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Interview With UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini; Interview With "God Save Texas" Author And Executive Producer And "Mr. Texas" Author Lawrence Wright; Interview With "What We've Become" Author And Vanderbilt University Center For Medicine, Health, And Society Director Dr. Jonathan Metzl. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 13:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.

Desperation in Gaza with more than half a million people on the brink of famine. UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini joins me from Jerusalem amid damning

allegations over his agency providing critical aid.

Then --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was a kid here in Huntsville, there were 11 prisons. Now, there's 100 and something. What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about money.


AMANPOUR: "God Save Texas" from criminal justice to the southern border. A new documentary series takes a personal dive into the conservative, Lone

Star State. And I speak to bestselling author Larry Wright, whose book inspired the show.

Also, ahead --



proliferation of guns, it's just becoming this de facto response.


AMANPOUR: "What We've Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms." Dr. Jonathan Metzl joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss guns in America and why we

shouldn't believe the stereotype of mentally ill mass shooters.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Hospitals operating without power, a looming famine, and nearly 30,000 dead, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, where the situation is

desperate. President Biden is pushing for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh says the group is showing

flexibility in negotiations, but still is ready to fight. An agreement could see some of the Israeli hostages released and a pause in hostilities.

But for now, the war rages on.

One of the key groups tasked with providing humanitarian assistance in that besieged enclave is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, whose leader

is sounding the alarm about what he calls a manmade disaster. But the agency itself is under intense criticism after the Israeli government

alleged that 12 of its staff members were involved in the October seven Hamas attacks, which left 1,200 Israelis dead and hundreds taken captive.

UNRWA fired them and launched an investigation.

And the agency chief, Philippe Lazzarini, joins me now. from Jerusalem. Welcome to the program. Philippe Lazzarini.

Can I just start, please, by asking you about the critical situation on the ground? You said this week that humanitarian aid had halved, the deliveries

that you were able to do is only half of what you were able in January. Can you tell me whether -- just tell me what you're facing there?

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI, UNRWA COMMISSIONER-GENERAL: Yes. First of all, thank you for having me, Christiane. And as you describe, you know, this war is a

war of all the superlatives. There have been more children, more health staff, more U.N. staff, more journalist staff who have been killed in five

months -- in nearly five months than in any other conflict across the world.

Now, as you know the aid has been so far not commensurate to the need. The Gaza has been under siege. And in January, when the International Court of

Justice has asked the Israel and the International Community to scale up its humanitarian assistance, in reality, what we have seen has been a

decrease. In fact, in February, the average assistance has been halved compared to January.

The type of problem that we have, first, is a cumbersome administrative procedure on the Egyptian and Israel side. But we have also seen over the

last few weeks, the main crossing of Kerem Shalom being regularly closed, which means that the flow of a convoy into the Gaza Strip is absolutely

uneven. And because that the assistance coming into the striper is so little compared to the immensity of the needs, this has also created

desperation, chaotic situation where convoys entering into the Gaza striper have been regularly looted.


And I need also to add that, you know, we talk about a pocket of looming famine in the Gaza Strip, primarily in the north, and we haven't been

allowed to bring any convoys from the south to the north since the 23rd of January.

AMANPOUR: OK. Explain to me why, if there's looming famine, which a lot of the International Community seems to accept the diagnosis of various aid

agencies and the health ministry there, why you can't move from the south to the north? That's not check -- I mean, that's not the borders. If you

got trucks and aid in the south, why can't you move it to the people who need it in the north?

LAZZARINI: Well, you have a certain number of checkpoint, Israeli military checkpoint, and you need to coordinate every move of convoys from the south

to the north. And in reality, most of our demand to move convoys from the south to the north have been rejected, and whenever they have been

accepted, we had also a number of security incident.

But the problem here, Christiane, is that we are talking about a manmade famine, because in -- we have a kind of a total blockage for the people who

are living in the north. The answer would be extremely easy. It's political will. It's a decision to open a different crossing for the north, which

would allow to bring urgent and critical assistance to the people who are trapped there. We hear more and more situation where there is not even

enough animal food for human consumption for the people there.

AMANPOUR: Wait, wait, wait. Let me just stop you. What did you say? Animal food for human consumption? That's what they're relying on? There's not

even enough of that?

LAZZARINI: Yes. The -- we -- there is not even enough of animal food, animal fodder for people to eat or to do bread with animal fodder. Indeed.

And we have more and more stories of this nature.

And when we talk about food and acute food insecurity, even in the south where we have access for humanitarian assistance, it is not uncommon that

people have to skip their meal one every two days.

