CNN's Lavandera Misrepresents Illegal 'Lost & Stolen' Gun Ordinances

Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgCNN's Ed Lavandera misrepresented "lost and stolen" gun ordinances passed by municipalities in Pennsylvania as "straw purchase ordinances" on Wednesday's American Morning, and hinted that gun rights supporters were somehow extreme. Lavandera also omitted that county and local governments in Pennsylvania cannot pass gun laws due to the state legislature preempting this area of regulation.

The correspondent's report was the third installment in a continuing series on American Morning titled "The Gun Trail" (on Tuesday, he touted what gun control activists call the "iron pipeline," and omitted that gun straw purchases are illegal under federal law). Lavandera highlighted a push in Pennsylvania to pass the "lost and stolen" ordinances. He began with two sound bites from Jana Finder, a coordinator for Ceasefire PA, a gun control organization. The correspondent never explicitly mentioned Ceasefire PA's gun control agenda, just that it had "launched a grassroots campaign to get local governments to sign on to what's become a highly controversial law called 'lost and stolen' ordinances....The ordinances require gun owners to report if their weapons have been lost or stolen, usually within 24 hours."

Lavendera cited Finder's definition for such ordinances: "Finder says these laws target the number one source of guns for criminals, people with clean records who buy guns, then supply them to street criminals, so-called straw purchasers. The battle over straw purchase ordinances is being waged across small towns all over Pennsylvania, in city council chambers like this one here in Duquesne."

Actually, straw purchases are a completely separate issue. As the CNN correspondent noted earlier, the "lost and stolen" ordinances impart a legal obligation on firearms owners to report to the local law enforcement authorities if their weapons turn up missing or if they were stolen. In short, in turns law-abiding citizens, victimized by thieves, into criminals! One wonders how straw purchases got conflated with the debate over the ordinances.

More importantly, Lavendera never mentioned that local governments in Pennsylvania are forbidden from making such ordinances. Patrick Walters of the Associated Press, reporting on November 13, 2008 about a NRA lawsuit challenging the legality of gun laws passed by the City of Philadelphia, noted a "1974 state law [that] says that only the [Pennsylvania] General Assembly can regulate guns" inside the Commonwealth. Seven months later in June 2009, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the NRA.

Throughout his report, Lavendera used language that indicated that gun rights supporters were more angry than their gun control counterparts. He noted that "supporters of gun rights hate" the "lost and stolen" ordinances. Later, after playing a sound bite from a mayor in Pennsylvania who supports such regulations, the correspondent indicated that the "'maybe' in the mayor's answer is what infuriates Kim Stolfer and his gun rights activist group called 'Firearms Owners Against Crime.'" Near the end of the report, Lavendera became more explicit: "No one has been prosecuted or convicted of this 'lost and stolen' ordinance, which obviously drives critics crazier."

The full transcript of Ed Lavendera's report, which aired 25 minutes into the 7 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday's American Morning:

KIRAN CHETRY: Welcome back to the 'Most News in the Morning.' Twenty- five minutes past the hour right now. Your top stories five minutes away. First, though, we have an 'A.M. Original' for you- something you'll see only on 'American Morning.'

Right now, there's a major fight going on at the local level over a new law that's intended to keep guns out of criminal hands. Critics though say it's just another case of legislating against the legal and responsible gun owners.

Ed Lavandera is on 'The Gun Trail' for us this morning. It's a very emotional issue, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA: Oh, absolutely, Kiran. You know, we spent the last two mornings talking about how guns are illegally trafficked across the country and out of the country. I wanted to take a look this time at a possible solution. And so, we to Pennsylvania, where it is becoming a very controversial issue.

JANA FINDER, CEASEFIRE PA: So you get tired of hearing people complain-

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Jana Finder says not enough is being done to keep illegally-trafficked guns off Pennsylvania's streets. This might be the heart of northeastern gun country.

FINDER: To report their handguns when they're lost or stolen to the police.

LAVANDERA: But Finder, along with a group called Ceasefire PA, has launched a grassroots campaign to get local governments to sign on to what's become a highly controversial law called 'lost and stolen' ordinances. Supporters of gun rights hate it. The ordinances require gun owners to report if their weapons have been lost or stolen, usually within 24 hours.

FINDER: There is very strong support from law officers because they have told us that this kind of requirement would give them another investigative tool to help crack down and reduce the numbers of illegal handguns in our streets.

LAVANDERA: Finder says these laws target the number one source of guns for criminals, people with clean records who buy guns, then supply them to street criminals, so-called straw purchasers.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): The battle over straw purchase ordinances is being waged across small towns all over Pennsylvania, in city council chambers like this one here in Duquesne.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Duquesne's city council was one of the latest to get behind it. So far, 25 Pennsylvania cities have adopted the ordinance.

MAYOR PHIL KRIVACEK, DUQUESNE, PENNSYLVANIA: I think that doing this gives us a chance of, maybe- to reduce violence in the city.

LAVANDERA: That 'maybe' in the mayor's answer is what infuriates Kim Stolfer and his gun rights activist group called 'Firearms Owners Against Crime.'

KIM STOLFER, FIREARMS OWNERS AGAINST CRIME: To come up with an idea and adopt it, based on- well, it might work, is ridiculous. We wouldn't get into an airplane that might fly. There is an awful lot of laws relating to firearms. The real problem here is that it's not illegal to lose a firearm. It's not illegal to have it stolen. But they want to prosecute you for being in that situation.

LAVANDERA: Supporters of the 'lost and stolen' ordinance say it's a way of keeping a tighter watch on guns that go missing.

Gun control advocates say images like these are playing out too often across Pennsylvania. Six law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone. This funeral honored Officer Michael Crenshaw, who was murdered with an AK-47 in this neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. Investigators say the suspect was wearing an ankle bracelet, a parolee on drug and gun charges. So far, more than a hundred police departments have come out in support of the 'lost and stolen' ordinances.

CHIEF HOWARD BURTON, PENN HILLS POLICE: Most of these ordinances that are being passed-

LAVANDERA: But not everyone in law enforcement thinks it's the answer. Penn Hills Police Chief Howard Burton says 'lost or stolen' is just another feel-good law that wouldn't have saved Officer Michael Crenshaw.

BURTON: We still have to realize we're dealing with a criminal element. No matter how many laws that are out there, there's still going to be broken.

LAVANDERA (live): So about a year ago is when this movement started gaining steam there in Pennsylvania, and as far as we've been able to put together, no one has been prosecuted or convicted of this 'lost and stolen' ordinance, which obviously drives critics crazier. But the supporters of this say it's still early. Some of those ordinances have been tied up in lawsuits, and other police departments they say are still trying to figure out exactly how to implement this. Kiran?

CHETRY: Very interesting- Ed Lavandera for us this morning on 'The Gun Trail.' Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center