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. myviewis

    Oh please, what is the big deal, kids can see weapons, gun magazines in VIDEO games, movies.

    December 27, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. rufusvondufus

    Come on, man, he's a liberal Dem–nothing is going to happen to him. Liberals can break any laws they want to and nothing happens. Just look at Obama/Holder.

    December 27, 2012 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  3. rufusvondufus

    It seems to me that the ATF is covering the butts of NBC and Gregory as per instructed by Holder. The Obama admin is the most crooked and corrupt we have had since Clinton!

    December 27, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    Let the involved parties face the prescribed justice. The article makes it sound like a successful prosecution may be hard to achieve. There exists no accurate record of a chain of custody of the magazine. As for calling it a silly felony .. .. ..

    What is silly is the fact that had the mother of the shooter in Newtown not been killed, she would not have been charged with a crime for allowing an unlicensed individual unauthorized or illegal access to her weapons.

    What is even more silly is the fact that the single-most root cause of the violence in Newtown was the irresponsible actions of gun owner, who did nothing that could be deemed illegal. You can call her actions by any name that you wish, the fact remains that she could have taken different steps had her actions, or lack thereof, had criminal consequences.

    December 27, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  5. Donna Perry

    Get real! You can own a semi automatic gun with extended magazine with no instruction or permit but you cant show one on tv? This is why the government is so thought of with such disrespect. This is not a republican/democrat issue, this is a stupidity issue!

    December 27, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  6. John Q.

    I don't see how this can be real. There is a clear law that states the ban in place in D.C. The forcefield from such ban would have kept out any illegal materials. Laws are there to work and that is why we no longer have drugs in the US, because they are illegal.

    December 27, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Try to tell a cop you did not know something was against the law and he will still arrest you.

    December 27, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  8. catheryn

    Donna Perry girl you are right this is not a dem,or rep issue, it don't even make sense,people don't use common sense anymore, they just don't think at all.

    December 27, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. Mahan

    It's nothing but your right if it was anyone else than the liberal press the police would have had them in lock up.

    December 27, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. Ellis

    Our arrogant press at work.

    December 27, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. tarura

    Seeing it is one thing, posessing is another. The latter is punishable. This guy belongs in a slammer.

    December 27, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  12. Data Driven

    Comedy of errors. This story is quickly heading into "story by the media about the media" territory.

    December 27, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  13. tomadzo

    We are talking about the same city that reelected Marion Barry after he was caught and spent time in prison for crack cocaine afterall. No sense in many DC citizens.

    December 27, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  14. skjohnson

    Get real! You can own a semi automatic gun with extended magazine with no instruction or permit but you cant show one on tv?

    No, Donna. In DC, you can't own one at all. Period. Not even an empty magazine.

    Of course, that law only applies to us normal people, not to famous people like David Gregory.

    December 27, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  15. wb

    I'll have to remember this excuse for future reference "Sorry officer, I was just misinformed about the law".

    December 27, 2012 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  16. Abby

    David Gregory should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Since he was the one who wanted to try and make Wayne LaPierre look bad by displaying the magazine it was his responsibility to know the law. He was told by DC law enforcement that it was illegal to possess that magazine and he chose to disobey the law. If this had happened to just any citizen they would be facing charges and so should Gregory. I for one will be contacting the prosecutors office and demanding that he be charged. His ignorant act was an affront to all legal firearms owners in the United States who take the responsibility of knowing the laws seriously.

    December 27, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  17. Iball

    I think if it was Wayne LaPierre who was waving an empty AR magazine around on TV in DC he'd be in jail before the credits had rolled on 'Meet the Press.' Can you say Selective Prosecution?

    December 27, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  18. JJ

    Funny how in a place like DC, where the violence are on Third World levels, they are worried about an otherwise law-abiding person (even though he is a liberal) possessing a magazine holding 30 rounds. All the while, animals on the street prowl and hunt for unarmed citizens upon which to rob, rape, murder, and terrorize. Just like Chicago. Just like NYC. These places are the most violent places in the country, and in some areas more dangerous than some third world nations. Restrictive gun laws ensure that only criminals have guns. So if you want your area of the country to be this way, support politicians who want to disarm you.

    December 27, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  19. janelle

    David Gregory proved the point alright! The magazine he easily aquired and possessed is illegal where he lives. Think it'll be any harder for anyone else to aquire and possess the same illegal items if we make them illegal in other places too?

    December 27, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  20. California Gary

    I don't give a hoot about someone waving an empty magazine around......what I would be interested in knowing is what kind of heat was LaPierre packing under his coat?

    December 27, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  21. Strictly Speaking

    This sounds like a strict liability crime. If it were some dumb kid or gang banger, there wouldn't be any hesitation about what to do. Whatever the punishment may be, if this is a strict liability crime he should be punished according to the law. If he isn't, there's your case for selective enforcement.

    December 27, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  22. Rick McDaniel

    Total stupidity. It's a news program. Get over it.

    December 27, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  23. jimmykl

    Back in the 90's while pushing for the Clinton Assault Weapon Ban, Dan Rather had a legal semiautomatic rifle modified into an illegal full auto on national tv. He was not prosecuted for a much more serious violation, why would they prosecute this guy? News people are exempt from the law.

    December 27, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  24. ST

    NBC got conflicting guidance of federal and local law. This is exactly a very, very good example why there should be only one uniform federal law on firearms through out the country. It will be understood well to everyone and easy to be enforced.

    December 27, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  25. John Edwards

    Here's a broom. Just sweep it under the rug. It's not like it was a black person that commited this crime.

    December 27, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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