AMANPOUR: So, Mr. LazzarinI'm going to get into this allegation and investigation. But do you believe that the slowness of access that you're

talking about has got anything to do with the fact that it has been alleged that 12 members of UNRWA have been involved in the October 7th attacks? Is

it -- is that the reason? And then, we'll get into the, you know, allegations in a minute.

LAZZARINI: No, I don't believe that this is a reason because it does not impact only UNRWA. Any other U.N. agency also are prevented to organize

convoys from the south to the north. And we did not have, so far, any access from any crossing in the north to the people being trapped in Gaza


AMANPOUR: OK. So, 18 donor countries, including the United States, have decided to suspend funding to UNRWA after the Israeli allegations. Again, I

want to know how you are -- how long can you even keep working? If you can get the trucks in when you are apparently nearly half a billion dollars,

you know, low in funds?

LAZZARINI: Well, let me start to comment on the allegation. I mean, there are allegations that 12 staffers might have participated to the massacre of

October 7. These are serious allegations. These are horrifying allegations. And would this be the case, it would be nothing else than a betrayal to the

agency, but a betrayal also to the Palestinian in the Gaza Strip.

Once these allegations have been communicated to me, we have taken swift action. The first one is not only to dismiss immediately the staffer, but

we have put in place an investigation. And we have also put in place a review of all the -- how do we say, neutrality and risk management

mechanism of the organization.

So, on that, we have reacted very swiftly. Despite that, there have been indeed 16 to 18 countries will have decided to pause temporarily or to

freeze their contribution to the agency for a total amount of $450 million. Today, the agency has the capacity to operate in March, but beyond the

month of March, if we are not receiving new money, or if we are -- none of these donor countries are reversing their decision our operation will be

impacted, our ability to respond to the humanitarian situation in Gaza will be on the mind. At the time, we collectively need to increase our response.


So, this will also impact our operation in the West Bank, in Jordan, in Syria, and in Lebanon, in a region which, as you know, goes through a lot

of instability.

AMANPOUR: Philippe Lazzarini, you're saying you have enough for one more month and then it's very, very unknown. Did you -- you have launched, you

say, and you dismiss the people who were directly accused. Did you receive any evidence from the Israelis? How -- in other words, how are you

conducting an invest investigation? Do you have the evidence?

LAZZARINI: We have an independent investigation taking place. It has been requested by the secretary general on our demand. They are totally

independent. To my knowledge, up to today, there haven't been any new information transmitted to UNRWA and to the United Nations. So, for the

time being, the only allegations available are the one which has been shared with me orally on January 18.

We keep now calling to the Israeli authority to cooperate with the investigation team so that we can come to a swift conclusion about whether,

yes or not, these people have participated to the horrible massacre of October 7th.

AMANPOUR: Could I ask you to react to an image that has been circulating, that has been written about by "The Times" of Israel, has been picked up by

"The Washington Post," and it reports that one UNRWA worker was -- and names him, was seen on video kidnapping the body of an Israeli citizen

whose name is Jonathan Samerano. Do you have any information about this allegation and what is UNRWA's response?

LAZZARINI: These are shocking images, horrible images. But again, we haven't seen any -- we haven't received anything more than what we see on

the media. The United Nations, UNRWA, have not received anything official from the Israeli authority despite our repeated call for them to share

evidence and to share information with our investigation team.

AMANPOUR: But that -- you see in the video, does that name match a person you know? Does the -- can you detect anybody? Can you recognize anybody

from that video?

LAZZARINI: I personally cannot recognize the person on the video. As I indicated also, that the name which have been transmitted to UNRWA match

our staff list. This is the reason why I have taken this swift decision, not only to terminate the contract of this paper, but at the same time to

initiate this investigation. But the picture seen on CCTV, I cannot confirm whether if this person is really a staff member of UNRWA.

AMANPOUR: Can we just --

LAZZARINI: For that, we need more forensic evidence to be provided to our investigation team. And we haven't received it.

AMANPOUR: Given that, I just want to pull back a little bit. Look, metaphorically speaking, Israel has been at war with the U.N. since

practically the creation of the U.N. and the creation of the state of Israel. They just think the U.N. is stacked against them. And when these

allegations started coming out, the spokesman for the government, his name is Eylon Levy, said the following about UNRWA.


EYLON LEVY, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: UNRWA is a front for Hamas. It has been fundamentally compromised in three main ways, hiring terrorists

on a massive scale, letting its infrastructure be used for Hamas military activity, and relying on Hamas for aid distribution in the Gaza Strip.

It has been compromised in a way that makes it not only a tool of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, but also an ineffective mechanism of

distributing aid to civilians in Gaza. Now, that's not new, it was several weeks ago. But what is your response to that?

LAZZARINI: This is absolutely nonsense. There is today a campaign from some part of Israel to try to dismantle UNRWA, not because of this

allegation, not because of its proximity with the de facto Hamas authority in Gaza, but the real reason behind it is to try, once for all, to address

the refugee statute.


