As the broadcast network evening newscasts reported on the Supreme Court ruling against D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership, ABC and CBS both relayed to viewers that D.C. has a high crime rate at the same time handguns are illegal. CBS's Katie Couric to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty: "I was surprised to hear from Wyatt Andrews that this ban has been in effect for 32 years. ... If that's the case, why has the District remained one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden cities in the country with this ban in effect?" ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg: "It's been called the nation's murder capital, Washington, D.C., even though handguns were strictly banned."
But on the down side, CBS also ran a report by Bill Whitaker that focused on the complaints of gun control advocates, and seemed oblivious to links between gun control and high crime, even as he admitted Chicago has had a gun ban for 25 years, but still has 325 murders a year as he instead seemed to fret crime would get worse without the city's gun ban. Whitaker: "Chicago, which passed a gun ban similar to D.C.'s 25 years ago, had 325 gun homicides last year -- a 10-year-old shot in the head, a pregnant woman gunned down, a college student shot and killed. Mayor Daley said the Court's decision will make his mean streets even more dangerous." (Transcripts follow)
All three networks led with the story. CBS first ran a report by Wyatt Andrews which was mostly balanced between advocates on both sides, in which the CBS correspondent mentioned that D.C.'s gun ban was 32 years old. But Andrews did not mention D.C.'s high crime rate which suggests the ban has been ineffective, even as he passed on the view of city officials who argue that "the handgun ban has kept thousands of guns off the streets and saved hundreds of lives."
It was left to Couric to point out the failure of D.C.'s handgun ban as she interiewed Mayor Fenty after Andrews's story. After asking him if he thought the ruling would "make your city more dangerous," she then followed up with one of the best lines of the evening: "I was surprised to hear from Wyatt Andrews that this ban has been in effect for 32 years. And it was just recently challenged. If that's the case, why has the District remained one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden cities in the country with this ban in effect?"
After the Fenty interview came Whitaker's report which focused on complaints by gun control advocates with only one soundbite given to a gun control opponent. Couric introduced the report contending that "while gun rights organizations like the NRA cheered today's ruling, several mayors worried about what happens next."
Whitaker ran four soundbites of several gun control advocates during his story, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley complaining about children being "killed in their homes by guns," and LAPD Chief William Bratton decrying "America's love affair with firearms" and the "insanity" of the Supreme Court ruling. Whitaler only ran one opposing soundbite in the form of NRA attorney Chuck Michel, whom Whitaker tagged as part of the "gun lobby," as Michel talked about the "fundamental right to self-defense."
The CBS correspondent also did not seem to pick up on the possible link between Chicago's gun ban and the high level of crime in the city: "Chicago, which passed a gun ban similar to D.C.'s 25 years ago, had 325 gun homicides last year -- a 10-year-old shot in the head, a pregnant woman gunned down, a college student shot and killed. Mayor Daley said the Court's decision will make his mean streets even more dangerous. ... According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 30,000 Americans die from gun violence each year -- some 80 a day -- 321 killed by guns in Philadelphia last year; 114 in Oakland, California; 316 in Los Angeles."
On ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, there was more emphasis on the closeness of the Supreme Court vote than at the other networks as substitute anchor George Stephanopoulos referred to the "closely-divided Court" and the "narrow decision" during his introduction to Jan Crawford Greenburg's report. Greenburg stated that the decision "deeply divided" the Court, although she surprisingly referred to the four dissenting justices as "liberals" while she did not label the justices in the majority as "conservative."
Greenburg's report was mostly balanced as she came closest of the three evening newscasts of making a link between D.C.'s high crime rate and its handgun ban as she employed a soundbite from one of the plaintiffs in the case. Greenburg: "It's been called the nation's murder capital, Washington, D.C., even though handguns were strictly banned." A clip of lawsuit plaintiff and D.C. resident Shelly Parker was shown: "The criminals have guns. If you're a law-abiding citizen, the law in this city says you do not have a gun."
Last year on 20/20, ABC's John Stossel made the case that gun bans lead to more crime, and argued that D.C.'s crime rate increased after its city's gun ban was instituted. Stossel: "Since Washington's gun law passed, the murder rate actually increased, even while America's murder rate dropped. It's because guns can also save lives, says [plaintiff Tom] Palmer, as one saved his years ago in California."
After Greenburg's report came a story filed by Dan Harris about the likelihood there will be more lawsuits filed against other gun laws. While the ABC correspondent included soundbites from advocates on each side, at one point, he seemed to belittle gun control opponents as he relayed that gun control advocates believe they can "swat away" these lawsuits.
The NBC Nightly News only ran one story on the subject, which anchor Brian Williams introduced using language gun control opponents would likely approve of, as he contended that D.C. did not "protect the basic right of the individual." Williams: "Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued the most important decision ever on gun rights in America. And they have protected the basic right of the individual striking down the law in Washington, D.C., that did not.
Pete Williams's report was mostly balanced, using advocates on both sides, although at one point he seemed to suggest that that ruling would cause "damage" to crime control as he contended that "in Washington, city officials sought to limit the damage of today's ruling, emphasizing that it struck down only the gun ban at home."
In March of last year, the NBC Nightly News reported on a similar ruling by the Federal Appeals Court, which was ignored by ABC and CBS, and even sounded even sounding somewhat favorable toward the pro-gun side.
Also of note, according to a January 2000 study by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens on media coverage of gun issues, while all three major broadcast networks were found to be substantially biased in favor of gun control, NBC was relatively least biased compared to ABC and CBS.
Below are complete transcripts of the relevants stories from ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, the CBS Evening News, and the NBC Nightly News from Thursday, June 26:
#From ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, IN OPENING TEASER: Welcome to World News. Tonight, the Supreme Court settles the Second Amendment debate. For the first time in our history, it rules that individual Americans have the right to own guns.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good evening. For 217 years, Americans have wrestled with the meaning of these 27 words in the bill of rights: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Today, for the first time ever, the Supreme Court defined those words. The Second Amendment guarantees each citizen's right to own a gun. But even as it settled the constitutional question by striking down Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban, the closely-divided Court set off a new debate about what kinds of gun laws are permissible. We start, tonight, with Jan Crawford Greenburg, at the Supreme Court. And, Jan, this is a narrow decision, but it has sweeping implications.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Oh, it sure does, George. This is one of the great unresolved constitutional questions. And the justices, today, fired a shot that will travel from city to city, across the United States. It's been called the nation's murder capital, Washington, D.C., even though handguns were strictly banned.
SHELLY PARKER, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: The criminals have guns. If you're a law-abiding citizen, the law in this city says you do not have a gun.
[CLIP OF PROTESTS CHANTING, "Goodbye, gun ban."]
GREENBURG: Today, that law was struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, for the first time in history, ruled individuals have a right to protect themselves with a gun.
DICK HELLER, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: I can defend myself in my home, defend my family, my household, whatever that is, with my own personal handgun, rifle or shotgun.
GREENBURG: The decision deeply divided the Court. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution's Second Amendment protects an individual's right "to keep and bear arms," including handguns. "Handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid." The ruling struck a huge victory for the NRA.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: It's a great moment in American history. I mean, it's a vindication for all the people all over the country who always knew this was their individual right worth protecting.
GREENBURG: But Scalia, mindful of high crime rates, said the right was not absolute. Cities and states could pass reasonable restrictions, including prohibiting possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, as well as banning "dangerous and unusual weapons." That could mean military-style assault weapons. Liberal justices in dissent said today's ruling would chip away at gun control efforts across the country. Justice Steven Breyer: "The decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States." Gun control advocates agreed. They said they expect immediate challenges to other gun laws.
PAUL HELMKE, BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: I think we're going to see a lot more threats to gun laws. We're going to see a lot more court action on gun laws.
GREENBURG: Breyer also said crime nationwide could increase: "If a resident has a handgun in the home that he can use for self-defense, then he has a handgun in the home that he can use to commit suicide or engage in acts of domestic violence." But this summer in Washington, D.C., residents will start buying guns legally for the first time in 30 years. It was a landmark ruling, a constitutional question finally resolved after more than 200 years, and a ruling that's going to affect gun laws from coast to coast. George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jan Crawford Greenburg, at the Supreme Court. Thanks. As Jan reported, today's ruling will set up new challenges to gun laws across the country. Activists and public officials are bracing for a fight. Here's Dan Harris.
DAN HARRIS: Tomorrow, in San Francisco, the first in an expected avalanche of legal challenges to gun laws as a result of today's ruling. A lawsuit against the city, which bans handguns in public housing.
CHUCK MICHEL, CALIFORNIA RIFLE AND PISTOL ASSOCIATION: And in the process, deprives them of the right to choose to own a firearm to defend themselves or their families.
HARRIS: In Chicago and several surrounding suburbs, where there are handgun bans similar to the one in Washington, D.C., legal challenges are imminent, too. The Mayor of Chicago was clearly displeased today.
MAYOR RICHARD DALEY (D-CHICAGO): Why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the old West. You have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it on the streets.
HARRIS: And here in New York City, which is one of the toughest places in the country to legally own a gun, there is real talk of litigation discussed against the city's very stringent licensing requirements.
ROBERT LEVY, CATO INSTITUTE: I think it's quite clear that any regulation that even approaches what we have in Washington, D.C., is going to be challenged, and is going to be invalidated.
HARRIS: Across the country tonight, pro-gun forces are poised to take on a whole range of gun regulations -- from mandatory trigger locks, to waiting periods, to assault weapon bans. Gun control advocates say they are confident they can swat away many of these challenges. But they're worried their hands will now be tied in the fight against urban violence.
ROBYN THOMAS, LEGAL COMMUNITY AGAINST VIOLENCE: We have a great concern that resources will have to be spent defending good laws that are already on the books.
HARRIS: Tonight, we know this: Americans have the right to own firearms. But, both sides agree, we're now heading into a period where the scope of that right is fought over fiercely. Dan Harris, ABC News, New York.
#From the CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER: Tonight, an historic ruling and a major victory for gun rights. The Supreme Court says Americans can keep guns at home for self-defense.
COURIC: Good evening, everyone. It is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has ever taken up the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment since it was ratified back in 1781, and the justices concluded that Americans do have a right to own guns for self-defense and hunting. It was a 5-4 ruling. Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas in the majority. Dissenting were Justices Breyer, Bader Ginsburg, Stevens, and Souter. In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: "[The Constitution does not permit] the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." Wyatt Andrews begins our coverage tonight.
WYATT ANDREWS: This is one for the history books -- the first-ever Supreme Court declaration that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-protection. "The Second Amendment," writes Justice Antonin Scalia, "protects an individual right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia, and to use it for lawful purposes, such as self-defense." It was a victory for a group of Washington, D.C., residents who challenged the 32-year-old D.C. ban on owning handguns. Under the ban, security guard Richard Heller could have a gun at work, but not at home.
RICHARD HELLER, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: I'm very happy that now I'm able to defend myself.
MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY (D-DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA): I am disappointed in the Court's ruling.
ANDREWS: Very unhappy, though, are D.C. officials, who argue the handgun ban has kept thousands of guns off the streets and saved hundreds of lives.
FENTY: More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence.
ANDREWS: In his opinion, Justice Scalia was careful not to throw out all gun control laws, stating flatly, "The Second Amendment right is not unlimited." And he made clear, as if speaking to D.C. officials, they still have "a variety of tools, including some measures regulating handguns."
RANDY BARNETT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Short of a complete prohibition, it does not throw out any existing gun regulation that I know of, and is not likely to do so.
ANDREWS: So this was about the complete ban?
BARNETT: It was primarily about the complete ban.
ANDREWS: But the ruling will be immediately tested around the country anywhere there's a ban on guns for home protection.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: You can't say some people in the country can have a firearm in their home for personal protection but in another part of the country you can't. That's not the way we work in the United States.
ANDREWS: What is historic here, though, is that the Second Amendment has long been the last area that's untested under the Constitution. And so now this great debate -- does the right to bear arms apply just to militias or to the people? -- has been settled in favor of the people. Katie?
KATIE COURIC: Wyatt Andrews at the Supreme Court tonight. Thanks very much. Adrian Fenty is the Mayor of Washington, D.C. Mayor Fenty, first of all, what was your reaction to this Supreme Court decision?
ADRIAN FENTY: Well, definite disappointment. The residents of this city, you know, want to find ways to have less guns in the city limits, so having more guns is, it's definitely a setback.
COURIC: Do you think this ruling will, in fact, make your city more dangerous?
FENTY: Well, I think most residents agree with law enforcement. Our chief of police, other chiefs from around the country, believe that in cities, at least, simple arguments, you know, low-level crimes end up going bad because people have guns and they end up using them.
COURIC: Meanwhile, I was surprised to hear from Wyatt Andrews that this ban has been in effect for 32 years.
COURIC: And it was just recently challenged. If that's the case, why has the District remained one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden cities in the country with this ban in effect?
FENTY: Is it still too high? Absolutely. And there's a lot of things that need to be done about from education to locking more people up, et cetera. But putting more guns into the city is very likely going to end up with more guns in the hands of criminals. We're going to do everything possible to keep crime going down, but it just toughens the burden on law enforcement to try and make that happen.
COURIC: Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty. Mayor Fenty, thanks so much.
FENTY: Thank you very much.
COURIC: Washington is not the only big city with a gun violence problem. And while gun rights organizations like the NRA cheered today's ruling, several mayors worried about what happens next. Bill Whitaker has that part of the story.
BILL WHITAKER: In Chicago, which has been rocked and shocked by gun violence in recent years, the reaction to today's Supreme Court decision was swift and sharp.
MAYOR RICHARD DALEY (D-CHICAGO): Time and time again, how many children have been killed in their homes by guns?
WHITAKER: Chicago, which passed a gun ban similar to D.C.'s 25 years ago, had 325 gun homicides last year -- a 10-year-old shot in the head, a pregnant woman gunned down, a college student shot and killed. Mayor Daley said the Court's decision will make his mean streets even more dangerous.
DALEY: The Supreme Court and Congress has no obligation to keep our country safe. It falls on the backs of mayors, and your local officials.
WHITAKER: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 30,000 Americans die from gun violence each year -- some 80 a day -- 321 killed by guns in Philadelphia last year; 114 in Oakland, California; 316 in Los Angeles.
CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: The insanity continues. America's love affair with firearms has now been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): And I happen to believe that this is now going to open the doors to litigation against every gun safety law that states have passed.
WHITAKER: In fact, the gun lobby is wasting no time -- 15 minutes after the high court's ruling, the Illinois Rifle Association filed a lawsuit challenging Chicago's ban. Lawyers for the NRA are filing suit in California tomorrow to overturn a San Francisco law banning guns on city property, including housing projects.
CHUCK MICHEL, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: It's really about the fundamental right, even a common law right, to self-defense.
CHRIS DALY, SAN FRANCISCO BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: If we do not allow lawmakers, those democratically elected by the citizenry, to regulate handguns, then we are taking away one of our most powerful tools to save lives.
WHITAKER: While today's ruling still allows some regulation of handguns, it's bound to trigger years of litigation as regulation opponents challenge existing gun laws around the country.
#From the NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN OPENING TEASER: On the broadcast tonight, the right to bear arms: What do those words really mean, once and for all? Today the Supreme Court answered that question.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. Is there a right to bear arms in this country? Do Americans have the right to own a gun? And is that what the Second Amendment to the Constitution really means? Or did the constitutional Framers only mean members of a militia? Well, today the U.S. Supreme Court issued the most important decision ever on gun rights in America. And they have protected the basic right of the individual striking down the law in Washington, D.C., that did not. We begin at the Court tonight with our justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, in this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court for the first time says what the Second Amendment right to bear arms really means, outlining constitutional protections for 80 million Americans who own guns. The decision is a huge victory for advocates of gun rights and for Dick Heller of Washington, D.C., who challenged the city's strict ban on handguns.
DICK HELLER, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: -and I'm very happy that now I'm able to defend myself and my household in my own home.
PETE WILLIAMS: The Court said the Second Amendment's preamble about a "well regulated militia" does not restrict gun ownership to militias. The rest of the amendment, the court said, about "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," guarantees individuals the right to own a gun. As for the problem of gun violence, Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion for the five-member majority said the Second Amendment "takes some policy choices off the table." That means Washington, D.C. cannot totally ban handguns, which he described as the quintessential self-defense weapon, especially in the home where he said the "need for defense of self, family and property is most acute."
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: What this ruling clearly said is that Second Amendment rights cannot become second-class rights under the Constitution. And that's a monumental day.
PETE WILLIAMS: The NRA said it would immediately challenge handgun bans in Chicago and its suburbs, and San Francisco, and might even challenge some laws requiring background checks for gun buyers. Today's ruling said cities can still limit gun ownership -- requiring registration, for example; blocking sales to felons and the mentally ill; and banning guns in schools or government buildings. Advocates of gun control tried to take comfort in that.
PAUL HELMKE, BRADY CENTER PRESIDENT: The real issue, though, is once we get the fight over the theory, once we get the fight over what the Second Amendment means behind us, what can we do in our communities to make us safer?
PETE WILLIAMS: Here in Washington, city officials sought to limit the damage of today's ruling, emphasizing that it struck down only the gun ban at home.
PETER NICKLES, WASHINGTON, D.C., CITY ATTORNEY: Let me be very clear, you cannot go out today if you have a handgun and carry it around.
PETE WILLIAMS: But today's ruling doesn't say much about what other kinds of limits on gun ownership might be constitutional, and that tees up a whole new wave of court battles over gun rights, Brian.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: NBC's Pete Williams on today's landmark ruling. Pete, thanks.