January 11, 2013
This video frame grab image provided by "Meet the Press" shows host David Gregory holding a high-capacity ammunition magazine. (Associated Press/Meet the Press)
This video frame grab image provided by “Meet the Press” shows host David Gregory holding a high-capacity ammunition magazine. (Associated Press/Meet the Press)

The District of Columbia’s attorney general this afternoon released a letter signaling that it will not prosecute David Gregory of NBC News’s “Meet the Press” in connection with his display of a 30-round gun magazine on the Dec. 23 edition of the program. Magazines that carry in excess of 10 rounds of ammunition are illegal in the District.

Following the show, bloggers raised questions as to whether Gregory’s on-air stunt constituted a violation of District law. The District police department later issued a statement that NBC News had asked if it would be okay if Gregory used such a item on air; the answer from the police was no. In a letter on this matter, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan writes:

[Office of the Attorney General] has determined to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated with the December 23,2012 broadcast. OAG has made this determination, despite the clarity of the violation of this important law, because under all of the circumstances here a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District to whom this office owes its trust.

The attorney general cleared NBC News despite a rather towering consideration — namely, that its effort to suss out the law on this matter was a bit lame. In the words of the attorney general:

We therefore did not rely in making our judgment on the feeble and unsatisfactory efforts that NBC made to determine whether or not it was lawful to possess, display and broadcast this large capacity magazine as a means of fostering the public policy debate. Although there appears to have been some misinformation provided initially, NBC was clearly and timely advised by an MPD employee that its plans to exhibit on the broadcast a high capacity-magazine would violate D.C. law, and there was no contrary advice from any federal official.

Nonetheless, there were mitigating circumstances cited by the authorities:
• NBC News cooperated with the investigation.
• NBC News returned the magazine to its owner and assisted with its transfer to the D.C. police.

And one final note from officialdom to NBC News: Don’t do it again! “Repetition by NBC or any employee of any similar or other firearms violation will be prosecuted to the full extent supported by the facts and the law,” notes the letter.

UPDATE 5:10: NBC News issues this statement: “We displayed the empty magazine solely for journalistic purposes to help illustrate an important issue for our viewers. We accept the District of Columbia Attorney General’s admonishment, respect his decision and will have no further comment on this matter.”

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