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From the May 1999 MediaWatch

Networks Identify "Gun Culture" as the Culprit


Colorado Tragedy Exploited for Politics

Within hours of the shooting at Columbine High School the first instinct of some network producers was to exploit the tragedy to attack gun rights advocates instead of holding the perpetrators responsible or focusing the blame on lax parenting and inattentive school officials. While those angles have received attention in the massive coverage, all the networks served as one-sided conduits for the arguments of gun control advocates.

Promoting Suzann Wilson
. While ABC and CBS managed to hold off, temporarily, on the gun control preaching, within hours of the shooting NBC Nightly News went to Suzann Wilson, the mother of a girl killed 12 months ago at a school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who is now a gun control crusader. The night of the Colorado shooting NBC’s Ann Thompson relayed her reaction, explaining: "Suzann has used her hurt and anger to campaign for laws to hold gun owners responsible when children use those weapons to hurt others, taking on gun rights advocates on the front steps of the Arkansas Capitol." Thompson cut to Wilson yelling, "This is not about the Second Amendment. This is about parents burying children."

ABC and CBS picked up Wilson’s crusade the next morning as CBS invited her onto This Morning. She also appeared on Today. Over on ABC’s Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer asked Janet Reno: "But we keep hearing over and over again that even troubled kids could get access to help, without this sort of incident, if they didn’t have access to guns first. Is there a gun control measure that you think would actually help prevent a situation like this?"

Too Many Guns the Problem
. That night, on the April 21 World News Tonight, Peter Jennings announced: "It is no surprise that this became a big international story, and in the other nations headlines, not for the first time, America is seen as a country which cannot control violence committed with guns. In Japan today the headline was ‘How sick is the gun society?’"

On NBC’s Today, the second morning after the shooting, Katie Couric pressed the Republican Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, about gun control: "A lot of people are asking about the accessibility of guns. Have you wondered about that yourself?" Owens pointed out that the killers had broken many laws on the books already, but no network pursued that angle on the futility of more gun restrictions.

CNN’s Judy Woodruff served as a gun control advocate on the April 22 Inside Politics when she interviewed Republican Senator Wayne Allard and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She demanded Allard respond to Senator Feinstein’s points about how the shooting shows the need for more controls, but instead of challenging Feinstein with his retorts she tossed up Feinstein’s own talking points for easy replies. Woodruff harangued Allard: "Let me just begin by asking you to what extent do you think the easy availability of guns was one of the main causes of what happened?" And: "You voted in the last session of Congress to repeal the assault weapons ban. Do you stand by that vote?"

NRA’s "Cruel Reminder."
While the NRA shortened its annual convention planned for Denver, that did nothing to dissuade the media’s rancor. Using loaded language Peter Jennings, on the April 22 World News Tonight, warned: "The gun lobby scaled its plans down, but it may not have been enough."

Aaron Brown provided a full report, starting with a soundbite from Denver Mayor Wellington Webb urging that the convention be canceled. Brown noted that three bills expanding gun rights for Coloradans had been dropped by the legislature and aired a soundbite of state representative Doug Dean suggesting it would have been a "slap in the face to those families to debate any kind of gun legislation." Brown led into a soundbite by NRA President Charlton Heston: "And the gun lobby’s leader drew criticism from what he said to a TV interviewer yesterday." Heston made the point that even one armed guard could have saved many lives and perhaps even prevented the shooting. Brown picked up: "In fact there was an armed officer in the school on Tuesday trying to do that." The Jefferson County Schools Security Director, Howard Cornell, pointed out that the shooters were engaged by the guard with a handgun.

However, Brown failed to draw the obvious conclusions that a school of Columbine’s size required more than one guard or that the guard’s cornering of the shooters may have prevented even more deaths. Instead, Brown went to a soundbite from Bob Walker of Handgun Control. Brown then concluded, "A pro-gun legislator, the House Majority Leader, said the same thing to us today: that the fear of the victims’ families testifying, re-living the tragedy, he said, will keep legislators from even considering loosening gun laws for many years to come."

The CBS Evening News caught up with the anti-gun cause on Friday night, April 23. Reporter Sandra Hughes, over a video of a NRA billboard advertising its convention showing Charlton Heston holding a rifle, Hughes chastised: "This National Rifle Association billboard is a cruel reminder for those still grieving over the events in Littleton that next week the NRA is coming to Denver, even though Mayor Wellington Webb asked the NRA to go away."

After a soundbite from Webb, Hughes continued: "It will only scale back its planned three-day conference to a one day meeting. NRA President Charlton Heston refused our request for an interview. A spokesman told CBS News, the NRA quote, ‘wants the community to bury their children’ before it will discuss gun control. The Littleton massacre has galvanized the anti-gun movement across the country." Hughes went on to detail gun control legislation in California and allowed a gun store owner to say gun laws are not about crime control but people control and then concluded, "Even in many conservative states pro-gun legislation is being tabled and in Colorado two bills long supported by the gun lobby were shut down days before becoming law."

As the week came to a close CBS’s Face the Nation brought aboard Colorado Governor Bill Owens. Bob Schieffer demanded: "Governor, have you changed your mind now about gun control laws? I know you favored the concealed weapons law that was being debated out there, did you not?"

Schieffer and Gloria Borger quizzed the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre about whether he favors allowing teachers to "carry heat" and why he isn’t for holding adults criminally responsible for their kids before they turned to Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. He got nicer treatment as Borger set him up: "Do you think tougher gun laws could have prevented this?"

Not once in any of these stories did reporters highlight statistics showing how passage of concealed weapons laws, according to University of Chicago economist John Lott, have reduced crime or that one of the Framer’s intents for the Second Amendment was to grant citizens the ability to protect themselves and loved ones from the criminally-minded like the crazed murderers in Colorado.



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