Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Since when have personal guns been used to defend political liberty?

By Nicholas Wapshott
January 9, 2013

Piers Morgan is the most unlikely campaigning journalist. The smooth-faced Morgan, who arrived from Britain to replace Larry King as CNN’s chief celebrity interviewer, can, if pushed, engage with serious guests on serious topics. But, as someone who cut his teeth writing showbiz tittle-tattle for Rupert Murdoch, he seemed more at ease pitching softball questions to boldfaced names plugging their latest products.

What a difference a massacre of children makes. After a frivolous November guest list that, despite the presidential election, included Mike Tyson, Kitty Kelley, Oliver Stone and Tyler Perry, among other gossip column fodder, he turned to a subject that celebrity interviewers keep well away from because, even in the wake of another mass killing, it is so painfully pointless to raise: gun control. And in doing so, Morgan found his voice. Americans have become so weary at the grip the NRA and other gun industry lobbyists have on the gun debate that the simple horror and amazement Morgan expressed on hearing of the Sandy Hook bloodbath came as a refreshing surprise. What sort of country, he asked, cannot defend its schoolchildren from mad people with automatic weapons? What has to be done to bring the repeated slaughter of innocents to an end?

For his pains, Morgan attracted a full magazine of gun nuts, including one Alexander Emerick “Alex” Jones, a self-described libertarian, “paleoconservative” and “aggressive constitutionalist” who once ran as a Republican in Texas House District 48 (facing certain defeat, he withdrew before Election Day). He believes George W. Bush was behind the September 11 attacks and Bill Clinton plotted the Oklahoma City bombings. He was so incensed that Morgan dare use his First Amendment rights to ask an awkward question about guns that he is demanding the president deport the chat show host for sedition. To find a more invidious example of muddle-headed, brazen hypocrisy, you have to go back to 2009, when anti-government Tea Party activists held up placards screaming “Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare.” Being a good Fleet Street tabloid editor, Morgan promptly invited Jones to make his case on Piers Morgan Tonight.

The result was a priceless boost to the gun control lobby. Jones, who caused an altercation on his flight to New York by insisting he keep his shoes on going through security, arrived in a belligerent mood. A broadcaster in the hate-radio tradition of Father Charles Coughlin and Rush Limbaugh, Jones spouted a well-rehearsed recitation of petty grievances, conspiracy theories and wild claims. At one stage he even challenged Morgan to a fistfight. Morgan, being a true Brit, kept a stiff upper lip throughout. You don’t have to be a trained psychoanalyst to recognize that Jones is suffering from deep-seated paranoia and anger management issues. When rational people demand that gun purchasers be screened for mental illness, it is scary, aggressive oddballs like Jones they have in mind.

In the midst of his rant, Jones said, “The Second Amendment isn’t there for duck hunting. It’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs.” This is a recurring theme among those who believe the Founding Fathers intended to protect the owners of machine guns that would be more at home in Helmland  than in Hartland, Connecticut. Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, who believes the remedy for massacres such as Sandy Hook is an armed guard on every school gate, holds a similarly paranoid view of the government’s malign intentions. In 1995, on Meet the Press, shortly after anti-government militiamen bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168, including 19 children, LaPierre described FBI agents as “wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” who wanted to “attack law-abiding citizens.” That candid outburst caused George H.W. Bush to renounce his NRA membership, and LaPierre has since been careful not to let slip his private feelings about the threat government poses to individual liberties.

Jones and LaPierre are representative of a wider group of Second Amendment defenders who believe that government of any sort threatens their absolute freedom to act absolutely as they wish. Fear that federal agents would come calling inspired the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and his co-conspirators. He, in turn, admired the anti-government stance of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993, who armed themselves to the teeth to avoid being charged with sexually abusing children and other serious crimes. After fighting off federal agents for 50 days, 76 sect members and their children died in a fire rather than turn themselves in.

Jones’s point – echoed by endless similar extremists who earn their living by stoking the fears of the impressionable – is belied by history. In the 250 years of the American republic, the government has sometimes overstepped the line between liberty and authoritarianism. And such despotism has come from the most unlikely sources. Woodrow Wilson’s clampdown on those who opposed America’s intervention in World War One was a shameful display of big government overreach. So, too, was Franklin Roosevelt’s rounding up and imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many who are anxious about the diminution of civil liberties find the Patriot Act, hastily passed after the September 11 attacks, too oppressive. But in each case relief from tyranny has not come from those with arsenals in their homes against the day the black helicopters arrive but by the patient, laborious, often tedious acts of patriots working through the democratic system.

