Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Weird Rhetoric

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The other day, I was reading the New York Post over a bagel.

I love writing that sentence. It makes me feel like Woody Allen, except with more hair and fewer love affairs with my stepchildren.

Anyway, the New York Post is a bit like The Sun back home, but sillier. Nevertheless, it has its serious opinion columns. I was particularly baffled by a column from Bill O’Reilly, who I suppose is a transatlantic Richard Littlejohn. He’s writing about gun legislation. Many Americans love their guns, of course, and are very defensive of their rights to own them.

  Whatever. There are two schools of thought on that, and I’m in the camp which doesn’t favour home weaponry. But if I were in the other camp, I reckon I could make my case better than Bill O’Reilly. Bill is angry with four Supreme Court Justices (“liberal jurists” as he angrily describes them) who voted last week against a Chicago man’s right to own a handgun. They lost the vote, because five others voted in favour. Bill’s angry anyway.

  “They opined that guns cause a lot of damage to society”, complains Bill. “But where in the Constitution does it say that if guns become a menace to society they can be banned?”

  Oh, Bill. You don’t want to try arguing that guns AREN’T a menace to society? You don’t fancy having a stab at the argument that they protect and deter more than they damage and attack? No? You want to concede that they’re a bad thing but insist on having them anyway? Back to the school debating club for you.

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Manpreet Singh at 8:36 am on July 7th, 2010

I think you misunderstand the psychology of the US gun nut. If you start arguing about whether they are a good thing, your discussion becomes evidence based. You can look at evidence as to whether guns reduce crime / reduce violence / reduce murder. And there is no evidence to support that.

If however, you make the argument that banning guns is unconstitutional, there is no way to refute it. If you make the constitution into an absolute, biblical truth, then any evidence that guns cause harm is irrelevant.

MDW at 10:05 am on July 7th, 2010

You should only be allowed to have a gun in America if you have proper cowboy gun holster things and dress like John Wayne at all times. This way you’d have to give the idea a lot more thought.
‘I’d like a gun but do I want to dress like an idiot ?’

This would also inform the rest of society which are the citizens that are likely to pop a cap in your ass (I’ve seen 80’s American films, I’m down with the lingo). If you see an old granny dressed like one of the Magnificent 7 you’d think twice about pushing in front of her at the supermarket.

Phil at 12:20 pm on July 7th, 2010

Bill O’Reilly makes an appearence at about 6.45 The reasons for his poor debating skills become rapidly clear

Citing the fact that the constitution doesn’t explicitly state banning guns if they become a menace is a ridiculous stance to take. By that rationale one could argue that dressing up in a gorilla outfit and murdering hippies is fine because it is not denied by the constitution.
It’s worrying how many morons are given positions of influence and power. Bill O’Reilly is by no means the only example. Glen Beck et al are arguably even worse

david marlowe at 12:48 pm on July 7th, 2010

I’m confused, r u a writer of prose or a political bottom feeder or someone with an uneven horizon on a crocked road with clowns on drugs for company, in the words of John Steinbeck “what are these shells?”

David Young at 1:03 pm on July 7th, 2010

Banning guns only takes them out of the hands of law-abiding people (by definition). The criminal class would then have a field-day knowing that they could break into the homes of honest Americans and not face return fire.

The parts of the US that have the strictest gun controls also have the most violence, for that reason.  Penn and Teller have a lot of good stuff to say about this. Well, actually Teller doesn’t say much:

RomanticRecluse at 2:29 pm on July 7th, 2010

Vicky, this is not about “home weaponry”.  The second amendment to the US Constitution is not about the right to have a weapon in your home.  It’s about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”: private weaponry.  The people don’t have to leave their weapons at home.  They can take them with them when they go outside.

What sort of school did you go to?  Come and see me after this seminar.

Victoria Coren at 6:20 pm on July 7th, 2010

RR - By “home weaponry” I just meant the idea of a gun in every home; I don’t deny that they’re portable! But I do think the majority of ordinary Americans who want to keep guns are thinking primarily of their homes and (rightly or wrongly) keeping them safe. It’s more about the pistol in the drawer than the back pocket.

Phil - that’s a great clip, I was delighted to meet Bill O’Reilly “in person”, especially that last bit, hilarious. Thanks for posting.

david marlowe - I’m sorry you’re confused. If it helps, I think of myself primarily as a competitive baker of cakes. With some other stuff on the side.

