ABC News Targets Guns, Omits Facts

On July 8, ABC's World News Tonight used a Philadelphia gun control controversy as fodder for a hit piece on America's constitutional right to keep and bear arms.    

Anchor Dan Harris used moving images of gun victims, resounding gunshots, bad science and selective quotes to make an emotional pitch for gun control, while giving gun rights defenders a terse, hostile hearing. 

A group of Philadelphia city council members recently decided to sue the state over Pennsylvania's lax gun laws, which they fault for their city's high murder rate. In effect, the city council members are laying Philadelphia's high crime rate at the feet of “rural lawmakers” from other parts of Pennsylvania who oppose strict limits on firearms.   

Although studies show that only 21 percent of guns used in crimes in the U.S. are obtained legally, ABC News uncritically swallowed the city council's line, along with the hook and sinker.  “That's why,” Harris quotes city council members, “they have the highest murder rate of the nation's big cities.” The newscast followed up this helpful comment by showing a poster featuring assorted firearms and the number 213, the total number of homicides that have taken place in Philadelphia between January 1 and July 8, 2007.  ABC implies that these were all gun deaths.  However, in 2006, only 317 of Philadelphia's 406 murders involved guns.   

Rather than report the exact figures, ABC introduced viewers to Cashae Rivers, a girl killed in a drive-by shooting last year, and her sobbing aunt.  “Riding in the back seat of a car, a bullet ripped through her heart,” announced reporter David Kerley. 

Against the background of a concrete floor strewn with dozens of firearms, ABC News strung together hard-hitting quotes from liberals in the city government.

One complained: “The state of Pennsylvania has preempted all of our abilities to deal with gun regulations.” 

Another added: “I can no longer continue to sit here and allow the level of violence to continue unabated simply because people don't feel it's appropriate to do what I believe is their mandatory duty.”

It's a battle the city of Philadelphia “may not win,” said ABC reporter Kerley, because “guns and hunting are very important” in the rural areas which many lawmakers represent. 

ABC News gave the gun rights side only a token opportunity to respond, quoting Republican State Representative Steve Cappelli: “Any measure we give Philadelphia, any new regulation, any new authority to regulate firearms, will not impact the very element that is terrorizing that city.” ABC News followed this quote with a sound clip of a gun shot. “That argument is being echoed across much of the country, as rural sensibilities continue to rule the gun debate. And cities like Philadelphia prepare for another night, and another shooting death.”

Against the visual backdrop of a huge bin overflowing with guns, Kerley threw out what appeared to be a decisive fact: “In fact, Philadelphia has more murders than New York…But unlike New York, Philadelphia cannot pass its own gun laws.” Kerley neglected to mention that New York City's rape rate is about half the national average while Philadelphia's is nearly double.  Unless gun control laws also limit rape, Philadelphia's crime problems cannot be blamed on NRA-affiliated state legislators. 

Peer-reviewed studies belie the anti-gun assumptions of ABC News journalists.  Simply comparing the crime rates of cities with different gun laws is not a scientifically valid way to evaluate gun policy, according to the National Academy of Sciences.  “It is difficult to gauge the value of [gun control] measures because social and economic factors behind criminal acts are often complex and interwoven, and the efforts are narrow in scope,” concluded a 2004 NAS study. Commissioned by the Clinton administration, the study looked at firearm restrictions around the nation but could not find any that actually reduced crime. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took up the issue in 2003, looking at bans on firearms, restrictions on firearms, waiting periods and licensing, zero tolerance laws in schools, childhood access prevention laws and combinations of all of these.  The result? “The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.” 

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.