Speaking out: Piers Morgan angered 90,000 gun-lovers in the US when he spoke out about gun control
I have fired guns only once in my life, on a stag party to the Czech capital Prague a few years ago when part of the itinerary included a trip to an indoor shooting range. For three hours, our group were let loose on everything from Magnum 45 handguns and Glock pistols, to high-powered ‘sniper’ rifles and pump-action shotguns.
It was controlled, legal, safe and undeniably exciting. But it also showed me, quite demonstrably, that guns are killing machines.
Rarely has the hideous effect of a gun been more acutely laid bare than at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, two weeks ago – when a deranged young man called Adam Lanza murdered 20 schoolchildren aged six and seven, as well as six adults, in a sickening rampage.
The Sandy Hook massacre brought back such horribly vivid memories for me of Dunblane, the worst mass shooting in Britain in my lifetime.
I was editor of the Daily Mirror on that day back in 1996 and will never forget the appalling TV footage of those poor Scottish mothers sprinting to the small primary school, many already howling with anguish at the thought of what might have happened to their five-year-old children.
It was a slaughter so senseless, so unspeakable, that it reduced even hard-bitten news reporters, including me, to tears.
And as I watched the parents at Sandy Hook racing to try to find their children, I saw the same images, the same terror, that engulfed Dunblane. And I felt the same tears welling up.
Then, 16 five-year-old children were slain in their classroom. Now, 20 six- and seven-year-olds. Beautiful young lives snuffed out before they had a chance to fulfil any of their potential. It made me so gut-wrenchingly angry.
I have four children. And I still remember the blind terror I felt when I lost my son Stanley, then aged two, for half an hour at a cricket match on a field surrounded by a small running creek. I was sure he’d drowned. But I was lucky: he finally emerged from where he’d been hiding – big, cheeky grin intact.
Every parent has a similar story. To even try to conceive of how you would feel if your child was shot multiple times in the head by a Rambo madman at school is just impossible. I honestly don’t know how you would ever carry on with life.
But my anger turned to blind rage when I saw the reaction to this hideous massacre in America.
Sales of the specific weapon used, an AR-15 military-style assault rifle, rocketed at gun stores all over America in the days following the Sandy Hook shooting.
And the country’s biggest gun supplier, Brownells, said it sold more high-capacity bullet magazines in three days than it normally did in three-and-a-half years.
What is behind this apparently insane behaviour? The answer is, mainly, fear.
The well-organized, richly funded, vociferous pro-gun lobby were straight out, on my CNN show and many other media outlets, declaring that the only way those schoolchildren would have survived is if their teachers had been armed. It’s been their answer to every mass shooting.
After the shootings at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, in July – where 70 people were hit, the worst victim-count in such an incident in US history, and 12 people died – sales of guns in the state rose by a staggering 41 per cent in the following month as people bought into the theory that if everyone in the theater had been armed too, they’d have stopped the shooter. Can you imagine the scene as 200 people pulled out guns and started blazing away in a dark theater?
The gun-lobby logic dictates that the only way to defend against gun criminals is for everyone else to have a gun, too. Teachers, nurses, clergymen, shop assistants, cinema usherettes – everyone must be armed.
To me, this is a warped, twisted logic that bears no statistical analysis and makes no sense. Do you fight drug addiction with more cocaine? Alcoholism with more Jack Daniel’s? Of course not.
But woe betide anyone who dares suggest this. In the days following Sandy Hook, I interviewed a number of gun-rights representatives and grew increasingly furious as they trotted out these hackneyed old disingenuous lines.
Finally, I erupted at one of them, a man with the unfortunate name of Larry Pratt, who runs the Gun Owners of America lobbying group.
‘You,’ I eventually declared, ‘are an unbelievably stupid man.’
And that was the catalyst for the full wrath of the gun lobby to crash down on my British head.
A petition was created on an official White House website demanding my deportation for ‘attacking the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution’. This, of course, is the one that alludes to an American’s ‘right to bear arms’.
The concerted effort to get me thrown out of the country – which has so far gathered more than 90,000 signatures – struck me as rather ironic, given that by expressing my opinion I was merely exercising my rights, as a legal US resident, under the 1st Amendment, which protects free speech.
But no matter.
This gun debate is an ongoing war of verbal attrition in America – and I’m just the latest target, the advantage to the gun lobbyists being that I’m British, a breed of human being who burned down the White House in 1814 and had to be forcefully deported en masse, as no American will ever be allowed to forget – Special Relationship notwithstanding.
It’s no exaggeration to say that America’s unique fondness for guns pretty much got cemented by hatred of us Brits and the War of Independence. But the main reason the more fervent gun-rights activists give is a fear of their own US federal government using its army to impinge on their freedom. The problem is that America’s historical love of guns means the country is now awash with them – and with gun death.
The bare statistics say it all. There are 311 million people in the United States and an estimated 300 million guns in circulation. (Between four million and seven million new firearms are manufactured in the US every year.)
Take out children from the population figure, and that’s comfortably more than one gun per person.
Each year, on average, 100,000 Americans are shot with a gun. Of these, over 31,000 are fatalities, 11,000 of them murders and 18,000 suicides. More than a million people have been killed with guns in America since 1968 when Dr Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
The US firearm murder rate is 19.5 times higher than the 22 next most populous, high-income countries in the world. And a staggering 80 per cent of firearm deaths in the combined 23 countries occur in America.
My campaign against America’s gun laws didn’t begin two weeks ago when Adam Lanza committed his carnage. It began a week before I went on air for CNN, in January 2011. A US Congresswoman called Gabby Giffords was shot in the head by another deranged young man at an outdoor event in Tucson, Arizona, and miraculously survived. Six others, including a nine-year-old girl, were murdered.
