Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

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

Nicholas Wapshott
Jan 9, 2013 21:23 UTC

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.

The high cost of hating government

Nicholas Wapshott
Jan 2, 2013 16:26 UTC

The tourniquet applied by the outgoing Congress to the economy allows a two-month breather before we are consumed by the next deadline. The president and his party can allow themselves a brief moment of celebration for imposing higher taxes on the richest Americans, but the next stage in fixing the nation’s fiscal problems may not be as easy. By the end of February, lawmakers must find enough cuts in public spending to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Two more months of uncertainty will prevent businesses and consumers from making spending decisions that would bolster the economic recovery.

The devil is not so much in the detail of the arguments to come as the big picture that frames the debilitating running debate. While the difference between the sides is ostensibly over taxes and public spending and borrowing, the more profound division is over where government should begin and end. For many of the Republican Party’s Tea Party insurgents, the choice is even more fundamental: whether there should be a government at all. Their unbending position, demanding an ever-diminishing role for the federal government, has levied an enormous unnecessary cost on everyone else.

Since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms, when the Tea Party tide was in full force, they have attempted to freeze the size of government, coincidentally putting a brake on economic recovery. They have vetoed attempts at further economic stimulus, encouraged America’s economy to be downgraded by the ratings agencies by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling, and tried to veto any and every tax increase in the fiscal cliff talks. Their aim is to shrink government by starving it of funds. Such uncompromising absolutism has led to the dampening of business confidence and investment that would have created jobs.

After Newtown, guns are one more rift in the GOP

Nicholas Wapshott
Dec 19, 2012 18:02 UTC

When political parties lose after a bitterly fought electoral battle, they prefer to lick their wounds in private. The glare of publicity is not helpful in exploring what went wrong and charting a fresh course. The Republicans, however, find their election postmortem taking place in the full public gaze. When it comes to the most urgent issue confronting the nation, the fiscal cliff, they face an invidious choice. They must decide by Dec. 31 whether to persist in the stance they adopted at the election, saving the ultra-rich from higher taxation, or to raise taxes on all Americans. If they hold firm, they will be blamed for levying $1,200 a year on every middle-class family. That is not good news for the party of low taxation.

If their fiscal cliff dilemma were not bad enough, since the slaughter of the schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, Republicans are set to defend a challenge to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Concerned, angry Americans are asking why lawmakers have failed to protect them and their children from arbitrary execution. The Republican leadership must now choose whether to join the president in finding a way to avoid similar massacres or face the electoral consequences. If they get that pivotal decision wrong, they risk being cast as coldhearted villains, out of touch with the moderate voters they need to win back the White House and the Senate.

Little wonder that Republicans backed by the National Rifle Association have made themselves scarce. Finding a Republican legislator to appear on camera to defend the status quo is as hard as finding someone to argue that hard drug dealers perform a valuable public service. NBC’s Meet the Press contacted all 31 NRA-backed senators for comment, and every last one kept his head below the barricade.

Newtown: Family drama as national tragedy

Nicholas Wapshott
Dec 14, 2012 23:31 UTC

We may never come to understand exactly what was on the crazed mind of Adam Lanza, the man identified as the Connecticut gunman who set out from his home with murder in his heart. All we know, based on reports, is that this troubled young man had an issue with his mother, a schoolteacher in Newtown, Connecticut, that so enraged him he drove with a .223-caliber assault rifle and at least two other guns to attack in cold blood  an elementary school where she taught.

By mid-morning break at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, a reported 20 children and six adults were also dead,* pointlessly killed as they went about their peaceful business of teaching and being taught. As a nation, all we are left with are chilling pictures of frightened schoolchildren clutching each other in a crocodile line, weeping in fear and in horror at what they have just witnessed.

We are left wondering, what was Lanza thinking? Why should so many suffer for his agitated state? Why does a possible family quarrel end in a massacre of unrelated innocents? What price must we continue to pay in human lives to protect the Constitution’s apparent guarantee for us to bear arms?

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