In January 2013, bestselling conservative author and political commentator Ben Shapiro went toe-to-toe with then-CNN host Piers Morgan on the issue of gun control laws in America. It was a classic woodshed moment, and one of the most devastating exchanges for Morgan, whose popularity with American audiences steadily declined after the unfortunate encounter.
"You know, honestly, Piers, you've kind of been a bully on this issue," Shapiro began. "What you tend to do is you tend to demonize people who differ from you politically by standing on the graves of the children of Sandy Hook, saying they don't seem to care enough about the dead kids. If they cared more about the dead kids they would agree with you on policy. I think we can have a rational political conversation about balancing rights and risks and rewards of all of these different policies, but I don't think that what we need to do is demonize people on the other side as being unfeeling about -- about what happened in Sandy Hook."
"How dare you accuse me of standing on the graves of children that died there? How dare you?" responded an outraged Morgan.
But Shapiro didn't back down, eventually going on to explain to the host the purposes of the Second Amendment. "The basis for the Second Amendment is not really about self defense, and it’s not about hunting," he said. "It’s about resistance to government tyranny. That’s what the Founders said, and that’s what the right believes in this country."
When Morgan scoffed at Shapiro's explanation, asking what type of "tyranny" he feared, Shapiro responded, "I fear the possibility of a tyranny rising in the country in the next fifty to a hundred years. Let me tell you something, Piers. The fact that my grandparents and great grandparents in Europe didn’t fear that is why they’re now ashes in Europe. So this kind of leftist revisionist history where there’s never any fear of democracy going usurpacious or tyrannical, is just that. It’s fictitious."
In a discussion with several low points for Morgan, the lowest came when the British host slammed down a copy of the U.S. Constitution, dismissing it as "your little book."
"The way that the NRA through the '80s and '90s and this last [inaudible] tried to frame this as a left-wing attack on the American Constitution and the Second Amendment, exactly what you tried to do," said Morgan. "You come in. You brandish your little book as if I don't know-- "
"That's the Constitution of the United States," replied Shapiro.
Video of the exchange went viral. Below is a full transcript via CNN from the Jan. 10, 2013 interview:
MORGAN: Strong words from Vice President Biden who heads the White House task force on guns. My next guest has strong words for me, says I'm off the rails on guns in America.
Ben Shapiro is editor-at-large at Breitbart.com and the author of "Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans."
So why am I off the rails, Mr. Shapiro?
BEN SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "BULLIES," EDITOR AT LARGE, BREITBART.COM: You know, honestly, Piers, you've kind of been a bully on this issue because what you do, and I've seen it repeatedly on your show, I watch your show, and I have seen it repeatedly. What you tend to do is you tend to demonize people who differ from you politically by standing on the graves of the children of Sandy Hook, saying they don't seem to care enough about the dead kids. If they cared more about the dead kids they would agree with you on policy.
I think we can have a rational political conversation about balancing rights and risks and rewards of all of these different policies, but I don't think that what we need to do is demonize people on the other side as being unfeeling about -- about what happened in Sandy Hook.
MORGAN: How dare you accuse me of standing on the graves of children that died there? How dare you?
SHAPIRO: I have seen you do it repeatedly, Piers.
MORGAN: Like I say, how dare you?
SHAPIRO: I mean, you can keep saying that, but you've done it repeatedly. What you do, and I've seen you do it on the program, is you keep saying to folks that if they disagree with you politically, then somehow this is a violation of what happened in Sandy Hook. And you get -- I really like to hear your policy prescriptions for what we should do about guns.
Because you say that you respect the Second Amendment.
SHAPIRO: And you know I brought this here for you so that you can read it, the Constitution. And I would really like for you to explain to me what you would do about guns that would have prevented what happened in Sandy Hook. If you want to do what you did in the UK, right, which is ban virtually all guns, that is at least a fair argument and we can have a discussion about whether that's something that we ought to do.
MORGAN: Well, I've made it very clear what I want to do which is exactly what Mark Kelly wants to do. And in fact, rather than address your --
SHAPIRO: OK. So let's talk about that.
MORGAN: Rather than address your comment to me about standing on the graves of children at Sandy Hook, you can address them to Mark Kelly because he agrees with everything that I have been saying because he feels the same way as does his wife. They're gun owners. They both respect the Second Amendment of the Constitution. They don't want to take away anybody's right to defend themselves with guns. They don't --
SHAPIRO: They only want to take away certain types of guns, obviously.
MORGAN: They want to take away assault weapons which are capable with magazines, that we saw in Aurora and Sandy Hook, of unleashing a ridiculous amount of bullets in a very short of time.
SHAPIRO: Well, this is the question I wanted to ask you, Piers. Because I've seen you -- I've seen you talk about these weapons a lot. And I've seen Mark Kelly talk about assault weapons. The vast majority of murders in this country that are committed with guns are not committed with assault weapons, they're committed with handguns.
MORGAN: OK --
SHAPIRO: So are you willing to ban handguns in this country.
MORGAN: No. No, that's not what I'm asking for.
SHAPIRO: Why not?
MORGAN: Let me ask you --
SHAPIRO: So you only care about the kids who were being killed in Chicago as much as the kids in Sandy Hook?
MORGAN: Yes, I do.
SHAPIRO: And why don't you care about -- about banning the handguns in Chicago?
MORGAN: We'll come to that. Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. What was the weapon used in Aurora in the movie theater?
SHAPIRO: It was -- it was an assault rifle, sure.
MORGAN: OK. What was the weapon used in the Oregon shopping mall?
SHAPIRO: I believe it's an assault weapon, correct.
MORGAN: OK. What was the weapon used in Sandy Hook?
SHAPIRO: It was an assault rifle.
MORGAN: What was the weapon used in the incident around Christmas when the firemen were lured to their deaths, the New York State firemen?
SHAPIRO: And bought illegally? That was -- that was an assault rifle.
MORGAN: Right. So the last four mass shootings in America were all assault weapons.
SHAPIRO: The vast --
MORGAN: That's just the reason, Mr. Shapiro. And you can smirk at me and you can laugh at me.
SHAPIRO: I'm not smirking.
MORGAN: And you can accuse me of standing on the graves of dead children.
SHAPIRO: And being a bully, yes.
MORGAN: But that is the reason that people like me and Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords want to have assault weapons like that removed from civilian hands.
SHAPIRO: Your passion on the issue --
MORGAN: That's the point.
SHAPIRO: -- doesn't really justify the rationale for why you want to ban assault weapons but not handguns.
MORGAN: You understand why we want to remove the preferred weapon of choice, these killing machines.
SHAPIRO: Well, I would like you to --
MORGAN: -- from the hands of deranged young men.
SHAPIRO: All I'm asking you is for you to be philosophically consistent. If what you're worried about is the removal of killing machines, from the hands of deranged young people, then maybe we should talk about a blanket gun ban, and let's get to what the left really wants here. And you know, you say that you're for the Second Amendment --
MORGAN: Why is it about left or right? Because in Britain, this never is about left or right. This issue. Why is it here?
SHAPIRO: Well, you know, we can talk about Britain in a second. I think the reason that it's about left and right here is because fundamentally, the right believes that the basis for the Second Amendment, and they believe in the Second Amendment. The basis for the Second Amendment is not really about self-defense and it's not about hunting. It is about resistance to government tyranny. That's what the founder said and that's what the right believes in this country.
MORGAN: Which tyranny are you fearing yourself?
SHAPIRO: I fear the possibility of a tyranny rising in this country in the next 50 to 100 years. Let me tell you something, Piers. The fact that my grandparents and great grandparents in Europe didn't fear that is why they're now ashes in Europe. So this kind of leftist revisionist history where there's never any fear of democracy going usurpatious or tyrannical is just that. It's fictitious.
MORGAN: So -- just to clarify your position then. The answer to Sandy Hook, as it was to Aurora, as it was to Gabrielle Giffords, as it was to Columbine and Virginia Tech, is you do nothing. Is that your position?
SHAPIRO: And that's not my position. I actually --
MORGAN: What is your position?
SHAPIRO: My position is that we have to calibrate laws that are designed to get hand -- guns out of the hands of bad people and keep guns in the hands of good people who want to buy them. This idea of more guns versus less guns --
MORGAN: How do you do that? How do you do that?
SHAPIRO: I think one of the ways that you do that is by better screening for mental illness. I think that you do better background checks.
MORGAN: Was Adam Lanza's mother a good person?
SHAPIRO: I don't know whether she's a good person or a bad person.
She was irresponsible with her guns.
MORGAN: Has there been any evidence to suggest she was not a good person?
SHAPIRO: No, but there is --
MORGAN: So by your criteria, she would have --
SHAPIRO: No --
MORGAN: Wait a minute, by your criteria of the good people should be allowed to guns and the bad people shouldn't, she would have been allowed a gun.
SHAPIRO: She was an irresponsible person. She didn't keep her guns locked up. And that should be against the law.
MORGAN: So then she --
SHAPIRO: If you have a mentally ill person in your house --
We're talking about laws that we can both agree on.
MORGAN: Right. Then she becomes --
SHAPIRO: I don't know why you're disagreeing with me on this. MORGAN: Then she becomes a bad person, does she?
SHAPIRO: Well, no, it's not a matter of -- it's not a matter of morally versus immorally --
MORGAN: You set the criteria, good and bad. So is she good or bad?