RomanticRecluse at 8:28 pm on July 7th, 2010

Vicky, I won’t mark you down for your “home weaponry” error.  However, if guns weren’t portable there’d be no gun crime in public because no-one would have their guns.  Gun crime could only happen in the home and the only people who could commit gun crime would be home owners because visitors wouldn’t have their guns.  So one way to reduce gun crime in America is to allow everyone to have guns but set a certain minimum gun weight (say 50 tons).  Big guns, low crime, happy people.

Or Americans could scrap their 18th Century constitution and write a better one.  And elect better politicians.  And try to find better solutions to social problems.

That’s enough for now but there’ll be more Politics, Sociology and Psychology seminars later.

stephen at 12:01 am on July 8th, 2010

Hiya Victoria.  The full text of the bit in the American constitution about owning guns has become rather forgotten about and misused by gun lovers in the US, coz it basically says and I do mean basically says is ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms…..if in the event that the Evil Limey British empire sails back and tries and retake the colonies from us, then we can form an organised militia (local heighbourhood watch scheme) and defend ourselves.’ What has happened in the US with guns is very different to what the so-called founding fathers had originally envisioned. And as for a transatlantic Richard Littlejohn, that’s all we need…does he say stuff like ‘Bloody Native American Indians coming over here and originally owning our country?!’

David Young at 1:12 am on July 8th, 2010

I’ve given this more thought and I think that Vicky’s missed the point. O’Reilly does not have to make the case for the 2nd amendment. He is showing that the judges overstepped their authority if they made a judgement on the basis of a ‘policy belief’ that guns are a menace to society.

I can’t find the NY Post article, but this must be the same thing:

It’s titled ‘Liberals take aim at the Constitution’ and that’s the broader issue he’s debating. And his article, as it happens, does give reasons why he thinks guns protect and preserve as much as they defend and attack.

Read it for yourself and decide whether Vicky has fairly represented his article. I think not.

Glyn Jones at 1:16 am on July 8th, 2010

I was going to join the school debating team, but then I got talked out of it.

Just been to the US, did 9 states whilst storm-chasing. Only saw a gun on a police/security officer’s hip, but then only went to the small towns and rural areas. Guns are only a problem in cities IMO, where they aren’t necessary for defence.

MDW at 9:54 am on July 8th, 2010

I love the term ‘home weaponry’ thanks RR I’m having that going forward - sorry I can’t help it I’m a scruffy school boy trapped in a man’s body.

mike at 10:07 am on July 8th, 2010

Hi Vicky,

I suspect that even though the UK does not have the right to bear arms, sadly the young and older of the criminal fraternity consider it a necessity, and the case going on at the moment in Northumberland illustrates how things might be if we were all allowed to possess these horrible weapons.

RomanticRecluse at 2:01 pm on July 8th, 2010

So we come back to the founding fathers, heirs of the pilgrim fathers, proud men seeking independence from the Church of England (itself independent of the Catholic church).  What did these fathers do?  Set up their own patriarchies in which only freemen were given full rights and the right to bear arms came before women’s suffrage.

Did proud national and religious father figures create good homes which gave safety to women, children and neighbours? 
What would countries and religions be like if their founders had included or listened to women and children? 
Would there have been and would there be fewer wars, crimes and victims in a feminist world?

I loved delivering seminars at university.  Present the right facts and ask the right questions and then sit back.

Russ Massey at 6:56 pm on July 8th, 2010

I think the Moat case in the UK is pretty unusual. It sounds as if he is armed with two shotguns, which are readily available to anyone in the UK who wants to go through the red tape of appyling for one and having a gun cabinet.

But he actually had custom-loaded his own ammunition for the guns so that he could shoot his ex-girlfriend with a non-fatal but disfiguring round. Now that’s a level of firearms hobbyist knowledge that we don’t often see in this country. The killer is pretty clearly what the USA would term a survivalist.

It’s hard to legislate against that level of fanaticism, as he’s someone who would have owned a firearm whether legal or not.