Hitting back: Morgan has responded to the growing petition with a series of tweets
It was a horrifying incident but, to my astonishment, nothing happened as a result. A week or so of debate and furrowed brows, and everyone went on with life.
Since then, I’ve watched in despair as the volume of gun-related massacres has escalated. (Six of America’s 12 worst-ever mass shootings have occurred since 2007, when I first came to America to work as a judge on America’s Got Talent.) And I’ve been shocked at how America’s politicians have been cowed into a woeful, shameful virtual silence by the gun lobbyists and the all-powerful National Rifle Association in particular.
The NRA targets pro-gun-control politicians on every rung of the political system and spends a fortune ensuring they either don’t get elected or get unelected. It’s been a concerted, ruthless and highly successful campaign. And to those, like me, who stand up to them, they sneer: ‘You don’t know anything about guns. Keep quiet.’
Well, I do know a bit about guns, actually. My brother’s a lieutenant colonel in the British Army and has served tours of duty in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. My sister married a colonel who trained Princes William and Harry at Sandhurst. My uncle was a major in the Green Howards.
My argument with guns is not based on some universal, pathological hatred of them. I’m not a pacifist. Guns win necessary wars and defeat tyrannical regimes like the Nazis.
Nor do I have a problem with those who use guns for hunting or for sport. I also understand, and respect, how there is an inherent national belief in America, based on their understanding of the 2nd Amendment, that everyone should be allowed to have a gun at home for the purposes of self-defense.
But where I have a big problem is when the unfortunately ambiguous wording of the 2nd Amendment is twisted to mean that anyone in America can have any firearm they want, however powerful, and in whatever quantity they want.
This has led to the absurd scenario where I can’t legally buy six packets of Sudafed in an American supermarket, or a chocolate Kinder egg, or various French cheeses, because they are all deemed a health risk.
Yet I can saunter into Walmart – America’s version of Tesco – and help myself to an armful of AR-15 assault rifles and magazines that can carry up to 100 bullets at a time.
That weapon has now been used in the last four mass shootings in America – at the Aurora cinema, a shopping mall in Oregon, Sandy Hook school, and the most recent, a dreadful attack on firemen in New York.
The AR-15 looks and behaves like a military weapon and should be confined to the military and police force. No member of the public has any need for a death machine that can fire up to six rounds a second when modified and can clear a 100-bullet magazine (as used in Aurora) within a minute.
The only apparent reason anyone seems to offer up is that using such weapons is ‘fun’. One gun-rights guy I interviewed last week even said admiringly that the AR-15 was ‘the Ferrari of guns’.
Well, I’m sorry, but ‘fun’ is just not a good enough excuse any more. Not when children are being killed by gunfire all over America.
President Obama seems to agree it’s time for action. After four years of doing precisely nothing about gun control in America, he finally snapped after Sandy Hook and said he’s keen to pursue a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And he wants a closure of the absurd loopholes that mean 40 per cent of all gun sales in America currently have no background checks whatsoever – meaning any crackpot or criminal can get their hands on whatever they want.
These measures, which will be resisted every step of the way, won’t stop all gun crime. Nor all mass shootings. There are too many guns out there, and too many criminals and mentally deranged people keen to use them. But the measures will at least make a start. And they will signal an intent to tackle this deadly scourge on American life.
Obama should follow up by launching a Government buy-back for all existing assault weapons in circulation (as worked successfully in Los Angeles last week). I would go further, confiscating the rest and enforcing tough prison sentences on those who still insist on keeping one.
Either you ban these assault weapons completely, and really mean it, or you don’t.
He should also significantly increase federal funding for mental health treatment for all Americans who need it. It’s the lethal cocktail of mental instability and ready gun availability that is the key component in almost every American mass shooting.
Nor do I think Hollywood or makers of violent video games should avoid any responsibility – their graphic images can surely only twist an already twisted mind.
I will not stop in my own efforts to keep the gun-control debate firmly in people’s minds, however much abuse I’m subjected to.
And let me say that for every American who has attacked me on Twitter, Facebook or Fox News this past week, I’ve had many more thank me and encourage me to continue speaking out – including one lady who came up to me in Manhattan just before Christmas, grabbed my arm, and said firmly: ‘I’m with you. A lot of us are with you.’
I genuinely think Sandy Hook will act as a tipping point. A Gallup poll released on Thursday showed that 58 per cent of Americans now support new gun-control laws, up from 43 per cent in 2011. That’s a big jump.
The ‘more guns, less crime’ argument is utter nonsense. Britain, after Dunblane, introduced some of the toughest gun laws in Europe, and we average just 35 gun murders a year.
Japan, which has the toughest gun control in the world, had just TWO in 2006 and averages fewer than 20 a year. In Australia, they’ve not had a mass shooting since stringent new laws were brought in after 35 people were murdered in the country’s worst-ever mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996. Fewer guns equals less gun murder. This is not a ‘pinko liberal’ hypothesis. It’s a simple fact.
In conclusion, I can spare those Americans who want me deported a lot of effort by saying this: If you don’t change your gun laws to at least try to stop this relentless tidal wave of murderous carnage, then you don’t have to worry about deporting me.
Although I love the country as a second home and one that has treated me incredibly well, I would, as a concerned parent first – and latterly, of a one-year-old daughter who may attend an American elementary school like Sandy Hook in three years’ time – seriously consider deporting myself.
extracted from MAIL ON SUNDAY