Tag Archives: National Rifle Association

More on US Gun Laws (and my own biases exposed !!)

14 Jan


Since writing about US Gun Laws last week I’ve been putting together material for a lecture and have come across a couple of things that might be of broader interest. I’ve been looking at the US media coverage in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook attack, and in particular the uproar caused by the pronouncements of the British journalist Piers Morgan.


Piers Morgan is a British tabloid journalist who rose to the position of editor of a number tabloid newspapers before being fired from the editorship of the Daily Mirror after publishing fake pictures of British soldiers assaulting prisoners. He subsequently reinvented himself via a number of TV shows including ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’, before ending up in his current position where he replaced Larry King on CNN Television’s premier interview show. I think it would be reasonable to say that Piers Morgan’s journalistic abilities are not widely respected in the UK, and so the strength of the opposition when he offered the standard European view that the USA’s gun laws seem a bit ‘mad’ came as something of a surprise. A White House Petition to deport Piers Morgan, that garnered in excess of 100,00 signatures, produced particular hilarity in the UK where the default reaction was ‘we don’t want him back’.

Alex Jones a Texas Radio phone-in host,one of the supporters of the ‘Deportation’ petition, appeared on Morgan’s US TV show in the days following the Sandy Hook attack to support the US Gun Laws. As you’ll see from this clip he is quite a ‘character’.

I’d originally come across Alex Jones ten years ago when appeared in Jon Ronson’s excellent book ‘Them: Adventures with Extremists’, and thus wasn’t in the least bit surprised by his extreme ‘performance’ on the show. What’s interesting is that I automatically assumed that booking Jones for Piers Morgan’s show was a fairly ‘cheap’ trick to discredit the gun lobby by having their views voiced by someone who appeared slightly ‘deranged’. I then came across a second clip from Piers Morgan’s show, of someone called Ted Nugent, that seems to confirm my assumption:


What I found interesting was that having watched these two clips I’d settled on the view that the ‘clever liberal’ anti-gun people had tricked the ‘simple conservative’ pro-gun people into undermining their own argument by booking seeming ‘deranged’ contributors. What really surprised me was that I’ve subsequently discovered that Ted Nugent is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association, the hugely powerful pro-gun lobby group. So, the question that arises is was my view that he looked ‘slightly deranged’ a produced on my own European liberal bias, or is he as ‘mad’ as he looks and sounds ?

All in all it seems like I need to work a lot more on a lecture on cultural differences. With this stuff and the debate around abortion that appeared during the US Elections last year there is a lot of material. Psychology’s own literature has quite a lot to say about cultural differences but most it it is focused on differences between Eastern and Western culture rather than between North America and Europe.

Trying to think rationally about US gun laws

4 Jan


Since the dreadful attack on The Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut just before Christmas I’ve been thinking about the debate that followed might be integrated into my rational thinking teaching. I’m sure that for those teaching in other disciplines there will be other parts of the debate that will seem relevant, but for my students (who are studying psychology) I’ve settled on two points. Firstly, the idea that the attack was ‘evil’, and secondly the question of the cultural differences between Europe and the USA.

The Psychology of ‘Evil’

In the immediate aftermath of the attack the Connecticut State governor Dannel Malloy visited Newtown and was reported to have said ‘Evil visited this community today’. I was immediately struck by how unhelpful this was in trying to explain the attack. It seems to me that calling the attack ‘evil’ removes any requirement to understand why to attack happened i.e it happened because the attackers was evil. It will be interesting to discuss this idea with students, particularly as psychology does have something to say about the aetiology of ‘evil’ acts whether it be Zimbardo’s ‘Situationist’ approach or Baron-Cohen’s more recent work on ‘evil’ and the absence of empathy.

Cultural Differences between Europe and the USA

Possibly of more general interest is the apparent difference in reaction between Europe and the USA. I’ve previously written about the idea that students tend to not differentiate between Europeans and Americans, and yet this is an example where the vast majority of Europeans struggle to grasp the attachment of many  (50%) Americans attachment to the right to bear arms. For the average European the post-attack reaction of the American National Rifle Association (NRA), suggesting that the attack could have been prevented had the school teachers been armed seems so extreme as to be difficult to believe.

Trying to uncover rational thought about US Gun Law is difficult, and often confounded by the lobbying power of the NRA, but I’ve come across a few articles that are of interest :

Silencing the Science of Gun Research – From the Journal of the American Medical Assocation takes a look at the avaialble research

The Riddle of the Gun – By Sam Harris is an interesting take on why some completely rational Americans might have to desire to own a gun, and an excellent critique of Sam Harris’s article

Finally, I found “Should Gun Owners Have To Buy Liability Insurance?” a really intriging idea that balances the need for regulation with the sense of so many Americans that they ‘need’ to own a gun.

I’ll report back after I’ve taught this stuff in February.

%d bloggers like this: