BELLEVUE, WA – Hate speech directed at gun owners and firearms rights groups in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy could lead to hate crimes, the Second Amendment Foundation said today.

SAF said statements made by broadcasters including Piers Morgan and Chris Matthews, as well as comments on social media have contributed to an environment of hate directed against law-abiding Americans who are being demonized for a crime they did not commit.

This comes as President Obama has launched an effort that could culminate in an attempt to ban semiautomatic sport-utility rifles and ammunition magazines, and impose other restrictions on gun owners who are not responsible for the actions of an obviously mentally disturbed individual.

“Focusing on the instrumentality of firearms alone to the exclusion of possible other causative factors is doomed to failure and would do an injustice to the memories of the Sandy Hook victims and their families,” said SAF President Joseph Tartaro. “Of course, we are pleased to see that by adopting a broad task force approach in search of solutions to prevent or reduce the kind of violence that was visited upon Newtown, CT, last week that the president has sought the expertise of several cabinet departments that deal with mental health, educational administration, pharmacology, law enforcement and cultural issues in addition to firearms.”

But SAF cautioned that narrowing the focus to firearms and pushing a ban on popular semiautomatic firearms will only fuel the campaign of hate now underway on cable television and in social media. For example, Morgan called one national gun rights leader “an unbelievably stupid man,” Matthews suggested gun owners are, “..people on the far-right (who) never lose their passion…Normal people have other interests like their spouses, their lives, their children, and even their generalized politics isn’t driven by one issue.” A university professor in Rhode Island tweeted, “Looks like the National Rifle Association has murdered some children.”

“The remarks become obscene after that,” noted SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “We have received some vulgar e-mails from people that want us to vanish ‘for the sake of a civilized world’.

“This kind of rhetoric does not contribute to any rational discussion,” he said. “Vitriol like this only promotes hate, but apparently it’s okay to perpetuate bigotry so long as you are an anti-gunner, and a liberal. If anyone is harmed as a result of this hate campaign, we expect them to be prosecuted under the hate crimes laws.”

“If this hate speech leads to hate crimes,” Gottlieb concluded, “people like Piers Morgan and Chris Matthews will be partly responsible.”