There is a belief that if UNRWA leaves Gaza, leaves the occupied Palestinian territory, that the refugee statute is addressed, once for all.

And through this also, it will also undermine the future aspiration of the Palestinian for self-determination.

AMANPOUR: So, Norway's prime minister has said that, you know, the idea of terminating the whole U.N. agency, which is what Israel is calling for,

over these 12 employees is not the answer, he says. It would be like disbanding an entire police force instead of holding bad actors

accountable. And he's basically saying that without UNRWA, who would be responsible for the health, the education, the food of these 2.3 million

people in the besieged strip. Who would do it if it wasn't UNRWA and Israel was successful in getting it disbanded?

LAZZARINI: This is so true. And I keep saying that it is short-sighted to call for the dismantlement of UNRWA today. Look at what this organization

is all about. We are providing public services like education, like primary health to one of the most destitute communities in the region, being the

Palestinian refugees.

Now, if tomorrow you have a ceasefire, we will enter into a long transition phase. If we do not have the primary tool to provide public services to

hundreds of thousands of girls and boys deeply traumatized in the Gaza Strip, we urgently need to bring back to an education framework. What will

we do? We would just sow the seeds for further hatred, revenge, and resentment.

There is no one else besides the state or a strong administration which can bring back such a number of children into primary and secondary schools.

There is no U.N. agencies, there is no international organization, and certainly not the Palestinian Authorities today that will be present in the

Gaza Strip.

AMANPOUR: So, it was the Norwegian foreign minister. But he also said, any attempt to replace UNRWA now would be unable to match the infrastructure

and support that you have and would anyway take too much time.

But -- OK, fine. So, what do you say again to Israel, particularly the prime minister, whose day after talking points include getting rid of you?

Can you see a situation where another agency could pick up those pieces, or the Israeli state itself, if it's then in charge of the enclave?

LAZZARINI: I think this is a very -- really good question. There is absolutely no U.N. agency geared to provide public services to the scale

UNRWA is providing to the Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip.

So, if you get rid of UNRWA, you need an authority, you need a functioning state to take over the activity. In fact, UNRWA is, unfortunately, a

temporary lasting agency, and our ultimate goal is to transfer all our activities to an emerging state, which would be the outcome of a political


So, the answer today is let's have a political trajectory. Let's achieve a political solution and make sure that UNRWA, once for all, can phase out

because we would finally succeed what we haven't succeeded for more than 75 years.

AMANPOUR: I want you also to comment, please, on a report in -- I believe it was "The Wall Street Journal" reporting about an -- a U.S. intelligence

dossier, which was released sometime last week, February 21st, reporting low confidence -- can you hear me? -- low confidence that your --

LAZZARINI: Yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: -- employees had participated in the awful attacks of October 7th. It said also that Israel's long-standing dislike of the U.N. agency

could mischaracterize much of their assessments on UNRWA and says this has resulted in distortions. This is one person in America, apparently familiar

with this intelligence dossier.

So, have you briefed the Americans? What have they said to you about this? Because they said, look, it may happened, but they can't say it with

conclusive confidence, only low confidence. And that -- on top of that it said that it dispelled the idea that the U.N. had worked with Hamas beyond

establishing how best to deliver aid. What have you said to the Americans and what have they said to you about this?


LAZZARINI: To the best of my knowledge, there have been absolutely no intelligence or proof or details which have been shared about this

allegation. The allegation seems to remain allegation. Even when we talk about the 12 staff who allegedly have participated to the massacre of

October 7, there have been a document which has been shared with the media, I believe also with the U.S. And when we have asked what is in this

document, in fact, it was nothing else than the extended allegation or information which have been leaked to the public.

The problem today is that most of the allegations that we hear, and there are so many about UNRWA, are just allegations which are shared either

through social media or through the journalists, but none of them are shared with the United Nations, and none of them, to the best of my

knowledge, are also shared with the member states.

AMANPOUR: How -- first of all, they also allege that there were tunnels under UNRWA facilities, like schools. How difficult is it to deal with a

single authoritarian, take no prisoners, or no criticism organization like Hamas when you are trying to deliver aid? How difficult is it for you to

work around that and how much -- do you -- I mean, are you ever forced to compromise your values for that?

LAZZARINI: As an agency, we have not been forced to compromise because our mandate is really straightforward. It's to bring to our school any children

of the Palestinian refugees. We had 300,000 of them in our school, girls and boys, in the Gaza Strip.

