Piers Morgan was right: now how many others have to die before America's gun lobby listens?

Piers Morgan certainly isn't everybody's cup of tea and that's certainly the view of America's diehard gun lobby zealots. But the latest massacre--this time of nine devout worshippers at Charleston church bible study class---simply reinforces the stand the former British tabloid editor turned US TV host bravely took on his ill-fated CNN show over America's grisly record of mass shootings and lax anti-gun legislation.

It was a campaign that partly killed Morgan's primetime CNN career (along with slumping ratings) as his anti-gun campaigning incurred the wrath of the pro-gun lobby and turned Morgan into the target of a concerted hate counter-campaign via social media and shock jock, phone-in radio aimed at drive him off-air.

Little wonder then that my old tabloid rival--now top US columnist for MailOnline--opened fire in the wake of the South Caroline church bloodbath with these words: 'I'm sick of waking up to yet another hideous, needless gun massacre in America. I'm sick of seeing the helpless, grieving relatives weeping and wailing for their lost ones. I'm sick of hearing that the mass shooter was a twisted young white kid with a mental disorder who had absurdly easy access to guns.

'I'm sick of US politicians spouting fake platitudes about gun violence and then doing absolutely nothing about them. I'm sick of President Obama biting his lip in post massacre statements, pretending he deeply cares when he too, has done absolutely nothing to stop these atrocities happening'.

I've often disagreed with Piers over the years, but this time we're very much on the same side. I'm sick, too, because every time another mass gun killing from America dominates the news bulletins and newspaper headlines, I feel nauseous in the pit of my stomach....or, maybe, it's something called a sickening sense of deja vu and I started suffering from it long before Piers went Stateside.

As the Mirror Group's US editor for a decade in the 70 and 80s I covered several mass murders of strangers by gun-toting killers who were crazy or obsessed with irrational grudges and a callous contempt for human life. Like junior high schoolteacher Carl Brown, who blasted eight people to death in a welders' shop, James Huberty who fatally wounded 22 diners in a McDonald's restaurant, or postman Patrick Sherrill who killed 15 workmates, to name but a few.

The same harrowing scenes of distraught survivors, some wounded, grieving relatives arriving at the scene, local and national politicians, right up to the White House, offering pious words, warnings of the dangers of gun crime and then, when the funerals were over and the headlines faded, doing nothing to combat America's lethal love affair with the gun.

The same harrowing scenes we've witnessed this week in Charleston. Even, sometimes the same incredible forgiveness shown by the daughter of 70-year-old Charleston victim Ethel Lane who told her killer, 21-year-old Dylann Roof - the black-hating, apartheid-loving white man who joined the bible class before turning his gun on its members - as he was being led into court: 'I just want everyone to know, I forgive you'.

There was a further sense of deja vu, as well as inevitability, when National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton weighed in by accusing murdered Charleston Pastor Clementa Pinckney of being 'responsible' for his own death and that of his flock. His crime? Banning guns being taken into church, thus depriving worshippers of the chance to gun down their killer before he slaughtered them! Thus the highly-respected Methodist clergyman (and state senator) at one of America's most famous black churches--the Emanuel AME church--was effectively named by the NRA as a dead man responsible for his own and others murder.

To compound this perverse logic, tough guy movie star Vince Vaughan displayed lunk-headed sensitivity with a statement declaring: 'Banning guns is like banning forks to stop making people fat'.

It somehow echoed, for example, the NRA's argument after the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre where 20 children and six adult staff were gunned down that if teachers were armed they could have shot rampaging ex-pupil Adam Lanza before he completed his grisly tally.

It was a perverse too to realise that even alongside the coverage of the horrendous massacre in Charleston some Carolina papers were still carrying adverts for gun shops and easy access, high-powered weapons for sale.

And it's fair to say that, away from the big liberal city titles, much of the US press is either sympathetic to the gun lobby's position or too intimidated by its political influence and advertising muscle to mount a challenge.

If there is one area where I partly-disagree with Piers Morgan, it's over the scale of his full-frontal assault on President Obama's 'failure' to tackle America's gun law issue. Unlike Ronald Reagan, who was president for much of my time based in the US, Obama is no natural ally of the NRA lobby; the former cowboy movie star Reagan, by instinct a pro-gun man and recipient of political support from the gun lobby, had no appetite for confronting the issue after multiple killings, beyond his ability to ooze on-camera sympathy for the bereaved families and then burying any calls for tougher legislation post haste.