Some advocates of small government would be horrified at the suggestion that they are on the same continuum as the killers who declare their hatred of government the reason they go on a killing spree. Others, proponents of libertarian chic who express anti-government views to shock and scandalize their moderate neighbors, may be aware that they are playing with fire. It adds a dangerous edge to their humdrum personas. The American way is to choose not to be administered too closely by the state and to leave as many aspects of life as possible to private enterprise rather than big government. But a line has to be drawn and defended when the routine denigration of government begins to threaten lives.

We may have reached that Rubicon at Sandy Hook. The impetus in the wake of the Newtown massacre to reform our gun laws to continue to protect hunters, sportsmen and those who would protect their households from intruders while keeping rapid-fire weapons away from the delusional and the deranged is now a live issue. Pressure on the president and Vice President Joe Biden, who has been tasked to come up with a way forward, can be exerted by those, like Morgan, who find themselves at the eye of the storm. He may not welcome the notion, but Jones, in his strange way, is keeping the subject alive.

And there is a part to be played by those who control the media that gun owners watch. To quote LaPierre out of context, “Too many in the national media, their corporate owners and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators.” After Sandy Hook, Murdoch declared that something must be done, and fast, to avoid a repetition. He ordered the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, stout proponents of small government, to make gun control a top issue. If he genuinely wants to ensure that this time there will be sensible reforms, he will direct his employees at Fox News to lead the campaign to change attitudes toward a more responsible approach to gun purchase and ownership. So far, that leadership has not been evident.

Corporations, advertisers, retailers and investment managers also have an important role. Money talks more eloquently than a thousand chat show hosts. The decision by Cerberus, spurred by revulsion and sympathy, to sell the company that made the assault rifle that killed the Sandy Hook children offered a novel way forward. Similar acts of ingenuity are needed to ensure that the slaughter of the 20 children and six adults who died in Newtown just before Christmas amounts to more than just a passing phase in the news cycle.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.

PHOTO: A row of shotguns are seen during the East Coast Fine Arms Show in Stamford, Connecticut, January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Comments
112 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

What many of my fellow gun owners miss is that we have a recivism problem that has made our neighborhoods prisons. Our criminal justice system is overcrowded and mostly inert. I advocate arms ownership and have guns myself, however I disagree with those who think it’s the key to defending liberty. It is an important element but not the most important. You also need laws that do not change with the arbitrary whim of an elected body. Those laws must guarantee the oppression and eradication of those who do not value the liberty of their neighbors. Habitual thieves, rapists i.e. true criminals (see God’s commandments in the Bible)should not not stay in prison that their victims are paying for. Nor should they roam free so they can pick up a weapon and start murdering people. They should be put to death. A society with no criminal justice system or one that rewards criminals like ours with only resemble hell on earth.

Posted by Swingdaddy | Report as abusive
 

First, Mr. Wapshott hasn’t been following the financial news very well. The announcement by Cerberus that they were going to divest themselves of Freedom Group turns out to have been more of a ploy by Stephen Feinberg to take the company over himself.

Second, the Second Amendment does not grant a right, it confirms a pre-existing right from a British law enacted in 1688 which guaranteed the right of the citizen to possess arms for their protection and to be used in service to the Crown.

You can’t have a militia without armed citizens which is why the “militia” clause is dependent on the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

Third, the current hysteria is over a tiny number of incidents. I am not trying to downplay the tragic loss of life, but I would note that millions of Americans, including many with far more firepower than Adam Lanza had, have not engaged in these incidents. The use of military-style firearms in these incidents seems to be caused by a “copycat” factor, as such weapons were rarely used before 2012. Sadly, we not only have psychotic killers, we have unoriginal psychotic killers.

FYI: The weapon used most frequently in spree killings, school shootings, etc., is a firearm chambered for .22 long rifle.

Fourth, and most important, the legislation that has been introduced would have had no impact on the killings. Not one victim would still be alive had all these laws been in effect. Adam Lanza stole the weapons he used; he had already committed four felonies by the time he arrived at Sandy Hook. James Holmes, Nadal Hasan and Jared Loughner would still have been able to purchase their firearms because they had not met the standard for being declared a prohibited person on mental illness grounds. William Spengler, Eric Harris and Dylan Kleborg had others buy their guns for them, a violation of existing federal law, and Harris and Kleborg bought an automatic pistol in an illegal deal just as many criminals do.

What needs to be understood by everyone is, that in spite of the inflammatory reporting, the Bureau of Justice Statistics says gun crime has been declining in the U.S. for years. Last year, the rate of homicides by firearm was the lowest it has been since John F. Kennedy was President. This in spite of the fact gun sales are through the roof and ammunition factories are running around the clock and still can’t keep up with the demand.

Posted by TexasBill | Report as abusive
 

Mere propaganda

Posted by alen7 | Report as abusive
 

“Since when have personal guns been used to defend political liberty?”

Perfect headline. It exposes the sheer idiocy of the gun lobby. Do gun nuts go out and project their freedom or our freedom…no, they go hunting.