And I have to tell you, Christiane, that many times also, the Hamas was not really pleased that these children were attending our school rather than

the schools under the control of the de facto and the Hamas authority. And we have seen it, for example, during the summer camp, where whenever UNRWA

was organizing summer camp, allowing children to do artistic activities, sport activities. We have up to 250,000 kids being registered. Whereas

whenever the Hamas or the Authority were organizing summer camp, they had only 20,000. And they have always seen, in reality, UNRWA also as being a

cultural threat.

AMANPOUR: It's a really dire situation in terms of this so much life being in the balance right now Philippe Lazzarini, thank you very much for

joining us.

Now, in the United States, the governor of Texas has declared a state of emergency in 60 counties where massive wildfires are tearing through the

panhandle, threatening homes, farms, and businesses. It is the second largest wildfire in the history of the state and another devastating

reminder of the climate crisis. Just one of the many challenges people there are facing, from the oil and gas industry to the criminal justice


Now, a new HBO documentary series, "God Save Texas," is taking a personal look at the often-dark history of the Lone Star State, with three directors

returning home to the hugely influential and conservative part of America. Here's a clip from the trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was a kid here in Huntsville, there were like 11 prisons. Now, there's a hundred and something. What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about money. It's industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed like the prison just had this gravitational inevitability to it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Texas is about to kill an innocent man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw as an unfolding tragedy created a kind of panic in me.


AMANPOUR: Now, the show is an adaptation of the book by the same name, by the Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist Lawrence Wright. He's

produced some of the most definitive investigations of our time, including on 9/11 attacks, the Camp David Accords, and the COVID pandemic. And

Lawrence Wright is joining me now from Austin, Texas. Welcome back to the program.


AMANPOUR: I want to dive into "God Save Texas" in a moment, but you have reported from Gaza. You've done a lot of reporting in that part of the

world as a journalist. What do you make of the situation there right now and some of the conversation that we were just having about, you know, aid

and the horrible politics all around it?


WRIGHT: You had a wonderful interview. I was very intrigued by it. I was in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead, I guess it was 2011. And you know, I had

never seen such devastation, which doesn't compare at all with what we see now in Gaza.

It -- you know, Gaza, you know, it's a -- it is a kind of prison. You know, sometimes Israel objects to the term, the open-air prison, but most of the

Gazans that I spoke to, at least, had never been out of Gaza. They'd never even been to the West Bank. You know, it's a totally isolated entity. And

it's no wonder that there is this built-up anger and frustration.

Israel seems to think that they can eliminate Hamas militarily, but I'm sure you've seen the polls that 75 percent of Palestinians support what

happened on that awful day in January. That's Hamas. It was never that big. But, you know, there's not just the people fighting in the tunnels, it's

the feeling that has erupted from the population. And I think it's a totally misguided idea that you can simply eliminate Hamas militarily at

the cost of 30,000 or more civilian lives without enlarging the people that support that.

AMANPOUR: Larry, I just need to stop for a second.

WRIGHT: You know, you make peace with your enemy.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes, you do. And they're meant to be trying to have some kind of ceasefire. But what I want to ask you also, because it's highly

relevant, the huge Israeli public opinion for getting their hostages back. And you wrote a play called "The Human Scale," which was about that very

famous now exchange, I think, for Gilad Shalit, the -- you know, the soldier who was exchanged for more than a thousand Hamas prisoners.

You explored, I think, the relative importance each side gives to people. Tell me what you were exploring there.

WRIGHT: Well, what caught my attention about the Gilad Shalit situation is the exchange rate between one population and another, they exchanged him

for a thousand Palestinian prisoners. And I call it "The Human Scale." And, you know, in one life can equal a thousand, I think that says a lot about

what's going on, the undercurrent that drives politics in the Middle East is the devaluation of some lives and the overvaluation of others.

AMANPOUR: Can we switch to the United States, because we're going to be talking about, you know, "God Save Texas" and your books and the and the

show on HBO, et cetera, which by the way, I have to say HBO is part of our parent company, Warner -- you know, Warner Brothers Discovery.

How should the rest of the world, where I am, just look at America today, whether it be Texas, which is often a bellwether of certain politics,

Alabama, the IVF ruling, the -- you know, all the stuff that's going on, just the Republicans, the Trump Republicans preventing aid to support a --

you know, a fledgling democracy fighting for its life? How should we be thinking about this? And where does Texas come into it?

WRIGHT: Well, the country is at an inflection point. I mean, we're marching into a very dangerous couple of months right ahead of us. And I'm

no prophet on this. I can't tell you what's going to happen. But America, the future of our country is going to be determined, I'm convinced, by the


And the thing that one can hope is, you know, this country is constantly changing. You know, when I was a kid, Texas was blue and California was

red, you know. Is -- these things can change. And with Texas, which is the future of America, because it's growing so fast, and by the year 2050 it's

projected to be the size of California, New York combined. So, it will be decisive in American politics.

