ABC Frets ‘No Real Urgency' on ‘Meaningful Gun Control' to Stop ‘Signature American Shooting Rampages'

Of the three network evening newscasts, ABC's World News, substitute hosted by Diane Sawyer, uniquely seemed to lament the lack of political interest in enacting new gun laws to combat what correspondent Dan Harris earlier called "a signature American disaster, a shooting rampage," referring to the shooting spree in Binghamton, New York.

Sawyer introduced a discussion with correspondent Pierre Thomas by reading a statement from the Brady Campaign complaining about the government's lack of interest in more gun control compared to "salmonella poisoning in peanut butter crackers," and then the two fretted over the large number of guns in circulation in America and the unlikely prospects of more gun laws being passed by Congress. Sawyer: "We keep hearing there is a gun for every man, woman and child in this country, and now they have gone up by that much more. But what about Congress? Is there any move in Congress to try to take some kind of action?"

Thomas responded: "Well, one of the reasons why you heard that frustration from the Brady group today is that there's not a lot of sense of urgency on gun control." After mentioning Attorney General Eric Holder's recent expression of interest in a new assault weapon ban, Thomas continued: "But since that time, no real urgency from the White House or from Congress to take any meaningful gun control legislation to fruition."

The show's first report featured Harris recounting details of the Binghamton murder spree, as he began his piece by coining the term "signature American disaster" to refer to mass shootings. Harris: "Most of the people who died in that building over there behind me today were immigrants. They came to this country to start a new life, and they ended up dying in what has become a signature American disaster, a shooting rampage."

As Sawyer set up a second story giving more details, she also used the term "signature crime" to refer to shooting sprees: "And Dan talked about this as a signature crime in America. This month, April, is a month of tragic anniversaries. The shootings at Virginia Tech, April, two years ago. At Columbine, April, 10 years ago. And add to them now, Binghamton. Here's Stephanie Sy."

After Sy filled in viewers on more details, Sawyer read a statement released by the Brady Campaign. Sawyer: "Well, in the two years since Virginia Tech, more than 50 multiple shootings taking a total of more than 200 lives. Today the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called for action, saying, ‘We had nine people in this country presumed to have possibly died from salmonella poisoning in peanut butter crackers, and the government went into overdrive.'"

After bringing aboard Thomas, Sawyer asked if the Justice Department felt "compelled to do something," Thomas ominously passed on what he referred to as "serious facts" about the large number of guns in circulation. Thomas:

They're clearly very concerned about it, but I talked to a number of officials today, and they pointed out a couple of very serious facts. The fact is, there are more than 250 million guns already in circulation, they say, and what that means is when someone gets angry or when they snap, they are going to be able to have access to weapons. And the FBI says, in the two years since Columbine – excuse me – the Virginia Tech shooting, gun sale background checks went up by 14 percent. In fact, from 2007 to 2008, there were 1.5 million more gun sale background checks.

As neither Sawyer nor Thomas made any mention of the evidence that high rates of gun ownership can reduce crime rates while too much gun regulation can increase crime by shifting gun ownership away from the law-abiding so that criminals are disproportionately better armed, Sawyer responded by quoted the liberal talking point that "there is a gun for every man, woman and child in this country," and asked if there is "any move in Congress to try to take some kind of action?"

Thomas responded:

Well, one of the reasons why you heard that frustration from the Brady group today is that there's not a lot of sense of urgency on gun control. A couple of weeks ago, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, talked about the fact that he may wanted to, may have wanted to revisit the issue of the assault weapons ban, which was allowed to sunset. But since that time, no real urgency from the White House or from Congress to take any meaningful gun control legislation to fruition.

Before moving on to other news, the ABC anchor informed viewers that there would not only be more coverage of the shooting spree on tonight's 20/20, but that next Friday the network would air a special on the "epidemic of mass shootings in America." Sawyer: "And, also, a week from tonight, ABC News is going to bring you the results of a year-long exploration of this epidemic of mass shootings in America – why it is happening and what lessons there are about staying safe if it is happening to you, and that is one week from tonight."

