibiting conversations that are needed to save lives.
Shouldn't you be able to order a soldier to do this. I mean, given how compelling that research was?
CHIARELLI: Well, the fact of the matter is, as far as Congress was willing to go, was that we can make the recommendation. We can't confiscate. We can't force. ZAKARIA: It may not be the law Chiarelli wanted but the National Defense Authorization Act now allows military leaders to ask troops about private firearms if they believe members are at risk of harming themselves or others.
CHIARELLI: I think we are on a journey. I think it was a huge win for us to get that out of legislation so commanders can now ask that question.
ZAKARIA: Just look at Israel. In 2006, the Israeli defense forces tackled the rising suicides among their troops. They forbid soldiers from bringing their weapons home on weekends. On weekends, the suicide rate dropped by 40 percent. Weekday rate remained flat.
CHIARELLI: It is hugely powerful. You don't have to just look at Israel. There are just so many studies.
ZAKARIA: What do you say to those who say, there is a second amendment and that's why you can't go much further with your efforts?
CHIARELLI: I don't buy that. I don't believe the second amendment was put in place to take a person who is at high risk for hurting themselves and put in their hands a weapon that, that in an impulsive moment, at a time when they're not thinking straight, they can end their life.
ZAKARIA: Last year, a record 350 soldiers killed themselves. That's more than died on the battlefield. And it is not just a problem for the armed forces. More than 38,000 Americans kill themselves in 2010 using guns and other methods. That's more than double the number that died in homicides, according to the CDC. Over the last decade, suicides among middle-aged Americans increased by a staggering 28 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I started to oversee the army's suicide prevention efforts -
ZAKARIA: Retired General Peter Chiarelli thinks mental health professionals should also be able to do what the army has started to do.
CHIARELLI: I think we should look that nationally. Individuals that provide behavior health counseling to people who are at risk, that they make that recommendation to their patients.
ZAKARIA: That they separate -
CHIARELLI: That they separate themselves from their guns. I am not a doctor. But I've read enough evidence along these lines that indicate that would truly be a best practice that we should adopt.
ZAKARIA: A study by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that suicide rates were higher in states with lots of guns. States like Wyoming, where 63 percent of households report owning guns. The 15 states with the highest levels of household firearm ownership have about 116 million people. That's roughly the same population as the six states with the lowest rates of gun ownership, which have 119 million people.
And yet, between 2000 and 2002, almost twice as many people committed suicide in the 15 high gun states as in the six low gun states. Again, that's comparing two populations of roughly the same size.
Another study just released shows that reducing gun ownership by 10 percent in all states would result in between 1,640 to 2,960 fewer deaths by suicide each year. Suicide is a complex problem but one thing seems clear, certainly to retired General Peter Chiarelli.
CHIARELLI: We need to quit pointing the finger at the services and look at this huge national problem. Are we putting the resources we need against the research necessary to understand this and study it. When 38,000 of our citizens take their own lives every single year, this is a national problem that we need to attack. And we can.
The good news is that active duty military suicides were down 22 percent this year. That still meant 245 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have killed themselves by the end of October. That's 245 too many. The reasons are complicated. Increased awareness and vigilance likely play a role, but also, the shrinking of the U.S. military. As it draws down in Afghanistan and as it deals with the sequester, many active duty are turning into veterans, and they're the numbers that are not very promising.
The most recent statistics show that one out of every five people who kill themselves in America is a military veteran. That's 8,000 people every year.
(on camera): Up next, what to make of all these lessons from all over the world. My own conclusions coming up.
ZAKARIA: We've gone all over the world in search of solutions, ways to bring down the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts America.
We saw many interesting ideas that work. All of them centering around some simple common sense ideas that will put some checks on the unfettered sale and possession of firearms. What we did not find was a large scale nationwide example when expanded attention to mental health issues could be tied to a reduction in homicides or suicides using guns.
This might surprise you. Every time there is a serious gun massacre in the United States, and these are fairly common, the media focuses on the twisted psychology of the shooter and asks why we don't pay more attention to detecting and treating mental illness.
CHIARELLI: When I started to oversee the Army's suicide prevention efforts -
ZAKARIA: But as people like General Peter Chiarelli told me, and he was tasked by the United States Armed Forces to look into this issue, while you can identify mental issues and be aware of reasons for stress, it is ultimately impossible to predict who among the many under pressure will snap, when that might be, and what form that break will take.
The question we should really be focused on is not the specific cause of a single shooting, but why there are so many of them in America. To remind you, in recent years, there have been around 10,000 gun homicides a year in the United States. According to the U.N., in Germany and Canada, there were fewer than 200. In Spain, fewer than 100. In Australia, fewer than 50.
America's per capita gun homicide rate in 2009 was 12 times higher than the average of Canada, Germany, Australia, and Spain. Does anyone think that we have 12 times as many psychologically troubled people as they do in these countries? There are other reasons often given for gun violence. Popular culture and violent video games in particular. But as this survey across the world should have shown, countries that imbibe much the same gory culture in Europe and Australia have much lower levels of violence.
Japan with its particular fascination with violent video games is actually stunningly low in gun deaths.
So whatever you think of violent video games and movies, they don't seem to be the key cause of gun violence.
And we do have an actual experiment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) dramatic reduction.
ZAKARIA: In the aftermath of its own New Town like massacre, Australia changed its gun laws. The result homicide and suicides plummeted in the decade that followed.
Of course, like all real world problems, the link between guns and violence is a complex issue. But one rarely has so much evidence pointing in the same direction. That finally leaves the issue of the American constitution.
The argument that the second amendment makes any kind of serious gun control impossible. I'm not a legal historian, but I will note that many serious ones have pointed out that the second amendment was not invoked for much of American history, often applied only to well- regulated militias, and for many decades did not stand in the way of sensible gun regulation, and that the Supreme Court upheld such regulation.
All that started to change in the 1970s and '80s as part of a spirited political movement to make gun rights inviolable. As I said, I'm not a lawyer, but listen to someone who was.
Warren Burger. He was chief justice of the Supreme Court for 17 years. A conservative Republican appointed by Richard Nixon. Here's what he said about the second amendment.
WARREN BURGER, FMR. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud - I repeat the word fraud - on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. Look at those words. There are only three lines to that amendment. A well regulated militia. If the militia, which was going to be the state army, was going to be well regulated, why shouldn't 16, 17, 18, or any other age persons be regulated in the use of arms?
Someone asked me recently if I was for or against a bill that was pending in Congress calling for five days waiting period. I said "Yes, I'm very much against it. It should be 30 days waiting period."
ZAKARIA: But let's get away from the legal issues. Here's how I think about it basically.
One of the most important tasks for a government is to keep its citizens, especially its children, safe on the streets and in their schools. Every other developed country in the world is able to fulfill this basic mandate. America is not. And the greatest tragedy is that we know how to do it.
Tune in to our regular show every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Good night, and thanks for watching this GPS Special.