But if you look at the demography, you know, it's a majority minority state. It is the most urban state in the nation. It's got four of the top

10 most populous cities. It is also a very young state. All of those are change agents and democratic vectors. So, things are going to change. And

the Republicans in Texas have been scrambling to rejigger the elections and, you know, continue to gerrymander the districts.


Austin, where I live, most liberal city in Texas, but it's got five congressmen, four Republicans.


WRIGHT: So, that's what gerrymandering looks like in Texas.

AMANPOUR: So, let's talk about some of the -- the three parts to this documentary series. So, they tackle a bunch of things. The first one I want

to talk about is basically the border where one of the directors, and she is the Mexican-American filmmaker Iliana Sosa. She explores how closely

linked Mexico is to Texas, particularly in the area of, you know, El Paso and Juarez, the two border cities. Here's a clip and then we'll quickly

talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You close the border, it strangles our ability to live with one another.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But there's magic in the multiplicity that defines this region. And being not one, but many, in the in-between. I didn't

always have a word for it, but the Aztecs did. They called it Nepantla.


AMANPOUR: It's really interesting because she really focuses on this in- betweenness between the two cultures. And as you know, it's become a huge issue again in the election. Both Biden and Trump are go -- you know, are

at the border, and it's just suddenly taken over again. What do you say about that clip and what do you hope that that particular doc will talk --

will say?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, the border is so stigmatized right now throughout America. And yet, when you get close to the border, you understand it

entirely differently. It's not just the blue strip of the Rio Grande, it is a region. And you know, the border is wide, you know. But main street of El

Paso is the main street of Juarez. It just really -- it's just interrupted by the border. It's like one giant entity.

And now, of course, it's been, you know, militarized, and it makes it very difficult for people to carry on the lives that they used to have, which

was the free crossing from one side to another. And it is a -- it's a real problem. You know, when you have 2 million people crossing without

documentation every year, it becomes an enormous tactical problem for cities and states to handle. But at the same time, the odious nature of the

politics surrounding the border has stigmatized that region unfairly.

AMANPOUR: And there are pledges if Trump gets back in, he's talked about big detention camps, militarizing, you know, the whole situation there. But

Texas also has the dubious, you know, infamy of being the execution capital of the country and maybe even the world.

In "God Save Texas," there is another, you know, episode called "Hometown Prison" and this is the well-known filmmaker, Richard Linklater. He returns

to his hometown, it's Huntsville. It's where the major -- you know, the major execution prison is there. I've actually visited it. Here's what he

said -- well, this is a little clip.


RICHARD LINKLATER, FILMMAKER: Even today, the criminal justice system looms over my hometown.

It's not just people behind bars who are being pushed to the brink as state employees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the executions, this was a long walk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I was witnessing really unnerved me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's when I broke.


AMANPOUR: You know, it's interesting. They are set to execute another person tonight, and it is actually interesting also to hear how these

damages the soul of those who are doing the executing and part of that whole employee complex.

WRIGHT: Yes. I was so moved by Rick's segment on our documentaries. You know, he approaches it so humanely. He's not -- he doesn't condemn the

people, but he condemns the actions, the -- you know, the way the prison system has turned into an industry, the way the death penalty lingers,

mainly because of politics.

And, you know, I just -- I was so stirred by his portrait of Huntsville and also amused. I mean, he had classmates in high school that became prison

guards and some who became prisoners. One who died on death row. His mother married a prison guard and then married a prisoner. And his sister had her

high school prom in the women's prison.

AMANPOUR: Oh, my god.

WRIGHT: So, it's an intimate relationship.

AMANPOUR: That really is. That's incredible.


AMANPOUR: But you've also done writing that fictionalizes Texas, right? This is based on journalism, but "Mr. Texas" was your satire about Texan

politics. What is it that is so endlessly fascinating about Texas?


WRIGHT: Well, there are several things. One is that we are a myth making state. You know, if you think about Texas, even if you think about it from

London, in your perspective, what people think are cowboys, oil men, you know, and those are a big part of the state. But the mythology that we

award that is very evocative.

I used to live in Egypt, and I think about the pharaohs looming over modern-day Egypt. Well, the -- so does a cowboy loom over modern-day urban

Texas. The other thing is, I think we kind of cherish our characters, even though there's some ruinous ones among them in our statehouse. But Texas, I

like the way that people talk, the sense of individual liberty which is sometimes used as a conservative club, but it's something that I, as a

reporter and writer, I also appreciate.

AMANPOUR: Really, really interesting. Larry Wright, thank you so much for joining us. And the show, based on his book, is airing on HBO now.

