Disappointment at ABC News: 'Politicians and Gun Control: Why Aren’t They Outraged?'

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.”

[UPDATE: PBS's Gwen Ifill: “Have the Virginia tech shootings changed the debate” about gun control? "Not so much. But why not?”]

So, in other words, House and Senate Democrats are to the right of ABC News which started its crusade for gun control on Monday afternoon, just hours after the tragedy. My April 17 NewsBusters item, “Nets Blame Virginia's 'Lax' Gun Laws, Gibson and Couric Press Bush on Gun Control,” recounted:
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?”...

[UPDATE. Gwen Ifill opened Friday's Washington Week on PBS:

“The horrific killings at Virginia Tech this week riveted the nation. The questions came fast and furious. How? Why? Could anyone have seen it coming? In Washington, those questions turned to matters of policy -- gun control policy. Have the Virginia tech shootings changed the debate? Not so much. But why not? Jeanne?”

After Jeanne Cummings of The Politico outlined the power of the NRA on Capitol Hill and how Democrats fear losing seats if they pursue gun control, ABC News correspondent Pierre Thomas propounded:

“So Jeanne, is where we are, given the fact that I've seen estimates that there are in excess of 200 million firearms already on the street, have we essentially said it's okay to have the level of violence that we have in this country.”

Cummings: “Well, I don't think that anybody in Washington would say that they said that...”]
The MRC’s Scott Whitlock provided this transcript of the ABC story aired at 7:05am on the April 20 Good Morning America. Robin Roberts set it up:
“Also a part of this story, the gun debate, or more precisely what gun debate? 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? ABC’s senior political correspondent Jake Tapper with some answers on Capitol Hill for us this morning, Jake.”
The on-screen graphic throughout: “Politicians and Gun Control: Why Aren’t They Outraged?”

Jake Tapper reported:
“Good morning, Robin. Well, 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 a killer with an AK-47 killed five kids in a Stockton, California schoolyard in 1989, Democrats pushed for a ban on assault weapons. After the Columbine tragedy in 1999, Democrats pushed for more gun control. But this week, when directly asked about Congress' mood to pass gun control, liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted as if she'd never even heard the term.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “I would say the mood in Congress is one of mourning, sadness and the inadequacy of our words or our actions to console the families.”

Tapper: “Old-school liberals like New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, seen on C-SPAN, do not seem to understand why Democrats are being quiet on the subject.”

Rep. Charlie Rangel, at press conference: “It's some type of a cult, don't touch, don't take the gun from my dead, cold hands, and I don't understand it.”

Tapper: “But the reason for the sound of silence? Democrats are back in power because of newly elected freshmen with more conservative views on the right to bear arms. The Democratic presidential candidates have all supported gun control in the past but have been quiet this week about it. Though on the Steve Harvey radio show, Senator Barack Obama took a quick stab at how to prevent future Seung Chos.”

Senator Barack Obama: “If we know that he got mental health services, then there should be prevent be somebody like that from buying any kind of weapons.”

Tapper: “In fact, it's a Republican behind new TV ads launching this weekend slamming the Democratic Congress for not being pro-gun control enough.”

[brief clip of Bloomberg ad]

Tapper: “Ads being funded by the billionaire mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, who said the Virginia Tech massacre should move Congress to act.”

Tapper: “In the rest of the world, of course, gun rights in the United States are viewed somewhat oddly. The Prime Minister of Australia this week referred to a massacre that took place in his country about 11 years ago and said, quote, ‘W e took action to limit the availability of guns and showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country.’ Now, that is a sentiment that is foreign in every sense of the word. You could not imagine any major U.S. political figure saying anything like that. Diane?”

The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the April 20 World News version. Charles Gibson introduced the story:
"Returning now to the Virginia Tech shooting and the outrage that despite the fact Cho has been deemed psychologically unstable, he had no trouble buying guns. 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. Here's our senior national correspondent, Jake Tapper."
Jake Tapper began:
"While past shooting massacres were met with major Democratic pushes for stricter gun control, today's Democratic leaders say this time it's not going to happen."

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader: "I hope there's not a rush to do anything."

Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker: "The mood in Congress is one of mourning, sadness and the inadequacy of our words. That's all we're focusing on right now."

Tapper: "For gun control activists, like Terry Hartnett, the Democrats' silence was deafening."

Terry Hartnett, Million Mom March: "A lot of Democrats, not all of them, but a lot of them are afraid to talk about this issue."

Tapper: "What do Democrats have to fear? Losing elections."

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY): "There is a story that a member was asked, 'How many people in your district support gun control?' 'Say, about 80, 85 percent.' He said, 'Well, why is it that you always vote against it?' He said, 'Oh, the other 15 percent are organized.'"

Tapper: "Many Democratic strategists think Al Gore's liberal gun control stance cost him key states like West Virginia and Tennessee in the 2000 election. At a seminar after that election, a major Democratic operative was asked what should Democrats do about gun control. His response: Quote, 'Shut the hell up.' In fact, Democrats recaptured the Congress last November partly because of pro-gun Democrats. One of them, Senator Jim Webb, even got into trouble last month when an aide was arrested in the Capitol carrying one of the Senator's loaded guns for him."

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA): "I believe that wherever you see laws that allow people to carry, generally the violence goes down."

Tapper: "This weekend, a TV ad campaign begins airing that faults the Democratic Congress for not backing a gun control measure."

Clip of police officer in ad: "We're fighting criminals and illegal guns. Why is Congress fighting us?"

Tapper: "It's being funded by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, and a Republican. Jake Tapper, ABC News, Capitol Hill."
Of course, the very liberal Bloomberg is a Republican in name only, having become a Republican to avoid the Democratic primary and go direct to the final election ballot.
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