A man accused of violating Washington, D.C.'s gun laws is conservative media's latest dubious "hero" in its ongoing effort to attack stronger gun laws.
Right-wing media are defending a Washington, D.C. man on trial for possessing unregistered ammunition by making a flawed comparison between his situation and NBC News host David Gregory's display of a high-capacity ammunition magazine on Meet the Press following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Conservative media's complaint that Washington, D.C. financial advisor Mark Witaschek faces trial while Gregory faced no criminal charges ignores that those two situations rest upon entirely different circumstances.
On the December 23, 2012, edition of Meet the Press, Gregory showed, for demonstration purposes, a 30-round high-capacity ammunition magazine like the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed 26 lives nine days earlier. In Washington, it is illegal to own a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. NBC apparently ran the segment after a miscommunication with law enforcement. Gregory's display of the magazine angered conservative media including Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller who wrote that Gregory "should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." In January 2013, Washington prosecutors announced that Gregory would not be charged with a crime in a letter that explained, "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."
Witaschek's legal problems began in the summer of 2012. Following alarming allegations that Witaschek threatened his "estranged wife" with a gun, police visited his home on two occasions. During both visits, police found unregistered ammunition in Witaschek's home. In Washington, D.C., only individuals who have registered firearms may possess ammunition. Witaschek was charged with violating Washington's gun laws. The charge from the first police visit was thrown out because even though Witaschek consented to a search, the visit was conducted without a warrant. Witaschek was offered a plea deal that included no jail time and a $500 fine to resolve the charge from the second police visit, which was performed with a warrant. Witaschek rejected the offer and plans to go to trial on the remaining charge.
It's a stretch to compare the allegations against Witaschek to Gregory's display of an ammunition magazine for educational purposes, yet conservative media have lauded Witaschek, crying unfair persecution. In some cases conservative media have even distorted the circumstances of Witaschek's case to present him as a more sympathetic figure.
Miller, who first brought attention to Witaschek's case, has written "[t]he charges against Mr. Witaschek should be dropped" and called him a "hero" on the National Rifle Association's televised news show. In a January 20 column for the Times, Miller lamented that Gregory got off "scot-free" and wrote, "Mr. Witaschek deserves the same treatment as the powerful TV anchor Mr. Gregory."
Fox News has also hyped the flawed Gregory comparison to defend Witaschek. On the February 11 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Clayton Morris said "It seems to me a double standard. David Gregory of NBC when he held up on camera a 30-round magazine and he got let off scot-free." Morris concluded the segment by wishing Witaschek "the best of luck" at an upcoming court hearing.
Morris described the execution of a valid search warrant against Witaschek as "the government coming into your home." Witaschek also presented a sanitized version of the domestic abuse allegations against him which he described thusly: "I had a former relationship that I was in and this person accused me of making a threat and as soon as she mentioned firearms to the police they took a great deal of interest in it."
A January 25 Witaschek appearance on Fox & Friends Saturday featured no mention of the initial domestic abuse allegation. In fact, the issue was obfuscated by co-host Tucker Carlson who asked, "Do you have a long record of violent crimes?" to which Witaschek replied, "Nothing, absolutely nothing."
Carlson said that "it's hard for our viewers to believe this happened in America," suggested we are living in a "police state," and described Witaschek as "a victim of gun control gone completely crazy." Making the Gregory comparison, Carlson said, "Witaschek faces jail time even more and a hefty fine, but the same man prosecuting him chose not to go after NBC News anchor David Gregory when he broke the law by showing a 30-round magazine on television."
During the segment, on-screen graphics charged that Witaschek was the victim of a "D.C. Double Standard" and claimed that a "Normal Guy Wasn't Given 'David Gregory Deal'":
Members of conservative media involved in the gun issue have often championed dubious figures to promote their view of gun rights and attack stronger gun laws. In recent weeks NRA News has honored a man facing charges he raped a minor, and two men involved in less-than-clear-cut cases of self-defense, including a shooter who police want charged with a felony and the case of a man whose murder conviction for shooting his tenant under disputed circumstances was recently overturned. In March 2013, NRA News host Cam Edwards called for illegal gun possession charges to be dropped against a New York linen mogel who was arrested after using a gun to scare off a would-be burglar. The man was arrested because he was on trial for felony domestic abuse and was thus prohibited by law from owning a gun.