Did Colorado Senator John Morse claim that gun owners have a “sickness” in their “souls” that needs to be “cleansed”? With Morse’s recall election now scheduled for September 10—a recall prompted largely by Morse’s support of various anti-gun bills during this year’s legislative session—this is a good time to review what Morse actually said about gun owners as he pulled one of his own bills.
The bill in question is S. B. 196, which would have unleashed predatory lawsuits against gun owners, sellers, and manufacturers. The idea was that owners, sellers, and manufacturers of so-called “assault” weapons—an arbitrarily defined category of guns whose peaceable owners use for target practice and self-defense, not to “assault” anyone—may be sued if a criminal misuses the gun. Morse’s idea was as absurd as suing car manufacturers for road rage or lighter manufacturers for the crimes of arsonists. Morse spiked the bill on March 8 after it became clear it would not pass.
As Morse killed the bill, he spoke at length against gun owners. But what precisely did he say? There has been some confusion about this. For example, on July 13 leftist media critic Jason Salzman (who apparently listens to more conservative radio than anyone else in Colorado) posted to his Twitter feed, “On KNUS [Secretary of State Scott] Gessler said he thinks Morse ‘said stuff like, people who own guns are a mental sickness.’ Not true. [Radio host Peter] Boyles [should] correct.”
Likewise, on July 8, Salzman blasted Jon Caldara for allegedly misrepresenting Morse’s remarks during a segment of “Devil’s Advocate,” Caldara’s tv show on Channel 12. Salzman asks in disbelief, “Does anyone besides Caldara think Morse was saying that gun owners have a sickness in their souls?”
Actually, Morse’s comments—which Salzman does not quote in full in his article about Caldara—can be interpreted to imply that people who own guns and who campaign for gun rights have sick souls.
The legislature makes available audio recordings of the legislative session, and Morse’s remarks begin at the 13:23:55 mark of the March 8 file. Here is the relevant portion of what he had to say:
Mr. Chairman, I move Senate Bill 196. Members, under current law in the United States, gun dealers and manufacturers are immune from liability even when they’re negligent. No other industry in the country enjoys this protection. This immunity is the direct result of a powerful lobbying effort that, ironically, is subsidized by our own government and taxpayers, through the military and the police. We’ve experienced ourselves the power of this lobby in the last three months. In the wake of six-year-old children being shot in the face, the gun lobbies actually argued, we need more guns, and managed to convince Coloradans that they will lose their guns even if we impose reasonable restrictions on firearms. . . .
Robert F. Kennedy said after Martin Luther King’s assassination, that violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.
Cleansing a sickness from our souls doesn’t come easily. It’s gruesome. During the last three months, we’ve experienced hatred and vitriol that I haven’t seen since I was on the street as a police officer. It’s included wishing rape, torture, and death on legislators and their families. It’s reached its heights just this week as we’ve been considering these bills in committee and we’ve been preparing to consider them today on the floor. Sickness.
Here I will leave aside Morse’s mischaracterization of liability law and focus on his comments about gun owners.
In these comments, Morse unjustly lumps together the deranged few making threats against anti-gun legislators with peaceable gun owners mounting a spirited political campaign in defense of their rights. Meanwhile, he ignores the many deranged threats and expressions of hatred made against peaceable gun owners, and he ignores the intense lobbying efforts in favor of restrictive gun laws by the Obama administration, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and myriad gun-restriction groups.
Morse insinuates that gun ownership and political organizing on its behalf by peaceable, rights-respecting people is somehow to blame for the murderous acts of violent criminals. Meanwhile, he ignores the many Coloradans who own guns for legitimate purposes, and he ignores the many thousands of cases of successful self-defense that take place in this country every year.
Although Morse is not entirely clear on what he regards as a “sickness [in] our souls” that requires a “cleansing of our whole society” to remove, he seems to imply that this “sickness” includes spirited political campaigning by peaceable gun owners.
Contrast Morse’s comments with those of Robert F. Kennedy, whom Morse quotes out of context.
Whereas Morse used brutal crimes as a pretext to legislatively attack peaceable gun owners, Kennedy began his speech about the murder of King, “This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics.”
Whereas Morse seemed to apply the term “sickness” to peaceable people and their politicking, Kennedy clearly restricted his comments to acts of violence.
Whereas Morse targeted peaceable gun owners as his scapegoats, in his speech Kennedy explicitly warned against looking for scapegoats.
Whereas Morse demonized and smeared thousands of his fellow Coloradans—peaceable gun owners who campaign in defense of their rights—Kennedy offered a message of justice and reconciliation. In his venomous slurs of gun owners, Morse surely ignored the final line of Kennedy’s talk: “Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”
In context, Morse does seem to imply that gun owners—at least those who robustly campaign for gun rights—have sick souls. If he meant something different from that—if he is prepared to say that rights-respecting people who own their guns of choice and who campaign for gun rights are perfectly moral to do so—now would be a great time for Morse to clarify his remarks.
Author and blogger Ari Armstrong edits the Free Colorado website.