Phil at 9:17 pm on July 8th, 2010

Thanks for posting the article in its entirety; if I may just address a few of your points:
The main thrust of his argument seems to be that a constitution that is hundreds of years old is still as relevent and politically sacrosanct now as it was then. This is neither a realistic or well reasoned standpoint to take.
Secondly, he cites examples (interestingly enough both with links to the black community) where society has failed individuals and groups, and he regards the acceptable solution to this failure as being the adoption of a vigilante state of mind to fill the vacuum of law. Why is he not attacking the system which allowed these circumstances to exist in the first place instead of lauding violence as a solution? My guess would be that he is a paranoid neocon loon.

Chawkes at 12:16 am on July 9th, 2010

H’mmm…  I think that the attitudes embodied by the original NYT column and then also David Young (who strikes me as an American, but I could be wrong…) are perhaps a result of the occasionally quasi-religious support afforded the US constitution in some quarters.  As a potentially (re-)invading Limey I’m certainly no expert on its content, but in general I’d have thought it to be no more intrinsically correct than any other legislation. It’s fundamental in that it has defined the system of government since the creation of the USA, but the existence of any amendments at all surely suggests that it’s not perfect.  Trying to use the argument that something MUST be wrong if it is unconstitutional doesn’t really hold up.  And it seems all these judges have done is notice that.

And incidentally, how did you break into the intensely tight-knit world of competitive cake baking? I’ve been baking for the last 6 years, but apart from almost getting a particularly well formed swiss roll through to the third round of the south-east regionals it’s been crushing disappointment after crushing disappointment.  I nearly jacked the whole thing in after an incident with a pineapple sponge put me in hospital for six weeks and forced an unplanned closure of the Thames barrier, but as I’m sure you know only too well the culinary heroin that is international competitive bakery provides a dangerously addictive hit…

David Young at 1:00 am on July 9th, 2010

The situation in Northumberland would be reversed if we were all allowed to possess weapons. The man on the run would be the one who was scared of the local citizenry, not the other way around.

Victoria Coren at 2:02 am on July 9th, 2010

Hi Chawkes. I know David Young personally - we play poker together - and he’s not American; indeed he is extremely English. But I believe he is a libertarian, so I’d imagine he would be in favour of the freedom to carry guns because he’d be in favour of the freedom to do pretty much anything. I’m sure that’s a broad-brush analysis but, broad-brushly, I think DY is just not a big fan of The State.

  My competitive cake-baking started at the Clacton Festival 2006 (best cake) and continued at the Clacton Festival 2009 (best cake, chocolate category). I admit I have never won any other baking prizes. It isn’t the strongest CV. Technically, having won best OVERALL cake and then three years later clinching only the chocolate category, I have officially got worse.

C Scott at 10:13 am on July 9th, 2010

I’m told that the right to bear arms is the reason Americans are so polite to each other (Ma’am, Sir, have a nice day etc.): in the U.S. one doesn’t know who’s packing a firearm!

mike at 11:52 am on July 9th, 2010

Hi Vicky,

Very hot here today (Norfolk, UK) and 31C maybe on Saturday.  Too hot to bake a cake in the oven, otherwise I would be baking a caraway seed cake or an orange and ginger one - as both are my favourites.  I sometimes like the smell of the cake cooking more than devouring it, but is a very close-run thing .  Now back to your ‘For Richer or Poorer’  - richer I hope soon!

David Young at 12:43 pm on July 9th, 2010

1) The job of the Supreme Court judges is to interpret the US Constitution AS IT IS, not as they would like it to be. That’s the point O’Reilly makes, which all of you have missed. It’s for others to CHANGE the law, not them.

2) The US founding fathers were NOT fanatical Christians: see here -

3) Recluse wonders whether there would be fewer wars with women ruling. Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi and Thatcher all went to war.

4) Please read about the situation for women in Kenya:

where guns are banned;

that is the end-point if you disarmed Americans - women having to shit in plastic bags they throw out of the window, because it’s not safe to go out.

Titmus at 4:58 pm on July 9th, 2010

Chawkes said:
“Trying to use the argument that something MUST be wrong if it is unconstitutional doesn’t really hold up.  And it seems all these judges have done is notice that.”

Except they don’t have (or rather, should not have) the power to ignore the constitution, they are bound by law to implement it. If faults are found in the constitution, there are ways for it to be amended.