Now, Texas was also second in the country for mass shootings last year. Despite pleas for tighter gun laws, public possession of firearms has only

gone up in recent years. And in his new book, "What We've Become," Dr. Jonathan Metzl lays out the social and political issues that get in the way

of preventing these recurring tragedies. And he's joining Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what more needs to be done.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Dr. Jonathan Metzl, thanks so much for joining us.

In 2019, you and I talked about your last book, "Dying of Whiteness," which looked at the policies in the rural south and how they were kind of working

against the very people that were voting for them. And now, you're out with a new book called "What We've Become: Living and Dying in a Country of

Arms." Another gun book. Why go down this road?

DR. JONATHAN METZL, AUTHOR, "WHAT WE'VE BECOME": Well, it's great to be back. I actually didn't think I was going to write another gun book. I felt

like the research I did in 2019 through Southern Missouri had really told me so much. And it's not that there's ever -- you know, you've said the

final word on this topic, but then a mass shooting happened in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, a very racially charged mass shooting, a naked

white man with an AR-15 went into a Waffle House in South Nashville that was really full. It was kind of 2:00 in the morning, full of celebrating

young adults of color. Killed four people, injured four more.

And I'm somebody who studies race and gun violence and mass shootings and mental illness. And I just felt like this was kind of a story that had to

be told, both because of the local connections, but also because it became pretty clear pretty quickly for me that this was a parable of many larger

issues that are facing America.

SREENIVASAN: You spend a couple of hundred pages here just kind of taking apart that one story, and it is fascinating how many different layers you

kind of unpack. I guess one of the first things that people wonder is, how did this guy, who clearly isn't in his right mind, if he's, you know,

running barefoot to a Waffle House at 2:00 in the morning with a semi- automatic weapon, how did he get his gun in the first place? And you kind of illustrate that this was not by any stretch the first red flag that the

systems that we've set up failed.

DR. METZL: Right. I mean, this shooter, who I talk about in the book, I -- what I do in the book, for most of it is, I track the story of how the

shooter and the gun got to the Waffle House on that night. And as you say, there were so many red flags.

He's -- he was from kind of suburban rural Illinois. He had bought his gun legally, like many mass shooters do. But over the years leading up to the

shooting, he had had multiple police encounters, first with local police, you know, had done things including jumping naked into a public pool in

Illinois, where he was from, shaking an AR-15 in the face of one of his father's employees. And it leads up to the point where he ends up in

Washington, D.C. at the White House, demanding to speak with President Trump, tries to kind of jump through security, gets arrested.

So, he had police files every step of the way. And as I show in the book, at every step, they say, this guy has at least four semi-automatic weapons.

But again, and again, and again, his guns get returned to him, or they get returned to his father, who gives them back to him.


And so, part of the story is a story about race. What does it mean to disarm a white man who is displaying this kind of symptoms? And as I show,

is you almost want to scream when you're reading the book because at every step he's basically telling people what he's going to do. And then

ultimately, he drives to Tennessee and commits this mass shooting.

SREENIVASAN: I'm hard pressed to think if It wasn't a six-foot tall white guy and if it was a person of color, if it was a woman, all of these

different kinds of demographics, that any of those red flags would have been enough to trigger a different type of, I guess, a societal immune

response. But somehow he's able to evade one after another just because we kind of give him the benefit of the doubt.

DR. METZL: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, I have a kind of alternate reality I talk about in the book, which is imagine this same shooter, but

as a six-foot-tall black man, and I say, he certainly wouldn't have made it probably past the first police encounter, but in the second police

encounter this -- the shooter, Travis Reinking -- the real Travis Reinking, jumps naked into a public pool and then gets out and turns out he has these


And so, part of the story is how he's repeatedly -- he and his parents, actually his father, are repeatedly given the benefit of the doubt because,

as I argue in the book, even a clearly disturbed white man is seen as somebody whose rights are to be repeatedly defended. It's more about the

right of somebody like him to carry a gun, even in this extreme instance than it is about any kind of disarmament. And that's true in Illinois, and

it's certainly true when he moves to Tennessee and then, ultimately commits the shooting.

SREENIVASAN: You know, throughout this book, you also kind of pull on the thread of the consequences of race when it comes to how we see policy, how

we see gun violence overall, because one of the kind of immediate reactions after a mass shooting, et cetera, the defense is, well, look at Chicago,

look at the crime that's happening here. That's where the gun violence is, et cetera, right? That we need to be tackling this from a -- well, maybe a

conservative point of view.

But then you end up -- you also show that there's actually an increase now, it says, I think, 52 percent of majority of Americans now own guns. This

includes liberal Americans. And 41 percent of black Americans, that's a 17- point jump from just four years ago. What does that say to you?

