CNN: Supreme Court ‘Kills’ DC Handgun Ban, Slants Toward Gun Victim

June 26th, 2008 1:36 PM

In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of DC handgun ban on Thursday, CNN’s "Newsroom" program ran a report on both the sides of the gun case, in which the pro-gun control advocate was given twice the amount of air time as the gun rights advocate. The report, by CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena, ran twice within 20 minutes; first, at the top of the 10 am hour of "Newsroom," minutes before the decision was released, and then immediately after the news of the decision broke.

In addition to this, when the 5-4 decision upholding the lower court’s finding that the ban was unconstitutional, the "Newsroom" program initially ran a graphic that read, "Supreme Ct. Kills Handgun Ban: Overrules DC Law." The graphic ran for just under a minute until being replaced by another that read, "Supreme Ct. Overrules Gun Ban: Overrules DC Law Forbidding Handguns."

Just over an hour after the Supreme Court’s ruling came down, near the bottom half of the 11 am Eastern hour of "Newsroom," CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, when asked about the local impact of the decision, snarked that "the communities that care about safety and communities that don't want the bad effects of guns will try to rewrite their regulations in line with what they think the Court decided."

So in Mr. Toobin’s view, communities that recognize the good effects of guns, in terms of self-defense and lowering violent crime rates, must not "care about safety."

Arena’s report gave short profiles of Shelly Parker, one of the DC residents who challenged the constitutionality of the District’s handgun ban; and Elilta Habtu, who "barely survived the Virginia Tech massacre." Arena played two soundbites each from Parker and Habtu, but Parker’s total time in the segment totaled 13 seconds, whereas Habtu’s time totaled 27 seconds, more than twice the amount.

The full transcript of Kelli Arena’s report:

HEIDI COLLINS: As we mentioned, awaiting big news from the Supreme Court on your constitutional right to own a gun. The Supreme Court may finally settle the long debate over the Second Amendment. That ruling expected any time now. Our Kelli Arena and Jeanne Meserve both there covering the story for us. We're going to have that decision for you just as soon as we get it. First, a little background to share with you. It's case with huge political, legal, and personal implications. CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena explains those issues.

KELLI ARENA (voice-over): Two women, two stories, two completely different interpretations of the U.S. Constitution.

SHELLY PARKER, GUN RIGHTS PLAINTIFF: I believe the Second Amendment is written for the purpose of allowing individuals to have a gun at their choosing in their home.

ARENA: Shelly Parker says that threats from drug dealers forced her to flee her old neighborhood in Washington, DC. A single woman, she wants a gun to protect herself. But Elilta Habtu says owning a gun is not the answer. She barely survived the Virginia Tech massacre.

ELILTA HABTU VA. TECH SHOOTING VICTIM: Read the Constitution -- that's how it's written -- it's very clear what it says. It says -- the whole sentence -- it says for -- you have the right to hold your arms if you're doing it for militia.

ARENA: It all centers on DC's handgun ban and whether the city can tell residents they can't own a firearm. DC says it has a right to keep its community safe. Parker, a DC resident, says it's her individual right to have a gun if she wants one.

PARKER: Anybody who's a criminal can have a gun, but if you're trying to do the right thing, you don't have a gun, which leaves us prey to everybody else.

ARENA: But Habtu, who still has a bullet lodged near the base of her brain, believes if she had a gun, she would not have survived the Virginia Tech killer's deadly rampage.

HABTU: You have this kind of crazy idea that maybe we're [a] superhero on the inside, you know. If I had a gun, I would have overtaken [him]. No, you wouldn't have. Please, don't feel that, you know, just owning a gun will make you safer, because it won't.

COLLINS (on-camera): Kelli Arena there with some opinions regarding this huge decision that is being discussed as we speak at the Supreme Court....

It should be noted that CNN pitted Parker against Habtu once before, in an article on its website in March when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in DC handgun ban case. As fellow NewsBuster Ken Shepherd noted, the article’s author, Bill Mears, tried to "cast a cloud over the constitutional right to keep and bear arms."

Habtu, in addition to being a "Virginia Tech shooting victim," is also an Obama supporter. She donated a total of $550 to the Democrat’s primary campaign earlier this year, according to FEC filings available here.

Tony Harris, CNN Anchor |"Newsroom" broke the news of the Court’s decision 14 minutes into its 10 am hour, and co-host Tony Harris echoed the "Supreme Ct. Kills Handgun Ban" graphic that appeared on the screen: "We have the Supreme court decision that we've been waiting for on the DC handgun ban, and the Supreme Court, as you can see in the lower third there, has killed the handgun ban, overruling the DC law, ruling that law from DC unconstitutional."