Malcolm at 6:44 pm on July 9th, 2010

Aside from that, many of the murders are committed within the household, and those households with at least one gun (over half of American households today) have been more likely to experience a homicide for that reason. The facts suggest that the circulation of firearms in America is far too free, but under the rubric of states rights, many states opt out of obligations proposed by, for instance, the Brady Bill, which simply proposed a five day waiting period, (and even that no longer obtains). If the system was designed to succeed in reducing especially violent crime, then a waiting period and a register of gun ownership would surely be a minimum expectation.

Sorry to hear about your main event exit.

Chawkes at 7:54 pm on July 9th, 2010

Oh, and I’m not sure an armed public would have quite the effect David predicts - a gun is only of any value if the holder is willing to use it or the person being threatened believes they are willing to use it.  The majority of people in the UK I think would be likely to take fractionally longer to pull the trigger than Moat, and indeed the knowledge that an average joe might shoot him if given that time might make him (or anyone similarly disposed) more inclined to shoot first just in case. I think both sides of that one could be argued for some time…

Chawkes at 11:21 pm on July 9th, 2010

Yes, I think on reflection David and Titmus (lost an ‘s’ and moving upmarket?) are right.  Bill’s argument is in fact more about the dangers of the Supreme Court losing sight of its jurisdictional boundaries. Makes you wonder how such a case could come to court, because on the face of it anyone aware of the limitations of the supreme court’s powers (and there must be someone with this information within the supreme court, surely?) ought to be able to point out the problem beforehand.
There are perhaps loose parallels with the Home Office’s now-unsuccessful attempt to override the European charter of human rights by introducing the section 44 stop-and-search powers…

RomanticRecluse at 1:22 am on July 10th, 2010

David Young, the Founding Fathers of the US may not have been fanatical Christians (did anyone here say they were?) but they and the Pilgrim Fathers created patriarchies which I’d say was hypocritical because they were oppressed and sought independence and when they got it they oppressed women.

I asked the questions about women (not women ruling) because I wonder how different the US, the world and all of us would be if the feminist movement had started earlier and been more successful.

As for the situation for women in Kenya, is it really the end-point for disarmed Americans?  If it is why isn’t the same thing happening in the UK now?  People and societies are far more complex than you seem to think they are.  Trust me: I’m a social scientist and I’m really complex.

Chris at 7:50 am on July 10th, 2010

I previously spent some time touring to and fro, courtesy of a Winnebago, across N. America. My gregarity (is this a word?) gave me some insight into the way many ‘yanks’ think.

Putting aside the good ol’ ‘Right to Bear Arms’ historical crutch that the NRA cling to (the US proud of their truncated pedigree), it is hard to ignore the huge number of firearms in circulation which, when combined with the widespred paranoia of many Americans leaves them fearful of what would happen if only the criminals had access to such weaponry.

Criminals favour handguns as they’re easy to carry/hide. IMHO Canada offers a workable solution, by severely limiting handguns, whilst allowing rifles/shotguns to be freely purchased and used for hunting.

..but when did the US ever copy Canada?!

Victoria Coren at 8:43 am on July 10th, 2010

All right stop, stop! I never wanted a debate about gun law! It’s pointless. Those in favour of an armed public will never understand how crazed an idea that seems to those of us who aren’t - if they did, they wouldn’t bother trying to argue the toss. But it’s probably vice versa.

All I was trying to say in the post was that I thought the journalist made his point incredibly badly. Enough now, enough!

mike at 9:29 am on July 10th, 2010

Hiya Vicky,

.......and a very good post it was. The fact that it has set alight this blog is excellent, and I totally agree about the journalist making his point without giving it the sort of consideration that you and people have given it on here.

Good luck and take care.

Chris at 10:08 am on July 10th, 2010

Re: ‘I never wanted a debate about gun law’

..isn’t promoting debate one of the objectives of social media marketing? :-)

Saul Richardson at 5:52 pm on July 10th, 2010


I would have preferred to contact you another way, rather than pollute your blog, but hopefully you will pick this up.

I am trying to promote this independent film:

It’s an anti-hunting documentary but it’s interesting as it features a cross section of people that you wouldn’t think would be part of the anti-hunting lobby. I am trying to find a venue in Chippenham, Corsham or specifically Lacock as that is where hunts take place, to show this film.

Obviously I do not know your views on this, but is this something you would like to put your support behind or get involved in, it’s a campaign that has been gathering pace quite rapidly.

I am not a rabid anti-hunt saboteur but a nurse working at a major hospital. These blogs might spike your interest.


