In 'Newsweek,' Eleanor Clift Applied Recycled Gun Ban Myths to Virginia Tech Shooting

May 1st, 2007 4:17 PM

Eleanor Clift of

Newsweek’s April 30 article by Eleanor Clift recycled old gun-control mythology and misleading statements with a renewed call for something to be done in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting. The article mixed the usual anti-gun talking points with some subtle pining for the good ol’ days of President Clinton’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) that supposedly made the streets safer by taking the extra, extra, super-scary looking guns out the hands of all Americans (except for the criminals who obtained them illegally, of course). Clift starts off with one of the more ridiculous statements (emphasis mine throughout):

Rahm Emanuel was once a fierce gun-control advocate. As a top aide to Bill Clinton, he helped push the president's assault-weapons ban. At the time, Emanuel argued there was little reason for anyone to have a military-style weapon designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time.

I’m not sure whether Emanuel was that ignorant of what the AWB actually stated or if it is either Clift’s seriously uninformed idea about the ban or if it is deceptive wording. The weapons that kill “as many people as possible in the shortest time” would be automatic weapons. The AWB addressed semi-automatic weapons. It was also already illegal to own unlicensed fully automatic weapons (since 1934), and contrary to the claim, with proper licensing and background checks, people could have even owned those fully automatic weapons during the AWB. 

Then Clift really laid it on thick, noting, “Democrats have been reluctant even to scold the president for allowing the assault ban to lapse, which enabled Cho to buy large-capacity clips that were illegal under the previous law.” For a veteran reporter, the wording in this awkward sentence was terribly vague and leads the reader to believe that Bush “allowing” the ban to lapse was responsible for Cho’s shooting spree and that owning these guns is inherently wrong.  

The way that latter part of the Clift's sentence is worded, is either misleading or outright false, and either way, it is wrong. First, they weren’t “clips,” they were “magazines," and they weren’t illegal to buy “under the previous law,” magazines with more than ten rounds were illegal to manufacture, not to own, sell and purchase any magazines that were already on the market at the time of the ban. As Bob Owens has explained at Newsbusters and at Confederate Yankee, that using the term " ‘(h)igh capacity’ was and is purely a political designation, not a practical one” and implies they are something other than standard issue capacity.

Clift, then turned to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy D-NY, a committed gun control advocate whose husband was killed in the 1991 Long Island Rail Road shooting, as the resident expert on gun control who hasn’t strayed from the anti-gun gospel. However, on Tucker Carlson's show, she couldn’t even describe what one of the banned features was in her own bill (text and video of the exchange).   

Here’s where Clift either got lazy or sneaky:

McCarthy's bill passed the House in 2003, but the Senate never took it up. It will get more attention now. McCarthy's ally, Democratic Rep. John Dingell, long a gun-rights advocate, has been quietly talking with the group in hopes that the NRA will back a version of McCarthy's bill, according to The Washington Post. "We have no problem with mental-health records being part of the [database]," a source close to the gun lobby, who asked not to be named talking about internal matters, tells NEWSWEEK. The White House is also looking at the idea. After the shootings, Bush ordered his cabinet to find a way through the bureaucratic tangles that let warnings about disturbed gun buyers like Cho go unreported. Pro-gun or anti-, it's hard to argue for staying quiet about that.

Anonymous sources often leave readers asking what the sources are so afraid of. By using an unnamed source “close to” the NRA, Clift injected suspicion into the statement. Since the high-profile executive vice-president of the NRA Wayne LaPierre, was quoted only a few days earlier in "Newsweek," Clift's own publication, supporting a database and working with a Democrat to “ensure” one is used for background checks not use his quotes, which essentially said the same thing but without the subtext?

In that article, Clift also could have discovered that while a smaller gun-rights advocacy group, the Gun Owners of America is against the database, it is the mental health industry which, unlike the NRA, is adamantly against a database.  Instead of actually researching some of the media’s typical but easily-dispelled gun myths that ended up in her article or being honest with her readers, Eleanor Clift stuck to the same tired script with the standard bad guys when it came to this article on gun control.