Back in April of 2007 ABC also used a shooting tragedy to push its political agenda. A NewsBusters item at the time, "ABC Rues: 'Politicians & Gun Control: Why Aren't They Outraged?' recounted:

ABC's Good Morning America and World News on Friday displayed disappointment that liberals and Democrats have not pursued gun control in the wake of the mass murders at Virginia Tech. GMA's on-screen graphic for a 7am half hour story demanded, "Politicians and Gun Control: Why Aren't They Outraged?" Co-host Robin Roberts rued: "After every major shooting in the U.S., without fail, there has been a heated debate about gun control on Capitol Hill. But not this time. In fact, most politicians have been running away from the debate on guns. So, why is this happening?" Reporter Jake Tapper echoed the theme: "It was the worst school shooting in American history, and yet what some liberals are referring to as a deafening silence from Democrats on Capitol Hill. After reciting how Democrats fear the electoral impact of the agenda, Tapper concluded by relaying how "in the rest of the world, of course, gun rights in the United States are viewed somewhat oddly."

Just over 12 hours later, World News anchor Charles Gibson recalled how "when I spoke to President Bush at Virginia Tech, he told me he thought the killings at that college would spark new debate on gun laws. So far, it hasn't. The discussion, in fact, has been surprisingly muted." (Naturally, Gibson had prompted that answer: "After Columbine, there was ignited a national debate on guns. Do you think this is going to rekindle the national debate?") In Friday's story, Tapper highlighted how "for gun control activists...the Democrats' silence was deafening." He went on to explain that "many Democratic strategists think Al Gore's liberal gun control stance cost him key states like West Virginia and Tennessee in the 2000 election" and "Democrats recaptured the Congress last November partly because of pro-gun Democrats." Tapper showcased how "this weekend a TV ad campaign begins airing that faults the Democratic Congress for not backing a gun control measure."...

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Friday, April 3, World News with Charles Gibson on ABC:

DAN HARRIS: Most of the people who died in that building over there behind me today were immigrants. They came to this country to start a new life, and they ended up dying in what has become a signature American disaster, a shooting rampage.

...

DIANE SAWYER: And Dan talked about this as a signature crime in America. This month, April, is a month of tragic anniversaries. The shootings at Virginia Tech, April, two years ago. At Columbine, April, 10 years ago. And add to them now, Binghamton. Here's Stephanie Sy.

...

SAWYER: Binghamton adding to this roll call of violence in America, in addition to Virginia Tech and Columbine. Well, in the two years since Virginia Tech, more than 50 multiple shootings taking a total of more than 200 lives. Today the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called for action, saying, "We had nine people in this country presumed to have possibly died from salmonella poisoning in peanut butter crackers, and the government went into overdrive."

We'll bring in now justice correspondent Pierre Thomas with us from Washington, and, Pierre, I'm trying to imagine what it is to be in the Justice Department and to get word of a shooting like this, do they feel compelled to do something?

PIERRE THOMAS: Well, there's a lot of frustration today, a lot of angst about this. They're clearly very concerned about it, but I talked to a number of officials today, and they pointed out a couple of very serious facts. The fact is, there are more than 250 million guns already in circulation, they say, and what that means is when someone gets angry or when they snap, they are going to be able to have access to weapons. And the FBI says, in the two years since Columbine – excuse me – the Virginia Tech shooting, gun sale background checks went up by 14 percent. In fact, from 2007 to 2008, there were 1.5 million more gun sale background checks.

SAWYER: Yes, we keep hearing there is a gun for every man, woman and child in this country, and now they have gone up by that much more. But what about Congress? Is there any move in Congress to try to take some kind of action?

PIERRE THOMAS: Well, one of the reasons why you heard that frustration from the Brady group today is that there's not a lot of sense of urgency on gun control. A couple of weeks ago, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, talked about the fact that he may wanted to, may have wanted to revisit the issue of the assault weapons ban, which was allowed to sunset. But since that time, no real urgency from the White House or from Congress to take any meaningful gun control legislation to fruition.

SAWYER: All right, Pierre, thanks to you. And one more note about what happened today. There will be more on this shooting later tonight on 20/20, what happened and why. And, also, a week from tonight, ABC News is going to bring you the results of a year-long exploration of this epidemic of mass shootings in America – why it is happening and what lessons there are about staying safe if it is happening to you, and that is one week from tonight.