December 29, 2012
This is, declared NYU professor Jay Rosen, “the dumbest media story of 2012.” Why? Because, as CNN’s Howard Kurtz breezily put it, everybody knows David Gregory wasn’t “planning to commit any crimes.”
So what? Neither are the overwhelming majority of his fellow high-capacity-magazine-owning Americans. Yet they’re expected to know, as they drive around visiting friends and family over Christmas, the various and contradictory gun laws in different jurisdictions. Ignorantia juris non excusat is one of the oldest concepts in civilized society: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Back when there was a modest and proportionate number of laws, that was just about doable. But in today’s America there are laws against everything, and any one of us at any time is unknowingly in breach of dozens of them. And in this case NBC were informed by the D.C. police that it would be illegal to show the thing on TV, and they went ahead and did it anyway: You’ll never take me alive, copper! You’ll have to pry my high-capacity magazine from my cold dead fingers! When the D.C. SWAT team, the FBI, and the ATF take out NBC News and the whole building goes up in one almighty fireball, David Gregory will be the crazed loon up on the roof like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” At last, some actual must-see TV on that lousy network.
But, even if we’re denied that pleasure, the “dumbest media story of 2012” is actually rather instructive. David Gregory intended to demonstrate what he regards as the absurdity of America’s lax gun laws. Instead, he’s demonstrating the ever greater absurdity of America’s non-lax laws. His investigation, prosecution, and a sentence of 20–30 years with eligibility for parole after ten (assuming Mothers Against High-Capacity Magazines don’t object) would teach a far more useful lesson than whatever he thought he was doing by waving that clip under LaPierre’s nose.
To Howard Kurtz & Co., it’s “obvious” that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, “obviousness” is one of the first casualties — and “obviously” innocent citizens have their “obviously” well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, eleven-year-old Skylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so “obvious” that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth grader? Because he’s got a TV show and she hasn’t?