Culture

Forget Manipulative Editing — Katie Couric’s Team Likely Violated Federal Law

Under the Gun director Stephanie Soechtig (via YouTube)
The delicious irony of gun-control advocates breaking laws in an effort to prove they don’t exist

The plot thickens. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that Stephanie Soechtig, the director of a Katie Couric–fronted gun-control infomercial titled Under the Gun, had selectively edited her interviewees’ testimony in order to make them look dumb. Now, it seems that Soechtig and her team may have bigger problems than having been caught in a lie: One or more among them may be heading toward a felony charge.

During a recent television interview, Soechtig claimed indignantly that she had sent a co-producer from Colorado into the state of Arizona, where he made contact with a private gun seller and purchased three handguns and a “Bushmaster” rifle. According to Soechtig, that these transactions were “perfectly legal” demonstrates that the laws need changing.

The problem for Soechtig — and for her broader argument — is that these transactions weren’t in fact legal. Not even close. Under existing federal law, one may obtain firearms outside of one’s state of residence only from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Moreover, at least until Mance v. Lynch is resolved, one may legally obtain a handgun only in one’s own state of residence. If, as Soechtig claims, a Colorado resident purchased three handguns and a rifle from a private seller in another state, he broke federal law at least four times.

Tellingly, Soechtig has changed her story. On June 6, she posted the following message to Facebook:

While it may seem hard to believe that one could buy these types of guns this easily, all purchases in the film were made completely legally. Arizona law allows out-of-state residents to buy long guns (i.e. rifles, shotguns, military style assault rifles) from a private seller without a background check. It also allows Arizona residents to buy handguns from a private seller without a background check.

We demonstrated both versions of this dangerous loophole in the film on a hidden camera, in full compliance with both state and federal laws. The rifles — including a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, the gun used in the Aurora massacre — were purchased by an out of state resident. The handgun was purchased by an Arizona resident.

These guns were then turned over to law enforcement and destroyed. They never left the state of Arizona.

Note the subtle revisions in the tale above:

  1. In her TV interview, Soechtig claimed that her buyer obtained three handguns and one rifle. In her Facebook message she inverts this, referring to multiple “rifles” and one “handgun.”
  2. In her TV interview, Soechtig claimed that the buyer of all the guns was from Colorado. In her Facebook message, she claims that the Colorado resident bought the rifles, but that the handgun was bought by “an Arizona resident.”
  3. In her TV interview, Soechtig claimed that her Colorado-based co-producer bought a “Bushmaster” rifle — the one that “was used at Newtown.” In her Facebook message, she claims that the rifle was a “Smith and Wesson M&P 15” — the one that was “used in the Aurora massacre.”

If it looks as if Soechtig has realized what she’s done, panicked, spoken to a lawyer, and then publicly revised her story, that’s because she almost certainly has. Unfortunately for her, though, she’s going to need a better lawyer. Why? Well, because what she describes here is still illegal. As I noted earlier, federal law prohibits the rifle transactions that Soechtig claims took place. Per the ATF’s summary of 18 U.S.C 922(a)(3); 27 CFR 478.29:

Generally, a person may only acquire a firearm within the person’s own State. Exceptions include the acquisition pursuant to a lawful bequest, or an over-the-counter acquisition of a rifle or shotgun from a licensee where the transaction is allowed by the purchaser’s State of residence and the licensee’s State of business. A person may borrow or rent a firearm in any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes.

That this is indeed the rule is confirmed by a quick look at the ATF’s guides for FFLs, and, for that matter, by every gun-store website in the country.

RELATED: Katie Couric Should be Ashamed of Herself

As for the text of the underlying law, there is only one enumerated exemption contained within, and that is for those who are receiving firearms outside of their home state for “lawful sporting purposes.” Whatever this could plausibly be construed to mean, it cannot help Soechtig and Co. in the slightest, because a) the ATF and the courts uniformly treat this provision as applying only to those who are temporarily acquiring firearms, and Soechtig’s proxy bought the guns in question, and b) Soechtig’s proxy did not obtain the guns for “lawful sporting purposes,” and there is in consequence no way to argue that he was exempt.

Which is to say that there is no doubt that Soechtig’s Colorado-based co-producer was flatly prohibited from obtaining a rifle in Arizona without the involvement of an FFL. If he did so three times regardless, he committed three separate felonies. (Not to mention that if he bought four guns under direct orders from Soechtig, both he and she could be charged with violating the “straw-purchasing” laws.)

#share#While on the topic, it is also worth our looking at Soechtig’s claims that the obtained “guns were then turned over to law enforcement and destroyed” and that, in consequence, “they never left the state of Arizona.” The latter claim is, of course, legally irrelevant. Given that we are dealing with federal law, it doesn’t matter what the rules in Arizona say; and, besides, it is the transaction that is illegal here, not the crossing of state borders. If Stephanie Soechtig believes that Americans are free to violate federal law providing that the fruits of their crimes don’t leave the state in which they were garnered . . . well, she’s even more hopeless than she seems. As to the former point, it seems entirely possible that this, too, is a lie.

As the renowned firearms lawyer Alan Korwin notes over at The Federalist, Arizona doesn’t actually offer the magical gun-destroying service that Soechtig claims to have used:

As a practical matter, Arizona authorities gather firearms they receive, hold them in a property office, and through a long, deliberate court-involved process decide what the proper disposition of the goods should be. When firearms are in useable condition, they are very often recycled and used by the agency that received them. The Bushmaster rifle Couric’s team obtained, highly prized by police (though vilified in Couric’s report) is a candidate for salvation.

In this case, however, the relinquished guns are evidence in possible felony offenses, so it defies credulity and common sense to assume they were simply destroyed because Couric or her producer would like them to be, as they have claimed they are.

Moreover, there are laws in Arizona that prevent the summary destruction of property:

In the law commonly referred to as the Protection of Firearms in Official Custody act, property was redefined to include any guns that might come into officials’ possession for any reason. According to The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide (26th Edition), they must be safely kept, honestly valued, and handled only as defined by law. If officials take a gun from you, they must give you a detailed receipt, including how to retrieve it. Couric and her team would have gotten such receipts and instructions, or something is amiss, including their statements about destruction. This calls for further investigation of both the receiving agency and Couric’s team.

Presumably, it won’t be too long until Soechtig pens another panicked Facebook post and alters her story here, too.

#related#To sum up Soechtig’s case, then: The United States doesn’t have enough laws regulating firearms, which is why Soechtig’s team was able to buy a Bushmaster and three handguns in another state without a background check or any paperwork, but actually they didn’t do that because it turns out that that’s illegal, so on second thought they got a state resident to buy one handgun and an out-of-state resident to buy three non-Bushmaster rifles, and, even though that’s flagrantly illegal too, it’s actually not because the can-you-believe-we-did-this? exemption changes everything, and anyway federal law doesn’t apply if you don’t leave the state and if you manage to somehow convince the police to quickly melt property that is protected by law, and, oh screw it, something must be done! and if it saves one life! and why oh why oh why oh why is the National Rifle Association so damn mean?

Or, put another way, Soechtig is making precisely the sort of ignorant, malleable, and downright dishonest charges that we have come to expect from a gun-control movement that never, ever bothers to learn anything about a topic on which it has such strong opinions. It would be supremely amusing if, in an attempt to mislead the public into believing that what is illegal is legal, Soechtig or a member of her team ended up imprisoned for having ignored the very laws that they routinely pretend do not exist.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

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