Did they put on the uniform of our country after 911 or did the go hunting?

Did they put on the uniform of country when we waged war in Iraq or did they go hunting?

Where’s this protecting freedom in their game playing?

If you like to hunt, go for it, but don’t be obnoxious enough to think you’re protecting my freedom.

Posted by zzpat | Report as abusive
 

Wappshott = ignorant government propaganda tool.

Posted by libertygal | Report as abusive
 

To parade Jones or his ilk as representative of gun owners is simply sophistry. It is intended to misrepresent as is the wont of the CNN, which is entertainment, not journalism.

Guns can be used for good or bad. In some cases they save lives in other cases they take them. The majority of our gun deaths are suicides, Many others are the acts of criminals and crazies that virtually no legislation can prevent.

This whole recent dialogue about guns is knee jerk stupidity. None of the proposals I see will take guns from those who do the most damage to others. The truth is that most gun owners are responsible an don’t injure their fellow law abiding citizens. So ignore the extremists on both sides and take a look at the data on gun violence and how you can actually do something that has a chance of reducing it. Forget preventing the over 60% that are suicides, they’ll find another way. Forget restricting carry permits to honest people since it’s had no effect on gun violence where it’s been loosened.

Let’s have someone on Piers Morgan who advocates that we take all guns away from everyone (which still would not keep them form people who don’t obey laws) and see how silly that looks. I guess you’d have to substitute someone with some capacity for logic for Piers.

Posted by BlancaP | Report as abusive
 

Hmmm….. I seem to recall my paternal grandfather and both of my paternal great-grandfathers being involved in a shooting war against the KKK. One of my paternal great-grandfathers had the temerity to denounce the Klan from his pulpit at a time when every other Protestant minister in such deep southern states as NJ, Indiana, and Oregon was rushing to join what was in those days described as “America’s largest civic organization for men.”

The Klan, America’s first national organization to promote “gun control” was highly annoyed when they discovered that some people refuse to go peacefully to their lynching or flogging. Being shot at by intended victims was definitely not part of the Klan agenda when they rode out to terrorize Blacks, Catholics, Jews, union members, people who looked at them the wrong way, and anyone else they disliked.

The phrase “Saturday Night Special” was originally “Nwordtown Saturday Night Special.”

So, yeah, I guess the Second Amendment had a great deal to do with my great-grandfather still being a live to exercise his First Amendment Rights.

And before you indulge in ignorant sophistry and suggest that the police could have helped, you should probably be aware that the Klan controlled the governments in many states, was composed of the affluent and politicians – not the “ignorant rednecks” – and that in many areas the police chief or sheriff was also a high ranking officer in the Klan, joined in this status by local, state, and federal politicians. Nor were they limited to the southern US as they were in control of the three rather northern states I mentioned above.

Harry Truman and the late Senator Byrd both were Klan politicians and Klan community leaders. A rather significant proportion of both their careers is rather shocking to the modern eye.

Posted by TheYakimaKid | Report as abusive
 

if you had an undefeatable laser weapon, you’d probably FEEL safer, but stats show that gun is more risk of accident than benefit of having a successful showdown with a bad guy.

Posted by captainhurt | Report as abusive
 

The reason the middle class needs guns is protect themselves once the Republicans take over and the rich are given free reign to take everything in sight.

Posted by scrumble | Report as abusive
 

@yakimakid -and we should all remember that Lincoln was a republican and that the KKK was an organization founded by the democrat party, as were all those governors standing on the courthouse steps vowing to never let integration happen in there state. Bravo for pointing out tat the KKK was not just a southern thang, and remember that integration occurred in the North many years after it had occurred in the south!

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

This article is pathetic beyond belief for its “bleeding heart” tone and false arguments.

The fact is that ANYONE who believes in the platitudes of the government, or that of the wealthy class which it represents, is a fool.

Even the founders of this country knew that a strong central government would represent a very real threat to everyone else in this country, which is why the US Constitution was written with a “STATES RIGHTS” viewpoint.

Their fears became reality only 86 years later when the northern states illegally invaded the southern states in a military coup that placed the present illegal government in power.

Now this same illegal federal government wants the rest of us to disarm so it can complete the job.

NONE of the federal laws passed since the Civil War are legal, and we have an army of occupation.

We would be insane to give up one of the few remaining rights of the original US Constitution given to us by our founding fathers simply because the federal government is slowly losing control over this nation.

The 2nd amendment is designed as a curb on excessive federal power, pure and simple.

When the illegal federal government presently in power resigns and turns its power back to the states where it rightfully belongs, this problem will cease to exist, pure and simple.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive
 

I see a lot of lying, paranoid gun owners, who interpret any law to suit themselves.
There isn’t a viable intelligence in any of them!

Posted by glowbug | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •