December 26, 2012

A rule for broadcasters: If you’re going to flout the law by flaunting an illegal ammunition magazine on air, make sure that said illegal magazine plays a central role in your programming.

By that standard, at least, NBC News did things right on Sunday’s episode of “Meet the Press.” Magazines loomed as a centerpiece of the contentious discussion between host David Gregory and National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. It was actually the latter who first mentioned the word, in this broadside against gun control: “Gun control, you could ban all Dianne Feinstein’s, you could do whatever she wants to do with magazines, it’s not going to make any kid safer. We’ve got to get to the real problems, the real causes. And that’s what the N.R.A. is trying to do.”
Later in the interview, Gregory returned to the topic, prop in hand:

Okay. So let me widen the argument. Let’s stipulate that you’re right. Let’s say armed guards might work. Let’s widen the argument out a little bit. So here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets. Now isn’t it possible that, if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said, “Well, you could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or ten bullets,” isn’t it just possible that we can reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?

LaPierre protested that such a regulation would make no difference.
Gregory came back, asking whether depriving a mass murderer of particularly high-capacity magazines might save lives.
After some crosstalk, LaPierre insisted that he didn’t “buy the argument for a minute.”
Gregory noted that previous shooters had relied on high-capacity magazines to carry out their massacres.
LaPierre again insisted that magazines aren’t the problem:

I keep saying it, and you just won’t accept it. It’s not going to work. It hasn’t worked. Dianne Feinstein had her ban, and Columbine occurred. It’s not going to work. I’ll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.

The discussion moved on to mental health, though Gregory revisited magazines in a subsequent question to LaPierre regarding the NRA’s approach to the problem of mass murder via gun:

“What I hear you saying is, “Well, you can’t do anything about the high capacity ammunition magazines because it simply won’t work, yet you’re proposing things that you don’t know will completely work. But you’re into the art of the possible, because your standard is anything that has a chance of work we ought to try, except when it has to do with guns or ammunition. Don’t you see that people see that as a complete dodge?”

Then: Gregory asked if the NRA would get behind an initiative to reduce the capacity of magazines.

LaPierre: No.

Magazines and the wisdom of imposing further controls on them also got a fair bit of attention as “Meet the Press” welcomed congressional officials into the discussion.
In a blue-text blog post on the invariably provocative GretaWire, Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren called the Gregory-magazine moment a “stunt” far too trivial to merit the attention of the D.C. Police Department:

I don’t know if NBC’s David Gregory violated the law or not by showing what appeared to be a 30 round magazine during Meet the Press last Sunday …. but is it really worth the time to investigate him? How much time and money is going to be spent (wasted) investigating him? Can you think of a sillier use of investigative resources?

Two points here:

1) Van Susteren isn’t a shift supervisor at the D.C. Police Department. If nothing else, the episode proves that if a person asks the police if doing something would be OK; gets a response from the police that it’s NOT OK; then proceeds to do it anyway (presuming, of course, that the magazine was real) and; broadcasts its apparent defiance to the entire country, hey, there’s going to be a police investigation.

2) There’s no media-elite exemption from the law. The cops have every right to know how Gregory acquired this magazine and what has happened to it since then, Van Susteren’s faith in him as a good guy notwithstanding.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.