This one is about a modern day life as a nurse. Been neglectful with entries but worth a read, it doesn’t pander to management/NHS, it’s a truthful yet uncomfortable read.


Place for my poetry and writing, only poetry on there though, mostly soul searching stuff, don’t know if any good or not, but you might like it


For irreverent thoughts, only one post on there though, apologies for grammar.


RomanticRecluse at 6:00 pm on July 10th, 2010

Vicky, of course Bill O’Reilly made his point incredibly badly.  However, leading US commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck owe their success to the First Amendment and the absence of UK-style rules on impartiality, accuracy and fairness in broadcasting.  They don’t get enough high-quality debating practice as they can just preach to the converted from on high which is good for their egos but bad for debate.

Perhaps you should give Bill O’Reilly some much-needed practice.

Titmus at 1:23 am on July 11th, 2010

Impartiality, accuracy and fairness like the BBC?

King John II at 2:44 am on July 11th, 2010

Over a bagel, huh? VC is getting more ethnic, day by day. Still looks hot, all the same.

Amar at 4:29 pm on July 11th, 2010

Thing is, the gun law is not there to protect you against a ragtag bunch of idiots trying to rob you….its the last stand against a tyrannical government…..whoops…i guess it is there to protect you from a bunch of ragtag idoits trying to rob you.

Vicky- great writer, great player- mucho respecto

Victoria Coren at 1:56 am on July 12th, 2010

Hi Saul. I’m afraid I can’t give my personal endorsement to your anti-hunting campaign because that isn’t a big cause for me. I’m squeamish about hunting, and it’s not something I would do myself, but as a lifelong Londoner I feel that I am not qualified really to know about the way of life it represents for the countryside so I tend to stay out of it. Certainly I have met country people who have explained what is important about keeping hunting alive and I can see their point of view, however cruel it may seem to me.

  So, you can’t add my name to the list but good luck with your project and your blogs, I am very impressed by your range of endeavours. I count myself very much as a jack of all trades, master of none - I’m sure you master more than I do, but I always like to see a fellow dabbler-in-many-pies.
  Best wishes, VC.

Saul at 5:41 pm on July 12th, 2010


Thanks for your reply.

I thought you might be interested in the film from a journalistic point of view, but I realise that 106 minutes is a lot of time to spare to a busy person.

I am actually London bred as well but find myself lost out here. I liked the fact that the narrator is not the sort of person you would expect to be part of the anti-hunting movement, more a middle/upper class countryside lady which gives it a different perspective.

But if you are squeamish, I wouldn’t watch; there aren’t significant scenes of animal cruelty though obviously there are some, but it’s also emotionally very draining.

Thanks for your kind comments though. :)


Perry at 7:49 pm on July 12th, 2010

I would assume if he couldn’t have a gun then he would consider taking a stab at those against his opinions. And if he didn’t have that option, than maybe a club. But stab beats club, less effort needed.

chris wade at 11:51 pm on July 12th, 2010

Love the Woody Allen gag. Made me laugh out loud. That is all.

Jim at 11:10 pm on July 13th, 2010

Fire a gun, it’s very fun..
Really you should just ban people, guns are harmless

Interestingly i’m the same height as Woody Allen.

IfancyVickyCoren at 8:18 pm on July 18th, 2010

It is true that someone who is continuously non-violent, except in self defence, could be safely trusted with guns, and that making them illegal would never prevent hardened criminals from acquiring them anyway. However such pro-gun observations neglect those who are non-violent most of the time, but who may flip disastrously once in a lifetime, if they are allowed immediate access to a firearm. Is it safer, or more dangerous, to allow them to own guns along with their potential victims?

IfancyVickyCoren at 9:00 pm on July 18th, 2010

Relaxed gun legislation could be defended on the basis that the continuously non violent can be trusted not to use guns except in self defence against hardened criminals. The latter would obtain guns whether legally or not, and then use them aggressively.
  So to demonstrate that gun ownership should be restricted to any given degree, this argument must be commensurately outweighed by the extent to which the public safety gain involved in relaxed gun laws is exceeded by the danger involved in allowing potential once in a lifetime killers immediate firearm access.
  I believe that this final consideration trumps all others by a a massive margin, and I thus oppose gun ownership except where strictly required despite risk,in the lawful work of those without any criminally violent history.

Victoria Coren

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