FLASH! CNN Violated Federal Firearms Law! Based on my conversations with legal experts within the firearms industry, CNN did indeed violate at least one, and probably two, federal firearms laws in their reporting of the .50 caliber controversy last week. Representatives of the industry are currently in touch with the ATF. More to come.
That's right, folks. Expert lawyers from the firearms industry are now saying that CNN broke the law. Better yet, this is not an ATF guy seeing the situation for the first time this morning and firing off a quick response to have Houston look into it. This is a reasonably considered opinion, by more than one lawyer with expertise in the area, informed and prompted by a fellow blogger who has been following the situation on his own and is thus aware of the full situation as we have developed it over the weekend.
And those lawyers thought enough of the matter that they are contacting the ATF themselves. That's serious, folks. It's not just armchair attorneys and non-attorney bloggers over drinks in the den anymore.
Now we watch the situation develop, and see how the ATF chooses to handle it.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Please feel free to browse the rest of the blog. Most of what's on the front page is related to the CNN .50 caliber report, but there's quite a bit of other stuff too. The link above the update describes the full situation with links to all the other blogs (that I know of) discussing this, but that's on the front page too, so feel free to start at the top and scroll to your heart's content.
UPDATE: Since Michael has raised the intent issue, I figure it should be addressed. As I understand it (and I should reiterate here that I am not a lawyer), there is a common law tradition of requiring ill intent before a criminal law can be violated. That means it's hard to get in serious trouble unless you deliberately did something wrong. On the other hand, that's a tradition that isn't necessarily binding, and many laws these days are explicitly intended to apply whether or not ill intent exists.
I don't see anything in the 1968 Gun Control Act that would require ill intent as a matter of law. So we're basically in the realm of prosecutorial discretion. The BATFE can choose not to prosecute CNN's reporters for this, whether they violated the law or not, for what amounts to strategic or economic reasons.
They have the same options with respect to the seller, but he doesn't have the weight of CNN behind him. Much easier target, unfortunately.
As Michael Bane noted, however, lack of ill intent doesn't excuse CNN from the ethical concerns related to this story. In particular, the ethical concerns related to doing a story on firearms law, in order to advocate gun control legislation, and getting the law wrong. (Or, at best, deliberately misleading the public about what they were representing as legal). Not that this is anything new to gun owners; the Assault Weapons Ban was a model of propaganda journalism.
The fact is, gun control laws are a mess of complex, sometimes silly, regulations that do absolutely noting to keep a determined criminal from getting his hands on a firearm. It took all weekend for a bunch of gunbloggers to figure out if what CNN did was legal or not, and we know the law on this narrow subject about as well as any layman can. CNN has an expensive legal staff for stories like this, and they missed a detail with months to set up the story.
How can any normal person expect to safely navigate the law just to own a gun or two for self-defense, hunting, or civil defense? If you make a mistake, the consequences are huge: a federal felony, and forbidden to possess a gun for the rest of your life. In America, gun ownership is both a right and a duty. It's time we brought the laws of our Congress back in line with the laws of our Constitution:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The simple fact is that CNN didn't commit a common law crime, where mens rea is an element of guilt. No, instead they violated a statute that provides for strict liability, ir-regardless of intent. Your reading is correct Michael.
As a practical man, I must admit that I doubt the BATFE will actually prosecute anyone at CNN, regardless of what the law says, unless serious pressure is applied to force them to do so. The question they will most likely be asking is not, "What is the correct reading of the law?" but "What is the reading of the law that will allow us to avoid having CNN as an enemy?"
Justice, however, requires it. Equal justice, for all: CNN reporters included.