Juliet Dunlop: US should keep Piers, he’s quite a good judge

Juliet Dunlop
Juliet Dunlop
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THERE are any number of reasons why Piers Morgan should be thrown out of America – there any number of reasons why he should be thrown out of any country – but having a view about guns is not one of them.

Yet, in a land where the line between show business and journalism is increasingly blurred, and Morgan has enjoyed huge success, he has caused consternation.

The talent show judge and heir to Larry King has ruffled feathers and Americans are now queuing up to have this Marmite of British exports, deported.

The backlash began after Morgan decided to tackle the pro-gun lobby on his show – five days after gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

He fell into the trap of belittling his guest and his unshakable belief in the right to bear arms, telling a senior Gun Owners of America member he was “an unbelievably stupid man” who had “absolutely no coherent argument” and didn’t “give a damn about the gun murder rate in America”.

Within hours of the ill-tempered encounter a petition was posted on the White House website claiming Morgan was “engaged in a hostile act against the US Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment”.

Tens of thousands have signed it but the former Mirror editor has repeated his call for the US to ban assault weapons and to conduct background checks on all gun sales. It does not sound unreasonable.

Indeed, in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre it looked as if America was ready to have an honest debate about guns.

President Obama told a shocked nation they had endured too many similar tragedies and promised to take “meaningful action” regardless of politics.

The intention was clear: America would press ahead with concrete gun safety proposals. Sound familiar? It should.

After the 2011 shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona in which six people were killed, he also promised to “challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.”

But nothing changed and gun control was not even an issue during the presidential election earlier this year.

For outsiders, including Morgan, it is difficult to see why God and taxes overshadow gun laws, but it is a discussion that many Americans simply do not want to have.

Following this month’s tragedy in Newtown, the powerful National Rifle Association rejected the need for tightening gun controls. It believes, along with its millions of members, that Americans have the right to own guns – not just for hunting or sport, but for self-defence – and that right is enshrined in the constitution.

They also argue that evil or insane people will always find a way around the laws. Even now the NRA defends the right to own the type of assault weapon designed to kill a lot of people, quickly; the type of weapon used to kill an entire classroom of six-year-olds two weeks ago.

However, since Arizona and the Colorado cinema shooting in the summer, there has been an election. Perhaps now an emboldened President Obama will seize the agenda.

The Connecticut school shooting has certainly horrified America but has it shocked it into taking action? Not so far. Public support for stricter gun legislation lessened in the aftermath of Newtown and according to one survey, with an estimated 88.8 firearms for every 100 Americans, the country’s love affair with guns is not about to fizzle out.

Momentum has already shifted away from supporters of greater gun control in favour of gun owners’ rights.

So, while Newtown continues to grieve amid snow-covered teddy bears and messages of sympathy, it seems the tragic events of 14 December are unlikely to provoke real change.

It is not impossible, of course. President Obama is in a stronger position than he was a year ago but the system in the US is stacked against him – laws would have to be unpicked and even now, such a move would be deeply unpopular. Keeping the debate alive will be difficult.

Perhaps America could do worse than hang on to Piers Morgan, a better judge, it turns out, than many of us had thought.