It turns out there may be a point to Piers Morgan after all. The British journalist has had a colourful, pratfall-prone career, mined for comic effect in books with such restrained titles as The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade and Don’t You Know Who I Am?: Insider Diaries of Fame, Power and Naked Ambition. Most famously, he was sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror after the paper published hoax photographs of British soldiers allegedly mistreating Iraqi prisoners.
Blessed with weapons-grade self-satisfaction and a towering embarrassment threshold, Morgan went on to become inexplicably popular in the US (cue a book titled God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Brit) as a judge on America’s Got Talent and as the successor to Larry King on CNN. He’s given up the talent show to concentrate on current affairs, but never really saw the dual role as a problem. “People who get all pompous about, ‘oh, a serious newsman shouldn’t be judging piano-playing pigs’ should just get a life,” he has declared.
Not a subtle kind of guy, then, but a bit of bumptious Britishness can occasionally be just the ticket. Following the massacre of small children and their courageous teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, he tackled the intractable issue of gun control in the US on Piers Morgan Tonight. “Hang on! Hang on!” seethed Morgan, as Steve Dulan, of the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners, outlined his answer to the regular massacres of innocents by gun-toting killers: more guns. “The argument I keep hearing is: ‘If everyone else was armed, it wouldn’t keep happening,’” railed Morgan. “It’s a load of total hogwash, isn’t it?”
He has a point. It’s like arguing the failures of the free market can only be fixed by an even freer market: a triumph of ideology over experience. Morgan simmered with frustration before breaking into a rolling boil at a lobby that doesn’t see anything wrong with this picture: “Some boy who’s got problems takes his mother’s three weapons, including this ridiculous assault rifle, and goes in a school and kills these kids and you guys want to tell me the answer is more guns.”
In his final Breakfast chat of the year, the Prime Minister was rather defeatist on the
issue. “The horse has well and truly bolted in the United States,” he said, invoking a lack of confidence in the justice system there, and fear of random acts of violence. “So they’re equipping themselves with a gun on the basis that they will need to protect themselves and that’s arguably a legitimate strategy in the United States.”
Petra Bagust didn’t ask what evidence there was for this view. Certainly there’s evidence to the contrary. After shootings this year in the Colorado movie theatre during a screening of Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, and at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Mother Jones magazine investigated 30 years of US mass shootings. “In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun,” the magazine reported. In the Washington Post, columnist Ezra Klein noted, “The Harvard Injury Control Research Centre assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders.”
No one is suggesting there are easy answers to hand. The discussion on Piers Morgan Live quickly turned into a shouting match. “Hang on! Hang on!” But when Morgan is the one making the most sense – “How many more kids have to die before you guys say we want less guns not more?” he pleaded – the other side is in trouble. If nothing else, Morgan established that, when the answer is an American population armed to the teeth with automatic weapons to protect themselves from each other, someone has to be asking the wrong question.
PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT, CNN, Sky TV 091, 3.00pm Tuesday-Saturday.