Life Savers vs. Gun Nuts

The network news did not describe the Supreme Court's decision striking down a D.C. ban on handgun ownership as a ringing, landmark affirmation of the right of citizens to own firearms, or an acknowledgement that Americans must accept responsibility for self-protection.    

On the nets, the prevailing theme was that the Court delivered a victory to selfish advocates of an abstract right over community-minded public servants eager to save lives.

CBS Evening News reporter Wyatt Andrews described the ruling as, “a victory for a group of Washington, D.C. residents who challenged the 32-year-old D.C. ban on owning handguns,” and played a clip of Heller saying: “I'm very happy that now I'm able to defend myself.”

Andrews then observed, “Very unhappy, though, are D.C. officials, who argue the handgun ban has kept thousands of guns off the streets and saved hundreds of lives.” He played a clip of D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty saying, “More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence.”

Note how NBC Nightly News justice correspondent Pete Williams led into a clip from Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the D.C. handgun ban:

WILLIAMS: The decision is a huge victory for advocates of gun rights and for Dick Heller who challenged the city's strict ban on handguns.

HELLER: I'm very happy that now I'm able to defend myself and my household in my own home.

Williams soon played a sympathetic clip of Paul Helmke, president of the anti-gun Brady Center, and followed with his own revealing observation about the “damage” inflicted by the Court:

HELMKE: The real issue, though, is once we get the fight over the theory, once we get the fight over what the Second Amendment means behind us, what can we do in our communities to make us safer.

WILLIAMS: Here in Washington, city officials sought to limit the damage of today's ruling, emphasizing that it struck down only the gun ban at home.


ABC's World News reporter Dan Harris: “Across the country tonight, pro-gun forces are poised to take on a whole range of gun regulations, from mandatory trigger locks to waiting periods to assault weapon bans. Gun control advocates say they are confident they can swat away many of these challenges. But they worry their hands will now be tied in the fight against urban violence.”

CBS provided both the high and low points of the Second Amendment coverage.  On the high side, anchor Katie Couric alone asked an obvious question of D.C. Mayor Fenty:  “I was surprised to hear … that this ban has been in effect for 32 years. And it was just recently challenged. If that's the case, why has the District remained one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden cities in the country with this ban in effect?” Fenty failed to explain why the gun ban had been ineffective.

The low point was the report by CBS Evening News correspondent Bill Whitaker, who delivered a one-sided drumbeat of criticisms of the ruling.  He began with a emotional clip from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley:  “Time and time again, how many children have been killed in their homes, by guns?”

A second passionate Daley clip: “The Supreme Court and Congress has no obligation to keep our country safe. It falls on the backs of mayors, and your local officials.”

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton: “The insanity continues. America's love affair with firearms has now been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein:  “And I happen to believe this is now going to open the doors to litigation against every gun safety law that states have passed.”

Following Feinstein, Whitaker introduced his villain, stage right:  “In fact, the gun lobby is wasting no time. 15 minutes after the high court's ruling, the Illinois Rifle Association filed a lawsuit challenging Chicago's ban.”

Whitaker included a few statistics to buttress his anti-gun rights case:

Chicago, which passed a gun ban similar to D.C.'S 25 years ago, had 325 gun homicides last year. A 10-year-old shot in the head, a pregnant woman gunned down, a college student shot and killed. Mayor daley said the court's decision will make his mean streets even more dangerous.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 30,000 Americans die from gun violence each year, some 80 a day. 321 killed by guns in Philadelphia last year. 114 in Oakland, California. 316 in Los Angeles.

Of course, Whitaker's job is not to present cases, but to tell both sides of the story.  He provided no information about the benefits of individual gun ownership, from the peace of mind guns provide residents of dangerous neighborhoods to the hard data about the crimes prevented and lives saved by guns each year. 

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.