It's also arguable that Obama's efforts to make America face up to its gun crime problem outscores that of Bush senior and junior, Clinton, Carter, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower among post World War 11 occupants of the White House.

And while the frontrunner to succeed Obama, Hillary Clinton, was quick to join the debate this week with the televised demand, 'now is the time not just to talk, but to act', only a brave man or woman would gamble their shirt on her getting anywhere. Hillary was right to ask the question: 'How many innocent people in our country - from little children, to church members to movie theatre attendees - how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?'. Depressingly, most White House correspondents I know viewed that as emotive electioneering rather than the likelihood that America's first woman president would fare any better than her male predecessors. And none of those with a chance of winning the Republican are likely to be advocates of a political shootout with the NRA and its sympathisers.

To be fair to Obama, his words have been tough, but his power to 'outgun' the NRA and its allies across many US states, particularly in the Midwest, the South and much of the West, is severely handicapped. Not least because so many congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill itself still run scared of the political clout of the pro-gun lobby and its ability to badly wound or even kill their electoral prospects stone dead if they backed calls for a heavy crackdown on gun ownership.

The brutal truth is that, despite the bloody horror of Charleston this week, momentum toward fresh gun-control legislation is at a standstill in Washington. Within hours of the latest massacre, President Obama was on TV, grim-faced, and declaring that America would have to 'face up' to its mass murder by gun 'at some point'.

But 24 hours later, White House spokesman Eric Shultz was more pessimistically candid, pointing out that the president's 2013 attempt to tackle the issue - 'involving 23 executive actions' - had foundered for lack of Capitol Hill support. Schulz didn't use the phrase 'lack of political courage', but you sensed he meant it.

'The president was very clear that the biggest, boldest action would have to be taken by Congress. We commenced a significant lobbying campaign to Congress and we fell short. Congress fell short. Congress was not able to take this on. The president is clear in his remarks about the political realities that we do face in Congress and in Washington on this right now', said Schultz. His words were being interpreted last night among White House insiders that Obama has now abandoned his hope of much tougher gun legislation being part of his political legacy.

Ominously senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin, co-authors of the failed Obama-backed bid to introduce tougher gun laws after Sandy Hook, could only offer their 'prayers, thoughts and sympathy' to the Charleston victims loved ones. Of reviving their fight to bring in new legislation, there was not a word.

It's another sobering statistic that, during his presidency, Barack Obama has had to go before the cameras more than a dozen times to express sorrow and issue statements over a mass shooting outrage in the US. Everytime he has exhibited anger, sorrow, sadness, exasperation and the need to change America's relationship with the gun....but all the time facing the grim reality that it was almost certainly beyond his power to match effective action to eloquent oratory.

It's an even more sobering statistic to realise that the Obama era doesn't even mark the worst period for shooting massacres, with the 1980s and 1990s proving even deadlier decades with multiple non-gang related slaughters in schools, workplaces, shopping malls, restaurants.

It's ironic to think that 'I Don't Like Mondays', the song immortalised by Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats, was inspired by a 1979 school shooting I covered that doesn't register statistically on America's mass shooting roll of shame. After all, disillusioned 16-year-old pupil Brenda Ann Spencer only killed two adults and badly wounded 8 schoolmates and a policeman in San Diego.

It's depressing in the extreme to read recent research showing that since 1950, the number of mass shooting murders in the US is now approaching ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY!

At the heart of the issue, of course, remains America's historic commitment, enshrined in its constitution, to 'the right to bear arms'. Until its political leaders can persuade enough of its citizens to recognise that what was fit for the throwing off the colonial yolk of the English king and fighting the dangerous frontiers of early independence and its own civil war is no longer sane or civilised, America will be scarred by many more massacres like Charleston, Columbine and Sandy Hook.

And Piers Morgan and I will continue to feel sick, continue to rant in vain, continue to be haunted by a sour sense of deja vu....and continue to question how many more innocents must be slaughtered before America comes to its collective senses.

Don't hold your breath. Alas.

Paul Connew is a media commentator and PR adviser and former national newspaper editor who has worked both for and against the Murdoch empire on both sides of the Atlantic

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.