SHAPIRO: You're right, Piers. I should have said responsible versus irresponsible. That's correct.
MORGAN: OK. So she goes from good to bad?
SHAPIRO: No. She goes from responsible to irresponsible.
MORGAN: Let's take a break. Let's come back and talk more about this because we don't agree.
MORGAN: With me now is Ben Shapiro, editor at large at Breitbart.com, and the author of "Bullies." Do you believe that if you had an assault weapon ban, statistics prove that you could dry out the supply of these guns and make them less accessible to criminals?
BEN SHAPIRO, BREITBART.COM: I don't know whether you could make them less accessible to criminals. Let's assume that's the case, that you could make them less accessible to criminals. Again, my question remains for you, Piers -- and I'm still waiting for an answer from the left on this. They say they're pro-Second Amendment. Why don't we want to ban handguns?
If you really want to solve the, quote unquote, gun violence problem in America, why for all the guns? Why just stop yourself at assault rifles?
MORGAN: Because I believe and respect an Americans' rights under the Second Amendment Constitution that you kindly brought in to defend themselves with a handgun or a pistol. What I don't understand --
SHAPIRO: And most murders are committed with those weapons.
MORGAN: As we just established -- I talked you through them. The last four mass shootings in America --
SHAPIRO: Adam Lanza had two pistols on him.
MORGAN: He didn't use them, as you know.
SHAPIRO: If he hadn't had the assault rifle, he wouldn't have used them?
MORGAN: Explain to me this: I can't buy this. This is six packets of Sudafed, one of the many companies that make a particular ingredient which you can't buy legally in America. There we are, six packets. That is illegal for me to buy in that quantity in Wal-Mart, say. But I can buy an AR-15 military style assault rifle.
I can then, as we saw with Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, go get 6,000 rounds of ammunition from the Internet and I can go and blow up a movie theater. Do you think that's right?
SHAPIRO: Well, we can talk drug laws another time.
MORGAN: Does that make sense to you?
SHAPIRO: No, I think what would make sense is laws that are calibrated to solve the problem. So if you think the problem is only assault rifles --
MORGAN: Which guns would you remove?
SHAPIRO: I think the ones that have largely been removed from the market. Fully automatic weapons would be a good start. I think --
MORGAN: You wouldn't remove any semiautomatics at all?
SHAPIRO: No, because semiautomatic just means that when you pull the trigger once, one bullet comes out.
MORGAN: Do you understand how an AR-15 performs when it's been modified and has a magazine?
SHAPIRO: I do. I saw it in the North Hollywood shootout. You know what? It was illegal to do that. People did it anyway. We have 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. We're not able to stop people from coming illegally into the country over the southern border, into places like California, where I live normally.
I think you would be very hard pressed to stop guns from coming across that border illegally as well. California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
MORGAN: Would you want every American to have an AR-15?
SHAPIRO: No, not every American.
MORGAN: Who would you stop?
SHAPIRO: I would stop anyone with a criminal background. I would stop anybody with a history of mental illness. And I stop and I would ask -- not ask, I would require that people who have somebody who has a criminal background or a history of mental illness in the household keep that gun locked up and safe.
MORGAN: What about background checks? Forty percent of all gun sales in America are now gun trades, are not done with a background checks.
SHAPIRO: I believe in background checks.
MORGAN: For everybody?
SHAPIRO: For everybody.
MORGAN: So there should be a database, a national registry?
SHAPIRO: If it's not public. I don't like what happened with the "Journal News," putting out gun permits, which allows criminals to target particular homes.
MORGAN: When the NRA came out today, after the meeting in the White House, and just said we're not prepared to entertain any kind of new gun restrictions, what did you think about that?
SHAPIRO: What is astonishing to me is the left's attack on the NRA. Because the NRA, they don't receive a dime of public dollars. They're an interest group. Here's what's funny, the left, they like to talk about violent video games, for example.
MORGAN: Can you stop framing this as left or right. Because I don't have a horse in the race. I don't vote either way.
SHAPIRO: You tend to be more to the left.
MORGAN: The NRA, as you know, are a very active and well funded and powerful body.
MORGAN: I want to finish a point. Very quick, I promise. The point that I'm making is this: there's been a lot of talk by a lot of people about video game violence. I haven't seen David Gregory interviewing the head of the ACLU and saying, it's your broad interpretation of the First Amendment that is responsible for this.
But people are bringing on the NRA and saying it's your broad interpretation of the Second Amendment that's responsible for this. They're an interest group. If you want legislation passed, talk to legislators.
MORGAN: Here is what the NRA and people like Alex Jones and others do --
SHAPIRO: Don't lump me in with Alex Jones.
MORGAN: Fine. After each of these massacres, they come out. All the gun rights supporters come out very strongly and very vociferously, and they basically instill fear. They say if everyone --
SHAPIRO: They instill fear?
