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.