The attorney general for the District of Columbia, Irvin Nathan, announced Friday that he will not press charges against NBC News’ David Gregory nor any employee of the broadcast network for violating the city’s gun laws. Violation of the city’s firearms laws carry a maximum $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
Mr. Nathan wrote to an attorney representing Mr. Gregory and NBC News, Lee Levine of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, that, “OAG has made this determination, despite the clarity of the violation of this important law, because under all of the circumstances here a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District to whom this office owes its trust.”
In the three-page letter, Mr. Nathan also wrote that “no specific intent is required for this violation, and ignorance of the law or even confusion about it is no defense.” He said, “We therefore did not rely in making our judgment on the feeble and unsatisfactory efforts that NBC made to determine whether or not it was lawful to possess, display and broadcast this large capacity magazine as a means of fostering the public policy debate.”
The full text of the letter is at the bottom of this story.
The “Meet the Press” anchor ignored police guidance and held up an illegal 30-round rifle magazine in his D.C. studio during an interview on Dec. 23 with the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre on gun-control laws.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) concluded the three-and-a-half week investigation into the allegations — seen live on national TV — without an arrest by turning over the facts to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
In 2012, the police arrested at least 105 people for charges that included possession of a magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds. The OAG charged 15 of those people in cases that included a “high-capacity feeding device or extended clip.”
Ted Gest, the OAG’s spokesman, explained that, “This does not mean that the 105 arrests were presented to us and we charged only 15. Most of the arrests never made it to us — MPD either didn’t bring them to us or brought them to the U.S. Attorney.”
One of the 15 charged was James Brinkley, an Army veteran and federal employee, who was arrested and jailed while legally transporting his unloaded Glock 22 to the range with the two standard 15-round magazines that came with the pistol.
D.C. Assistant Attorney General Rachel Bohlen offered Mr. Brinkley a deal to plead guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm in return for unsupervised probation. He refused to falsely admit guilt.
“I hadn’t done anything wrong,” he told me in an interview. “I felt in my heart I was doing the right thing. I was going to stand up, no matter what the outcome would be.”
In fact, Mr. Nathan wrote in his letter about letting off Mr. Gregory: “We have a history of aggressively prosecuting violations of this statute where the circumstances warrant. There is no doubt of the gravity of the illegal conduct in this matter,especially in a city and a nation that have been plagued by carnage from gun violence.”
After a heated trial, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Carroll Wingo gave a lengthy and thoughtful decision on the case and acquitted Mr. Brinkley of all the firearms charges.
It is shameful that the politicians running the nation’s capital have sent the clear message that there are two systems of justice in the city — one for the rich and powerful and one for everyone else.
Text of Letter:
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Office of the Attorney General
Lee Levine, Esq.
Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP
1899 L Street, N.W., Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20036
Re: Meet The Press
Dear Mr. Levine:
As you know, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has referred to this office (OAG) the results of its investigation of the broadcast by your client, the National Broadcasting Company(NBC), of the news program “Meet the Press” on Sunday December 23,2012. On that broadcast, during the course of an interview of a guest regarding firearms policy in the United States, the program host, David Gregory, exhibited on camera a large capacity ammunition feeding device (“magazine”) in violation of D.C. law. I have also received and reviewed your letter to me of January 9, 2013, explaining the circumstances under which Mr. Gregory came into possession of the magazine, the purported confusion from the allegedly conflicting advice from federal and local law enforcement sources, and assurances by your client of future compliance with our laws.
The device in the host’s possession on that broadcast was a magazine capable of holding up to 30 rounds of ammunition. The host also possessed and displayed another ammunition magazine capable of holding five to ten rounds of ammunition. Neither magazine contained any ammunition nor was either connected to any firearm. The broadcast took place from NBC studios located at 4001 Nebraska Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C.
It is unlawful under D.C. Code Section 7-2506.01(b) for any person while in the District of Columbia to “possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm” or loaded. Under the Subsection, the term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” means a “magazine, belt, drum, feed strip or similar devicethat has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept more than tenrounds of ammunition.” Under D.C. Code Section 7-2507.06, any person convicted of a violation of this Subsection may be imprisoned for not more than one year, fined not more than $1,000,
The larger of the two ammunition feeding devices in question here meets the definition under the statute. OAG has responsibility for prosecuting such offenses and takes that responsibility very seriously. We have a history of aggressively prosecuting violations of this statute where the circumstances warrant. There is no doubt of the gravity ofthe illegal conduct in this matter,especially in a city and a nation that have been plagued by carnage from gun violence. Of course,the recent tragic, heart-breaking events, particularly at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which appear to have led to the program in question, also underscore our belief in the vigorous enforcement of such laws.
Having carefully reviewed all of the facts and circumstances of this matter, as it does in every case involving firearms-related offenses or any other potential violation of D.C. law within our criminal jurisdiction, OAG has determined to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated with the December 23, 2012 broadcast. OAG has made this determination, despite the clarity of the violation of this important law, because under all of the circumstances here a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District to whom this office owes its trust.
Influencing our judgment in this case, among other things, is our recognition that the intent of the temporary possession and short display of the magazine was to promote the First Amendment purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy in the United States,especially while this subject was foremost in the minds of the public following the previously mentioned events in Connecticut and the President’s speech to the nation about them. There were, however, other legal means available to demonstrate the point and to pursue this line of questioning with the guest that were suggested to NBC and that could have and should have been pursued.
OAG also appreciates that the magazine was immediately returned to the source that NBC understood to be its lawful owner outside of the District and that the magazine in question, with NBC’s assistance, has been surrendered to MPD. OAG also recognizes the cooperation NBC has provided in the investigation of this matter.
On the other hand, no specific intent is required for this violation, and ignorance of the law or even confusion about it is no defense. We therefore did not rely in making our judgment on the feeble and unsatisfactory efforts that NBC made to determine whether or not it was lawful to possess, display and broadcast this large capacity magazine as a means of fostering the public policy debate. Although there appears to have been some misinformation provided initially, NBC was clearly and timely advised by an MPD employee that its plans to exhibit on thebroadcast a high capacity-magazine would violate D.C. law, and there was no contrary advicefrom any federal official. While you argue that some NBC employees subjectively felt uncertainas to whether its planned actions were lawful or not, we do not believe such uncertainty was justified and we note that NBC has now acknowledged that its interpretation of the information it received was incorrect.
NBC should be made aware that OAG’s decision not to press charges in this matter was a very close decision and not one to which it came lightly or easily. Accordingly, NBC and its employees should take meticulous care in the future to ensure that it is in full compliance with D.C. law whether its actions involve firearms or any other potential violation. Repetition by NBC or any employee of any similar or other firearms violation will be prosecuted to the fullextent supported by the facts and the law.
I am confident that you will convey our deep concern and warning to your client.
Irvin B. Nathan
Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times. Her “Emily Gets Her Gun” series on the District’s gun laws won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.