MORGAN: If everyone in the movie theater had been armed, everyone in the school had been armed, it wouldn't have happened. Here is what happens, gun sales and ammunition sales rocket, as we've seen in the last three weeks.
SHAPIRO: Don't pass the buck, Piers.
SHAPIRO: The reason people are buying a lot of guns right now, Piers, is because people on the left are talking very much about banning guns. So a lot of people are saying, if I am not going to have the right to purchase a weapon of my choosing in two months, I'm going to go and buy it now.
MORGAN: Why did Ronald Reagan want these assault weapons removed?
SHAPIRO: You know, I don't know why Ronald Reagan wanted these --
MORGAN: You like Reagan, right?
SHAPIRO: I like Reagan. But in a lot of ways, he's not a God. I don't agree with him on everything.
MORGAN: Did you agree with him on assault weapons?
SHAPIRO: If -- I'll believe what you are saying, sure.
SHAPIRO: I don't know what his position on assault weapons was. Why don't you tell me?
MORGAN: Let me read the letter. This is a letter that he penned along with Presidents Ford and Carter in 1994 to Congress: "while we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and the law enforcement community, support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons." That is Ronald Reagan.
SHAPIRO: OK, so I can disagree with Ronald Reagan.
MORGAN: You keep framing it as a left and right thing.
MORGAN: One of the great right wing presidents of modern times agreed with me.
MORGAN: So it's not left or right, is it? (CROSS TALK)
SHAPIRO: OK, Piers --
MORGAN: The way that the NRA through the '80s and '90s and this last --
MORGAN: -- tried to frame this as a left-wing attack on the American Constitution and the Second Amendment, exactly what you tried to do. You come in. You brandish your little book as if I don't know --
SHAPIRO: That's the Constitution of the United States.
MORGAN: I know what its your Constitution.
SHAPIRO: Do you really?
MORGAN: I have been debating this for a very long time.
SHAPIRO: Then you should read the Second Amendment again.
MORGAN: I know the Second Amendment. What I haven't heard is one coherent reason for why an civilian in American needs an AR-15 military style assault weapon. Tell me why you need one.
SHAPIRO: I told you why the general population of America, law abiding --
MORGAN: Why do they need those weapons?
SHAPIRO: They need them for the prospective possibility of resistance to tyranny, which is not a concern today. It may not be a concern tomorrow.
MORGAN: Where do you expect the tyranny to come from?
SHAPIRO: It could come from the United States, because governments have gone tyrannical before, Piers.
MORGAN: Do you understand how absurd you sound?
SHAPIRO: Here's where you go into the absurd and the bullying.
MORGAN: I'm not the one who came in here and accused you of standing on the graves of dead children.
SHAPIRO: Because you're the one who is doing that.
SHAPIRO: You know what I call it? Punching back twice as hard. MORGAN: That's what I call bullying.
MORGAN: What is astonishing?
SHAPIRO: What's astonishing about it is that for weeks now, you have been saying that anybody who disagrees with your position is absurd, idiotic, and doesn't care about the kids in Sandy Hook. Then when I say that that's a bullying tactic, you turn around and say I'm bullying you for saying that. It's absurd. It's ridiculous.
MORGAN: Let me ask you again, what is the point of a civilian having an AR-15?
SHAPIRO: The point of a civilian having an AR-15 assault weapon -- many of them are ex-military. Right, I have military friends. I don't have a problem with Colin Powell owning an AR-15 assault weapon.
SHAPIRO: It depends on the civilian.
MORGAN: Forget criminals, the mentally ill.
MORGAN: An average civilian without a criminal record, why do they need one?
SHAPIRO: To protect against the possibility of eventual government tyranny. This was the purpose of the Second Amendment originally. It remains the purpose of the Second Amendment now. And pretending that governments have never gone usurpations before --
MORGAN: You genuinely believe your own government is going to turn on you in a way that you require an AR-15 to challenge them? You really believe that will happen in modern day America? Is that what you think?
SHAPIRO: They may not turn on me. They may not turn on my children. But the fact is this, history is replete with democracies going tyrannical. It has happened. It happened in France in the 19th century. It happened in Spain in the last century. It happened in Germany. It happened in Italy. It happened in Japan.
MORGAN: The reason we cannot remove AR-15 assault weapons is because the threat of your own government turning on you in a tyrannical way?
MORGAN: That is your position?
SHAPIRO: It is because there are countervailing rights and responsibilities. (CROSS TALK)
SHAPIRO: I don't understand why you can't -- why can't we agree about reasonable law.
MORGAN: You have made your point crystal clear. People aren't stupid. They can make up their own minds. Ben Shapiro, thank you.
Months later, Shapiro appeared on Morgan's show again -- and again crushed him on gun control: