CNN's Ed Lavandera highlighted what gun control activists call the "iron pipeline" during a report on Tuesday's American Morning, where guns are obtained illegally through straw purchases, a felony offense under federal law, and smuggled to criminals who cannot legally purchase them. Lavandera never made it clear that such straw purchases are illegal during his report.
Anchor John Roberts introduced the CNN correspondent's report, which is part of a series titled "The Gun Trail." Roberts explicitly referenced the "iron pipeline," where guns obtained through illegal straw purchases in the Southeast are smuggled up the I-95 corridor to criminals in the Northeast: "Today, our Ed Lavandera is on the front line, a state at the start of the so-called 'iron pipeline'- a pipeline that could end on your street."
During his report, Lavandara zeroed in on straw purchases at gun stores, such as "The Gun Shop" in Savannah, Georgia, managed by Kayton Smith and Ricky Duffy. The correspondent spent a day with Smith and Duffy, and noted that "customers fill out a form declaring they're buying the gun, not someone else. Then Kayton Smith calls for an instant background check. The buyer is either approved, delayed, or denied. That puts Smith and Duffy's gun shop on the front lines in the battle against straw purchasers, people who pretend to buy guns for themselves then pass them on to someone who can't lawfully own a firearm."
The CNN correspondent never disclosed during the segment that such straw purchases are felony offenses under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Thus, the graphic on-screen during Lavandera's report, "How Legal Guns Go Bad: States with weaker gun laws attract traffickers," gave a misleading impression, as these "iron pipeline" guns are not legally purchased in the first place.
Earlier, after he explained what the "iron pipeline" is, according to "gun safety advocates," the correspondent played a sound bite from such "advocate," Nancy Robinson of an organization named Citizens for Safety. Though she and her affiliation were identified on-screen, Lavandera never mentioned that Citizens for Safety touts support from "Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, [and] Senators John Kerry and Sherrod Brown," all supporters of more gun control. Citizens for Safety's website links to Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Third Way, another liberal organization that pushes for stricter gun control.
The full transcript of Ed Lavandera's report, which aired 27 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour of Tuesday's American Morning:
JOHN ROBERTS: Time now, 27 minutes after the hour for an 'A.M. Original,' something that you'll see only on 'American Morning.' All this week, we're on 'The Gun Trail,' taking a look at how legal guns could get into the wrong hands. And today, our Ed Lavandera is on the front line, a state at the start of the so-called 'iron pipeline'- a pipeline that could end on your street.
ED LAVANDERA (voice-over): Kayton Smith says you'd be surprised the stories gun buyers reveal.
KAYTON SMITH: What made you decide to buy a firearm?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Do you want to know the truth?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Left New York owing someone a lot of money and eventually they are going to find me.
SMITH: (laughs) Okay.
BUYER: Better safe than sorry.
SMITH: (laughs) Okay.
LAVANDERA: The buyer is a legal Russian immigrant. After calling the FBI's instant background check system, the sale is put on hold while the Feds look deeper into his background.
SMITH: Listen- okay, so they've got you on delay right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: If you pull the trigger back, it fires-
LAVANDERA: Kayton Smith and Ricky Duffy run 'The Gun Shop' in Savannah, Georgia. We spent a day with them, watching dozens of customers come through the gun shop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: Thank you, buddy.
RICKY DUFFY, OWNER, THE GUN SHOP: See you later.
LAVANDERA: According to federal statistics, Georgia is the number-one state for exported guns used in crimes across the country. Gun safety advocates say that's created what's known as the 'iron pipeline' of illegal guns flowing north, from places like Savannah, Georgia, often up Interstate 95, into northeastern states with stricter gun laws. These states pumped almost 5,000 guns into this criminal pipeline in 2008.
NANCY ROBINSON, CITIZENS FOR SAFETY: There's a pattern that we've seen emerging where traffickers tend to buy guns in states with weak gun laws, where it's easy for them, and bring them back to states like Massachusetts, that have tougher gun laws, and resell these illegal guns on the street for a nice profit.
LAVANDERA: The first step: customers fill out a form declaring they're buying the gun, not someone else. Then Kayton Smith calls for an instant background check. The buyer is either approved, delayed, or denied.
DUFFY: Thank you very much.
LAVANDERA: That puts Smith and Duffy's gun shop on the front lines in the battle against straw purchasers, people who pretend to buy guns for themselves then pass them on to someone who can't lawfully own a firearm. Kayton Smith estimates the shop has sold about 4,000 guns in the last three years. In that same time, FBI background checks have denied sales to 83 people at his shop.
LAVANDERA (on-camera): Do you feel like you're under a lot of pressure to make sure that doesn't happen?
DUFFY: Sure. We don't want to do anything wrong. We want the bad guys to get caught. We don't want to sell any guns to bad guys ever.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): And about the Russian immigrant whose gun purchase was delayed by the FBI? A few days later, the handgun sale was approved, and that's enough for Ricky Duffy. He feels confident the gun is in good hands.
LAVANDERA (live): And Ricky Duffy says over and over again that really, the key to making this all work, since they are essentially on the front lines- these gun shop owners and dealers across the country- is to have a good working relationship with ATF investigators. And the moment they sniff out someone who's suspicious coming into their stores, to let the ATF investigators come check that out. But they do admit that they feel that there are one to two percent of gun dealers across the country who don't do that and give the rest of them a bad name. John?
ROBERTS: All right. Ed Lavandera for us this morning with that report. Ed, thanks so much- great story.
ROBERTS: Tomorrow, we go from the front line right to the end of the line- the city streets. Are laws at the local level making it harder for the criminals or the legal and responsible gun owners? We'll find out. We'll be asking that question.