On Monday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams was eager to seize on any perceived momentum for greater gun control in the wake of Friday's school shooting: "The President said he would use the power of his office to prevent more gun tragedies, and tonight he is being joined by a growing number of prominent voices."
In the report that followed, correspondent Tom Costello listed some of those voices. While pro-gun Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Mark Warner were noteworthy, Costello attempted to pad the list with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime anti-gun activist. To create the appearance of bipartisanship, Costello even threw in MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who he pointed out was a "former Republican Congressman." On Thursday's Today, he went so far as to label Scarborough an "influential Republican."
Touting Manchin and Warner voicing potential support for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, Costello announced: "Today, as protesters gathered outside its offices in Washington, the NRA again declined to comment on the debate, but there were signs the Sandy Hook massacre has eroded some of the NRA's influence on Capitol Hill."
On Today, following a clip of those protesters chanting "Shame on the NRA!," a sound bite was included of one of them declaring: "I'd like to think that we're in the beginning of a fire being started under the American people. I think, you know, it's time." Costello reiterated: "The NRA has remained silent since the massacre."
Continuing the theme from his Nightly News report, Costello began the Today segment by proclaiming: "This morning, there is a growing chorus of voices, including some NRA members, calling for a new assault weapons ban to prevent any more tragedies. Just four days since the massacre at Sandy Hook, signs of movement in the decades-long gun control debate."
Following Costello's report, fill-in co-host and Meet the Press moderator David Gregory grilled Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz on gun control, at one point implying the Utah representative was paranoid: "Do you believe that if assault weapons are banned, that the government is going to come after your guns?.... what is the argument against an assault weapons ban other than, 'Well, if you do that, it's a slippery slope'? I've never – I've tried to understand that before."
Here is a full transcript of Costello's December 17 Nightly News report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: After the unthinkable in Newtown, the first of the young victims are laid to rest. Tonight, what we now know about what happened there, and some surprising voices today calling for tougher gun laws.
7:09PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: At that same interfaith service last night in Newtown, President Obama sounded both sad and exasperated about gun violence. And he said enough is enough.
BARACK OBAMA: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.
WILLIAMS: The President said he would use the power of his office to prevent more gun tragedies, and tonight he is being joined by a growing number of prominent voices. Tom Costello has that part of the story in Washington tonight. Tom, good evening.
TOM COSTELLO: Hi, Brian. In fact, it's been a very busy day on this front. The mayor of America's biggest city today urged Congress, in fact, challenged Congress and the White House to act, and the NRA remains silent. Surrounded by victims' families, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today said enough talk, it's time to act.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Congress and the White House has to come up with something that stops this carnage, no matter what the political ramifications are.
COSTELLO: Long an advocate for stricter gun regulation, Bloomberg is pushing Congress to close gun-show loopholes and demand background checks of anyone who buys a gun. He wants a new assault weapons ban to replace the one that expired in 2004 and a ban on high-capacity ammo clips. And he's promising to use his own vast personal wealth to take on the gun lobby if necessary. The numbers are striking: 8,500 people die each year in gun violence. Just since Columbine, nearly 14 years ago, more than 30 mass murders involving guns. The list is chilling.
PROTESTERS: Shame on the NRA!
COSTELLO: Today, as protesters gathered outside its offices in Washington, the NRA again declined to comment on the debate, but there were signs the Sandy Hook massacre has eroded some of the NRA's influence on Capitol Hill.
JOE MANCHIN: As your senator, I'll protect our Second Amendment rights.
COSTELLO: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a lifelong NRA member, today said he's rethinking his own positions.
MANCHIN: I don't know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs those types of multiple clips, as far as ammunition.
COSTELLO: And former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, now an MSNBC host, also reversed himself on gun control.
SCARBOROUGH: Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo. They must instead be forced to defend our children.
COSTELLO: But at least one Texas Republican continues to defend the right of Americans to own assault weapons.
LOUIE GOHMERT [REP. R-TX]: It ensures against the tyranny of the government.
COSTELLO: Amid the talk of gun control, gun sales have picked up. In Portland, just a week after a gunman killed two at an area mall.
KARL DURKHEIMER [NORTHWEST ARMORY OWNER]: Yesterday was the biggest day we've ever done in 20 years. Today will probably eclipse that.
COSTELLO: Gun control, off Washington's agenda for a decade, suddenly front and center. Late word that another pro-gun senator, Mark Warner of Virginia, has also changed his position, and is open to restrictions on assault weapons. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California says she will introduce some regulation along those lines in January. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Tom Costello in Washington tonight. Tom, thanks. So there you have it. That's that part of the conversation.