December 27th, 2012
01:12 PM ET
10 years ago

ATF official cites 'miscommunication' over NBC gun magazine flap

(CNN) – NBC evidently got conflicting guidance from federal and local law enforcement officials about the legality of displaying an empty gun magazine on "Meet the Press," according to statements by the agencies involved.

An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told CNN that he relayed information to NBC from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department that displaying an empty gun magazine was legal. Meanwhile, an MPD spokeswoman said her department told NBC such a display would be illegal.

It was not clear in what order NBC received the communications. NBC declined again on Thursday to comment on the matter.

On Sunday, "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory used what he described as a 30-round magazine while asking National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre whether banning such magazines could help lessen the impact of deadly shootings. In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gun control advocates have been pushing for a limit on high capacity magazines.

Following the broadcast, several conservative columnists questioned the legality of possessing the magazine in the District of Columbia, which has strict gun control laws.

The ATF official told CNN on Thursday that a reporter with NBC News - not Gregory - called ATF last Friday to inquire whether it would be legal to have ammunition or an empty magazine on the set of the Sunday show, which is broadcast from Washington.

The ATF official said he reached out to officers with the MPD to ask if that was permissible.

"What was relayed back to me - which turned out to be a miscommunication - is ammunition was not legal unless (in the possession of an officer), but a magazine was not a problem," said the official, who passed along the information to NBC.

The detail about empty magazines being legal in Washington was apparently inaccurate. Possessing a large-capacity ammunition device, such as a magazine, is illegal in the District of Columbia if the device holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The code also specifies the large-capacity devices are illegal, regardless of whether they're attached to a firearm. Gregory showed the magazine Sunday without a firearm attached.

"I don't know where the miscommunication occurred (at the MPD), but I do know that I passed along the information that I was told," the ATF official said.

"We didn't give anyone permission, but we just relayed the information," the official continued.

The official spoke on the condition of being identified only as an "ATF official" to speak freely about the story.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the MPD said a representative for NBC inquired ahead of the broadcast about using the high-capacity magazine.

The department spokeswoman, Tisha Gant, said the police told NBC it could not use the magazine. Gant said the matter is under investigation.

NRA President David Keene said on CNN Thursday he didn't think Gregory should be prosecuted for possessing the magazine, calling the D.C. law "silly."

"There are two lessons for him there," Keene said. "Don't ask the government what's legal and what isn't legal, because half the people you ask don't know. And secondly, that's a silly felony. It's a felony in Washington, D.C., to own that magazine or to be caught with a cartridge. So I really think what David Gregory did, while he was inadvertently flaunting the law, was illustrated in a very graphic way, perhaps not intentionally, just how silly some of these laws are."

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Larry Lazo and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

Filed under: Gun rights
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Wake up People!

    @Scarf. I agree. Also just make all drugs legal while we're at it. Pass them out to everyone that wants them. After all, the drug laws are soooooooooo effective. Start doling them out to the kids as soon as they start school. They're going to get them anyway, right righties??

    Note: I was being extremely facetious. I do not condone hard drugs of any kind and I definitely don't want the children to get a hold of them. Just trying to make a point.

    December 27, 2012 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  2. Mark

    3 points here.

    The ATF person had to ask the police.

    The reporter didn't find the easily available information on the Internet on his own.

    And there's talk of not prosecuting Gregory. He had two opinions from officials and decided to use the one he liked. If John Doe posted the same thing on YouTube and it was recorded in Washington prosecution would be assured. I'm pro gun but if we have a law on the books we can't look the other way even if it is silly. The thing to do is repeal the (useless law)

    December 27, 2012 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  3. floating

    @subcomunic8r gun control is to gun-related deaths as anti-cancer drugs are to cancer. If 'death' in general is a symptom of the disease of society, by all means let's get rid of that.

    December 27, 2012 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  4. Name lynn

    guns guns everyone is talking about guns whos the blame for letting the guns get into the wrong people hands no one cant stop people from buying guns or however they are getting them yes we all are tried of all the shooting and killing around the world what can be done about this

    December 27, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  5. Bob

    Took me all of 4 minutes to find information on DC,s regulations concerning magazine capacity.DC code7-2506.01, " No person shall possess,sell or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm." Their definition of large capacity magazines is anything over 10 rounds. All I had to do was type the words High capacity magazine ban in DC on my Google home page and pick the appropriate site. The site I picked happened t be a firearms supply outlet. Most firearms supply outlets keep current on laws and regulations and are very strict on following the current laws. Maybe NBC should try that next time.

    December 27, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  6. Sigh

    "What was relayed back to me – which turned out to be a miscommunication – is ammunition was not legal unless (in the possession of an officer), but a magazine was not a problem,"

    I don't find this credible. The laws pertaining to magazines are just that – laws pertaining to magazines. Ammunition has nothing to do with this, and these laws *always* ban the mere possession of the magazine whether it is in the presence of a weapon or not.

    It takes all of 60 seconds on Google to find the nature of these laws and lists of where these things are or are not legal to possess.

    In the meantime – so the police and/or ATF told you the wrong thing? Too bad. ATF in particular is notorious for doing this – even in writing – then reversing themselves and throwing the book at people. Another cursory Google search would have told them that as well.

    This is supposed to be a nation governed by laws, not by the whims of public officials or talking heads on TV. You either throw the book at him or admit that laws are only for us lowly "normal people". "I'm completely ignorant of the laws I'm reporting on" is not a valid defense.

    December 27, 2012 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  7. ali

    Where did he get the magazine? Obviously he transported it across the DC boundaries and possibly state lines.

    December 27, 2012 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  8. droid1963

    ...and so it begins.... the ATF bureaucracy covering up, the baffle gab and ballyhoo, the obfuscation, "he said, she said"....

    Remember that the ATF gave us Fast and Furious. The end justifies the means, right, gun-grabbers?

    December 27, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  9. DMG2FUN

    He violated the law. Jail him!

    December 27, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  10. Pete

    Ever see air pellet guns,so realistic its scarey and this might just be a prop because he is in show business isn't he..So those of you guntoting conservatives quit belly aching ,this from a licenced gun toting liberal..Go after the real criminals the NRA,they're the real problem here advocating military weapons nationwide when an exmilitary soldier was locked up in Mexico for having an antique shotgun that was previously approved,permitted and because the Mexican government was scared of a real military man,nice world we live in ha!!

    December 27, 2012 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
1 2 3 4