DR. METZL: It tells me that owning a gun and carrying a gun has become our de facto response to moments of uncertainty, and it also tells me that

those feelings of uncertainty are very profitable. I mean, what I talk about in the book, for example, is after the police murder of George Floyd,

the gun manufacturers and gun sellers specifically targeted black and Latino Americans saying, you need a gun and the police aren't going to

protect you.

And also, that was based in real fear of what people were seeing in that video. More recently after October 7th, all of a sudden, we're seeing

Jewish-Americans go out and buy guns who have never bought guns before.

And so, in a way, to me, it kind of is a structural problem that when we destroy the interstitium that keeps us feeling connected, when we destroy,

really, the materiality of thinking we're in the same network, that all of a sudden everyone is out for themselves. And that's in a way, again, why I

fall back on a, we need to rebuild civic and democratic infrastructure argument in the book, because this mass proliferation of guns, it's just

becoming this de facto response, but it's also, for me, a bigger symbol really of the demise of our infrastructure that makes us feel like we're

all connected.

SREENIVASAN: What you point out in this particular really tragic case is that this act of violence that he perpetrated on these people led to the

purchase of more weapons.

DR. METZL: When I was interviewed by the media right after the shooting happened, I gave what I thought was the standard line, which is, we need

more red flag laws. We need more background checks. We need assault weapons bans. That's kind of the standard line for people like liberal public

health people. And I still do believe that.

But in the book, I unpack why that doesn't work. And I really -- I mean, part of what's been controversial about the book is I really take on the

arguments of both sides and critique the arguments of both sides and try to imagine a different gun debate than the one we're having.

And so, part of the book is about what it means for liberals like me to get on television after every mass shooting and say, we need more background

checks, more red flag laws. It was just so clear that they wouldn't have worked in this case or many other mass shootings because they involve

government databases that many gun owners distrust because, as I mentioned before, just the politics of race really impact who gets to carry a gun and

who is seen as a patriot and


And also, because the other side -- the -- for me, the -- you know, the NRA side has been so good at rallying the liberal response by people like me

into scaring people that people like me are going to go take their guns. And so, that leads to more gun sales. It leads to more institutions that

are dominated by, for example, NRA anointed judges.

And so, really what I'm trying to do in the book is use this shooting to show certainly why the NRA side has used these tragedies for its own

purposes, and that's part of it, but also the limitations of what I thought was my standard approach for thinking about new ways forward.

SREENIVASAN: You pointed out that during the shooter's trial, what was happening in the Tennessee legislature was pretty counterintuitive.


DR. METZL: You know, that's part of the race story I tell in the book. You know, we had this -- I mean, the pathology of a naked white shooter with an

AR-15 killing young people of color, young adults of color, it just could not have been more clear.

And what I talk about in the book is Tennessee had two ways to go, we could have either said, let's come together, learn from this tragedy and figure

out a way, or we could have said, well, this means we need more guns. And I really center a lot in the book on a gubernatorial election that happened

right after the mass shooting, 2018 governor's election in in Tennessee. And there were public health candidates.

And there was one candidate, Billy, who said this means we need more guns. I'm going to actually do away with all the gun laws. And what happened was

right after the shooting, Tennessee elected a guy who did the opposite of what it would have done to stop the shooting. And then the book ends with

another example in 2022, where when the shooter went to trial, you know, five years after the shooting, they couldn't charge him with a gun law

because between when he committed the crime and when he went to trial carrying the gun the way he did wasn't a crime anymore.

And so, when we keep doing the thing that's the opposite of what we should be doing in a way, and I really try to ask, what does that mean? What does

that tell us about what we've become as a society?

SREENIVASAN: You know, along with taking apart kind of how the public health argument has, in some ways, failed us, you also take a look at

mental health and how, you know, our focus right now on mental illness as the reason to blame for what these perpetrators do. I mean, where does that

fall short?

DR. METZL: Well, I'm a psychiatrist and I think that there is an important role for mental health, just not the role that we've been put in a lot of

times. In other words, what I show in the book is that after many mass shootings -- for understandable reasons, many mass shooters, including

Travis Reinking and the Waffle House shooting that I write about, suffer from symptoms of mental illness.

But as I show in the book, that's not the same as saying that mental illness was the only thing that drove them to commit their crimes. In fact,

when I start to list out all the factors that lead to mass shootings, mental illness often isn't in the top 30. It's, you know, loose gun laws,

history of violence, history of substance use, all these other factors. And so, I try to be very aware of that.

I do think there's a role for mental health, but what we saw for a long time is that mental health was the one thing that the right and the left

could agree on. In other words, people on the right would say, it's not a gun's problem, it's a mental illness problem. But people on the left would

say, well, look, we have the New York Safe Act, for example, or in Tennessee, where I live, legislation after a mass shooting that said mental

health practitioners are the ones who need to be the ones who are alerting authorities if patients are being threatening.

