Nets Blame Virginia's 'Lax' Gun Laws, Gibson and Couric Press Bush on Gun Control

Without any regard to how school shootings in recent years have occurred in states and nations with stricter gun laws, including one last year at a college in Quebec, Canada, ABC and CBS on Tuesday night focused stories and questions on Virginia's “lax” gun laws. “How the gunman purchased the murder weapon,” ABC anchor Charles Gibson teased an upcoming story, “Virginia's controversial gun laws: How lax are they? Brian Ross investigates.” Ross confirmed that “Virginia's gun laws, indeed, are regarded by law enforcement officials as among the most lax in the country.” Ross relayed how “for gun control advocates, the ease with which Cho [Seung-Hui] was able to legally get his Glock and a box of ammunition reveals the problems with Virginia's gun laws.” Over undercover footage recorded by the New York City Police Department, Ross explained how it shows “it's possible to buy a handgun at a Virginia gun store with no waiting period and only what is called an instant background check.” Though Ross aired a condemnatory soundbite from NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, he failed to note that Virginia has a lot fewer gun crimes per capita than does New York City.

As if the media have nothing to do with “igniting” a debate on guns (ABCNews.com on Monday posted the question: “Do you think this incident is a reason to pass stricter gun control legislation?”), Gibson asked President Bush: “After Columbine, there was ignited a national debate on guns. Do you think this is going to rekindle the national debate?” Over on the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric, also on scene in Blacksburg, pressed Bush: “As you well know, after events like this, discussions about gun control inevitably follow. Is it too easy, in your view, for unstable people to purchase guns in this country?” Leading into an earlier story from Armen Keteyian, Couric cited “the question I asked the President about gun control. It's something many people are thinking about after the tragedy here at Virginia Tech, especially considering the gunman needed only two IDs and a credit card to buy the weapons and ammunition he used.”

UPDATE: Showcasing the same undercover video as Ross, on NBC's Dateline Chris Hansen interjected how “gun sales in Virginia have been more than a sticking point with gun control advocates.” (See more at end of item below)

CBSNews.com headlined the online version of Keteyian's story, “Virginia Tech Killer Used Easy-To-Get Guns; CBS News: Shooter Used Pistol, Handgun In State With No Registration, Gun-Waiting Period.”

During the 5pm EDT hour of CNN's The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer asked Bill Schneider: “Is the Virginia Tech tragedy, Bill, likely to put the issue of gun control on the political agenda once again?” Schneider rejected the premise: “I wouldn't bet on it,” going on to explain how politicians want to avoid the topic.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams limited his gun control coverage to one vague question to President Bush (“What do we do about these guns?”) and a later story on foreign reaction which included overseas denunciations of America's “gun culture.”

All three broadcast networks delivered hour-long newscasts Tuesday night which originated from Blacksburg, Virginia and all three anchors conducted brief interviews with President and Mrs. Bush who attended the 2pm EDT convocation. But Washington, DC's CBS affiliate only carried the first half hour of the CBS Evening News, so I got Couric's question to Bush from the CBSNews.com posting of the interview.

The agenda-fueled ABC story on the April 17 World News:
Charles Gibson: “The massacre here at Virginia Tech is throwing a new spotlight on Virginia's gun laws. When he was Virginia's Governor, Douglas Wilder said it was so easy to buy firearms in his state that Virginia had the unenviable reputation as the gun-running capital of America. Fourteen years later, Seung-Hui Cho had little trouble buying the guns used in yesterday's rampage. Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, joins us.”

Brian Ross: “Charlie, Virginia's gun laws, indeed, are regarded by law enforcement officials as among the most lax in the country. The Roanoke firearms store where Seung-Hui Cho bought his murder weapon has a history of selling guns involved in murders. It is the fifth time a gun sold in this store has been used in a homicide, according to gun shop owner John Markell. But he says there was nothing about Cho's manner that raised suspicions. The sale was carried out in just 10 or 15 minutes.”

John Markell, owner of Roanoke Firearms: “There were no red flags kicked up in any way. He got a clean bill of health from the state police. There was just no reason for me not to have sold him the gun.”

Ross: “Virginia officials say the kind of pistol used in the Virginia Tech shooting, a Glock 9 millimeter handgun, is among the most popular because it is lightweight and easily reloaded.”

Nolan Avery, LAX Fire Range Inc: “It's a very simple design. Very easy to use.”

Ross: “For gun control advocates, the ease with which Cho was able to legally get his Glock and a box of ammunition reveals the problems with Virginia's gun laws.”

Josh Horowitz, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: “Virginia is, 'let's sell it to somebody and let's not find out anything about them.' And I think in this case that may have led to a tragedy.”

Ross: “As this undercover footage shows, it's possible to buy a handgun at a Virginia gun store with no waiting period and only what is called an instant background check. This footage was recorded by an undercover team sent to Virginia by the New York City Police Department, which says Virginia is the top source for illegal guns used in crimes committed in New York. The undercover team only had to produce two IDs and fill out a few forms in order to walk out of the store with a handgun.”

Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner: “It is, quite frankly, an easy state in which to buy a weapon. The philosophy is that it appears to be an entitlement to own a handgun.”

Ross: “But many in Virginia like it that way. And, in fact, some think there should be more guns on campuses. Gun advocates actually brought a lawsuit last year when Virginia Tech and other schools made their campuses weapons-free. Now, some say that if students had been armed, they could have stopped the shootings sooner.”

John Velleco, Gun Owners of America: “It's tragic to mandatorily disarm the citizenry and create these gun-free zones which are, in a sense, you know, give these deranged madmen easy targets.”

Ross: “Until he walked on the campus with his weapons, everything about Cho's gun purchases was legal under current U.S. and Virginia laws.”

UPDATE, 10:45pm EDT: Showcasing the same undercover video as Ross, on NBC's Dateline aired at 8pm EDT and re-run at 10pm EDT on MSNBC, Chris Hansen interjected a political policy point into a piece on how Cho Seung-Hui obtained the weapons, reported how “gun sales in Virginia have been more than a sticking point with gun control advocates.”

A transcript of the gun control portion of Hansen's April 17 story:

“Gun sales in Virginia have been more than a sticking point with gun control advocates, not to mention New York City. NBC News analyst Michael Sheehan oversaw counter-terrorism for the New York City Police Department and says many guns bought in Virginia end up on New York streets.”

Michael Sheehan: “It's very easy to buy a handgun with basically simple identification and you have enough money and you're going to walk out with a handgun and ammunition.”

Hansen over the same undercover video shown by ABC's Ross: “This video, shot in Virginia by investigators sent by the New York Mayor's office, shows just how easy it may have been for Cho to buy a gun.”



Hansen: “The investigators used a Virginia resident to purchase a gun that was clearly meant for someone else. That's a violation of the law. And in just a few minutes, the investigators walked out with a gun. In the Virginia Tech case, Cho purchased that 9 millimeter legally and earlier in February he bought a .22 caliber handgun at this local Blacksburg pawnshop. Now he was armed to the hilt....”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center