"So here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets," David Gregory said Sunday on Meet The Press while holding what looked a whole lot like exactly what he was advertising. The NBC anchor was using the item as a prop to illustrate a question to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre about whether banning such magazines could limit the amount of carnage caused by gunmen like Adam Lanza.
The potential problem for NBC, however, is that possessing such large-capacity magazines is illegal inside the District of Columbia, where the Sunday show is traditionally produced. That fact was quickly—and loudly—trumpeted by conservatives and gun-rights advocates who pretty much demanded police take action. "Will D.C. officials prosecute Mr. Gregory?" wrote Breitbart's Warner Todd Huston on Sunday. "They would anyone else, wouldn't they?"
By Christmas night, Huston and co. appeared to have gotten at least part of what they wanted. The Washington Post with the details:
The D.C. police confirmed reports Wednesday that they are looking into an incident in which David Gregory, the host of the television show "Meet the Press," displayed what he described as a high-capacity ammunition magazine. Asked about media reports saying that authorities were looking into the incident, Gwendolyn Crump, the police spokeswoman, responded early Wednesday by e-mail: "Yes. We are investigating this matter."
Police spokesmen gave similar quotes to a handful of other outlets that inquired both last night and this morning. Asked by Politico specifically what was under investigation, officer Araz Alali painted in only broad strokes: "It’s an investigation regarding the issue, this whole entire incident."
To be clear, assuming the prop really was what Gregory said it was, someone at NBC certainly appears to have broken the letter of the law. Here's the provision in question:
No person in the District shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm. For the purposes of this subsection, the term large capacity ammunition feeding device means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
First-time offenders found in violation of one of D.C.'s gun laws face a max fine of $1,000 and/or up to a year incarceration. Still, it's hard to imagine this leading to any serious charges for Gregory or anyone else on the MTP team.* But setting aside the issue of what could/should happen with the investigation, the complaints from gun-rights advocates have managed to have at least one not-so-subtle intended effect: Shrinking the conversation, however temporarily, from a larger, nuanced debate about gun control and safety down to one about an individual and isolated event. It's not a new PR strategy but it's a productive one. If nothing else, every report today and tomorrow about Gregory and Meet The Press means fewer ones devoted to the larger issue of gun control, or even the smaller one of the NRA's controversial School Shield proposal.
In that regard, the MTP complaints share at least some similarities with the the gun lobby's larger response to Newtown, which was/is a bid to reframe the national debate to include only school safety, and not mass shootings in general. It likely also doesn't hurt that in this case the NRA supporters' focus is on Gregory and Meet The Press, which fall nicely into the traditional media group that LaPierre and his allies have been calling the "national media machine," an apparatus they blame for both demonizing guns and glorifying gun violence.
Here's the video from Sunday's show. Gregory brings out the magazine at around the 10-minute mark, but the entire first segment with LaPierre is worth your time:
*Update 1:05 p.m.: ABC News reports that NBC asked local officials for permission to use the magazine but were denied permission by D.C. police before the show's taping. Assuming Gregory wasn't taking some dramatic license, that probably makes it more likely that someone gets in trouble for this whole thing.