Last week after tragedy struck Virginia Tech and a gunman took 32 innocent lives, the media portrayed legal businesses as complicit in the murders.
The media coverage quickly turned into a raging debate about gun control, with reporters on the three major networks blaming a number of businesses that committed no crime. ABC’s Brian Ross was the worst offender, painting Roanoke Firearms as the villain on several different ABC programs.
“The Roanoke Firearms store where Seing-Hui Cho bought his murder weapon has a history of selling guns involved in murders. It is the fifth time a gun sold in this store has been used in a homicide, according to gun shop owner, John Markell,” said Ross on the April 18 “Good Morning America.”
While five incidents may sound high, Ross didn’t include the time period involved or how many firearms are sold each year in Mr. Markell’s store. The gun shop sells roughly 2,500 firearms every single year, according to “CBS Evening News.”
Ross repeated that slanted statement in slightly different words on April 17 “Primetime Live,” when he called the store one “that has sold guns involved in four previous murders, but none like this one.”
Gun makers Glock and Walther were both blamed by Diane Sawyer, who told viewers, “We’re gonna be telling you more about the lives those guns took later on in the broadcast.” That was on April 18 “Good Morning America.”
CNN’s “American Morning” also maligned Glock by calling the 9 mm a “paramilitary weapon” on April 17.
The Gun Source, an online firearms store, eBay and Dick’s Sporting Goods were also implicated by reports.
Tarring Small Business
John Markell is the owner of Roanoke Firearms, the store where Seing-Hui Cho legally purchased a 9 mm Glock used in the Blacksburg, Va., shooting.
“I was so heartbroken to find out it came from me. I mean I could have done nothing any different. There was no reason for me to deny the sale. We deny sales to people every day,” Markell told CNN.
But ABC’s Brian Ross made Markell look like a willing accomplice to homicide when he said the store “has a history of selling guns involved in murders,” on “Good Morning America.”
Similarly, CBS “Evening News” also besmirched Markell’s reputation on April 17.
“Roanoke Firearms sells about 2,500 guns a year, and this isn’t the first time his guns have been linked to crime,” said Armen Keteyian. The CBS reporter cited ATF records that link 32 guns “to purchases from the Roanoke store” between 1999 and 2003. That would be less than 0.27 percent of all the guns sold at the Roanoke shop.
Since the shooting, people have sent hateful emails and death threats to Markell, and Roanoke Firearms had to temporarily shut down the store’s Web site. Part of a message on the site was addressed to those letter writers.
“How many of you called the company who sold Timothy McVeigh the diesel fuel or fertilizer he used to make the bomb in Oklahoma City, or the company that rented him the Ryder truck? Should we outlaw diesel fuel and trucks?” the statement said.
The backlash against Markell was so severe that he went on CNN’s “Larry King Live”  on April 18 to defend himself.
Regarding the threats against Markell King said, “That’s kind of ironic that people opposed to guns are threatening you with bodily harm.”
After Markell told King that two callers had called him a murderer, King replied: “Now, that’s totally unfair, John.”
EBay Under Attack
Internet giant eBay also came under criticism from the news media on April 21.
“NBC has also learned that Cho purchased ammunition clips on eBay. Not illegal, but capable of holding 30 rounds for the kind of gun that Cho used,” reported Tom Costello on the April 21 “Nightly News.”
“Ammo from eBay?” blared the misleading headline that indicated that Cho had purchased ammunition through eBay, when he had actually just purchased empty magazines.
A ‘Paramilitary’ Firearm
“American Morning” bashed Austrian gun manufacturer Glock on April 17.
After calling the handgun a “paramilitary weapon,” CNN’s Greg Hunter said, “That’s made to shoot a lot of rounds, fast.”
Later in the broadcast, anchor John Roberts continued to parrot that line. “[Glock] started out its life in America really as something that law enforcement, paramilitary organizations used but now has become a very popular weapon …”
CBS “48 Hours” included a subtle condemnation of Glock by attacking 9 mm’s in an April 17 report. Reporter Erin Moriarty interspersed extensive anti-gun commentary from New Jersey Sheriff Armando Fontura with her own statements.
“The 9 mm today is the weapon of choice … It’s a sexy weapon. It just looks good, looks good. And our young people are, obviously, uh you know, are enjoying that and they’re learning from that,” said Fontura.
“But it’s not just a gun that can turn a shooter into a mass killer,” Moriarty added. “It’s also the size of the magazine, or the clip, containing the ammunition that can allow the shooter to fire numerous times without having to reload.”
Another program criticized the Austrian gun company even less obviously by showing part of a book titled “Glock” while quoting an anti-gun spokeswoman.
Media’s Anti-Gun Agenda
All the media finger-pointing was used to leverage the Virginia Tech tragedy into a commentary on gun control.
Ross expressed his views on Virginia’s “lax” gun laws in the same “Good Morning America” segment where he attacked Markell and Roanoke Firearms. Admitting the legality of everything Seung-Hui Cho did, Ross attacked the law.
“The fact is, until he stepped on the campus with his weapons, everything about Cho’s purchase of those two guns was entirely legal under current U.S. and Virginia laws. And some say, Diane, that’s the scandal,” concluded Ross.
CBS “48 Hours” said on April 17 that the “massacre of 32 people yesterday is likely to reignite an old debate.”
Moriarty’s report included a statement from Markell who said there is no reason to blame the gun, but followed with an immediate rebuttal from Sheriff Fontura.
“These are instruments of death. That’s what they are. Guns are instruments of death. They’re not for any other purpose. We need to remember that,” concluded Fontura.
Larry Pratt of the pro-Second Amendment group Gun Owners of America disagreed with calls for more gun control.
“Had the system blocked him [from legally buying a firearm], he would have gone and gotten his gun the way criminals do anyway … The whole country of England has banned guns, and yet criminals have twice as many guns the police estimate as they confiscated from the legal gun owners 10 years ago,” explained Pratt on the April 19 CNN “American Morning.”
Pratt also responded to comments from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) that if students were armed it would result in more “deaths coming down the road.”
“The population of people who have concealed carry permits usually 21 and above, are the lowest in the crime rates of any of the population of our country,” said Pratt, “We should be encouraging these people to be on the campus because they are the most responsible.”
McCarthy, whose husband was killed and her son seriously injured in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting, is one of the leading gun-grabbers in Congress. She was interviewed by ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN following the Virginia Tech shootings.
But what the media obscured in the rush to place blame on businesses and current gun laws was that only one person was responsible for the Virginia Tech tragedy. The Roanoke Firearms Web site reminded people of this:
“One individual bears the responsibility for the heinous acts committed at Virginia Tech, and that is Cho Seung-Hui.”