And really what I do in the book, I hope by the end of the book, people will realize why it's important to have mental health as part of this

conversation, but why putting mental health practitioners at the front by themselves of this issue, in a predictive role, really is statistically

just doesn't really do the job we wanted to in a way it's based on stereotypes of mental illness. Many, many people come to mental health

practitioners voicing some kind of hostility, but only a minuscule percentage of them go on to commit crimes.

And the other point is, I just think mental health expertise is very useful at looking at the bigger issue, which is the polarization around guns in

America. And that is never part of the formulation.

SREENIVASAN: So, what are some of the new ways forward that you figured out, I guess, in the writing of this book, doing the research? I mean, what

can we kind of learn from how the NRA was able to communicate their viewpoint to people?


Because they seem to capture the essence of what it feels like to own a weapon or the freedom that that in -- that sort of brings about versus kind

of the public health argument that we kind of heard from saying, oh, you know, we really have to look at this as a public health issue and as a

health problem.

DR. METZL: Part of what I saw, of course, in the shooting that I studied, but then in the hundreds or thousands of mass shootings that happened while

I was writing the book, is that there was this divide where one side channeled even recently by President Trump at the NRA convention a few

weeks ago, said, I'm going to let you keep your guns and keep your power. He's aligning guns with power, and guns are very tactile, and telling

people that your self-defense is your own -- the gun is your own first responder, as somebody told me. It's your it's your tactile material


And then people like me who are arguing for abstract government regulations, databases, rules and regulations, which I think are important,

and I wish we had them, but they end up just playing into the hands of people who are saying, look, those guys are promoting big government.

And so, what I do in the book toward the end is I try to imagine a new kind of gun debate that's based in building infrastructure. I argue for making

public safety an entrepreneurial project, bringing in -- I use research, for example, that talks about how there are these small studies that show

that if you fix streetlights and open up green space and invest in education and jobs programs that actually that reduces gun crime. And that

-- those are just tried in little areas.

And I try to imagine what if that was our national policy? What if we weren't arguing about the Second Amendment, which, you know, we still will

be. But also said, how can we build infrastructure in ways that make public space in particular feel safe, make it feel well-lit in a -- to use that

metaphor. And I kind of go down that path that if we could come together on this infrastructure, I think that's part of it.

But I also argued that the Democrats need a broader coalition than they have right now, in a way, a lot of people say that they believe in things

like background checks, but that doesn't mean that they will vote on those issues. And so, ultimately, it's building a broader coalition of people who

feel like they're under this umbrella.

SREENIVASAN: Near the end of the book, in part of your recommendations, one was develop a better southern strategy. What does that mean?

DR. METZL: What I try to show is just why a lot of the interventions that, I think, were well-intentioned that when they were devised, probably in the

heyday of public health in the 1990s and early 2000s, you know, government databases, regulations, empowering police and judges to disarm people even

temporarily, they probably made sense in the context of the blue state of America where these were being framed.

And then, in light of other things that had worked, you know, against cigarettes and cars. But I think we need policies that understand the

histories of guns in the south, the meanings of guns in the south and that, in a way, try to intervene. Let me just be clear. I think a lot of this is

happening, right, because what I learned from sitting the NRA in this book is that they really did start as a grassroots organization and they didn't

start by wanting to take over the Supreme Court. They learn they -- that they got their power by grassroots groups and running for school board and

election or all these other factors.

And in a way, I think a lot of that is happening. It's happening in Tennessee right now. David Hogg has a new organization that's running --

using the frame of gun safety, but having people run for run for office all up and down the board across -- in a way red state America. I do think that

-- that's what needs to be happen. And again, I do think there are ways we can form alliance in more sustained ways than we have with people who are

gun owners who also want to see this problem changed.

SREENIVASAN: Author Jonathan Metzl, the book is called "What We've Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms. Thanks so much for joining us.

DR. METZL: Thanks so much.


AMANPOUR: Ideas and solutions for this scourge.

And finally, tonight, Yulia Navalnaya has delivered a powerful address to the European Parliament. She is, of course, the widow of the Russian

opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. And she has taken up her husband's cause, vowing to continue his work to advocate for democracy and fight for

"free Russia."

Navalnaya told European leaders they need to stop being boring if they want to defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin.



YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S WIDOW: You cannot hurt Putin with another resolution or another set of sanctions. That is no different from

the previous ones. You cannot defeat him by thinking he's a man of principle who has morals and rules.


AMANPOUR: Another strong message. Navalny's funeral will be held in Russia on Friday.

And that's it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. And remember, you can always

catch us online, on our website, and all-across social media.

Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.