WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia prosecutors received scores of emails from citizens upset because NBC television journalist David Gregory was not criminally charged for displaying a high-capacity ammunition magazine on his "Meet the Press" show.
Prosecutors received roughly 50 emails demanding that Gregory be charged, plus more than 150 others expressing outrage in the days after officials decided to not prosecute him. The Associated Press obtained the messages through a public records request.
The emails were sent by people from around the country, including some self-identified gun owners and Second Amendment supporters, who accused prosecutors of hypocritically and unevenly enforcing D.C.'s strict gun laws and of giving Gregory preferential treatment. Some said the decision underscored the absurdity of strict gun laws and set a bad legal precedent; others sarcastically asked if they'd be similarly shielded from prosecution if they brought ammunition magazines to the nation's capital.
The display of the ammunition magazine attracted immediate scrutiny, coming just more than a week after a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Connecticut, killing 20 children and six adults, and presented a high-profile test for prosecutors about how to enforce strict municipal gun laws in the massacre's wake.
"Thank you for so publicly showing how the justice system in this country functions," Thomas D. Paton, of Burtchville, Mich., wrote D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the evening the opinion was announced.
"It is good to know that there is one set of laws for the common man, and a more lenient set of laws for the elite. Your decision to allow Mr. Gregory to flaunt the law your office has aggressively pursued in the past, by your own office's admission, then to publicly give him a pass on it, goes to show that justice is for sale in this country if you can afford it."
Paton, an engineering technician, said Friday that he decided to send the email to protest what he called an "obvious double standard" in the enforcement of the law.
Another email, sent by 42-year-old Chad Alberts of Boulder, Colo., carried a similar message. "In regards to the David Gregory case I am extremely disappointed to hear that the law only applies to 'some' in the city of Washington D.C. What ever happened to equality? I will be sure to stay away from your town in the future."
Alberts, who is self-employed, said Friday he didn't think the law on ammunition feeders should exist at all, but if it did, it should apply to everyone.
A "Meet the Press" spokeswoman declined to comment on the reaction to the decision. Ted Gest, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment on the messages except to say that it was unquestionably a larger response than the office — which represents the city in legal matters and handles lower-level crimes — is accustomed to receiving.
The office has pushed back against allegations of a double standard by noting no one has been prosecuted in the past year for the sole charge of possessing a high-capacity ammunition magazine. People charged with that crime also had been charged with more serious offenses.
D.C. police began investigating Gregory after he held up a 30-round ammunition magazine as a prop during a Dec. 23 discussion on gun control with Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. Such a device is illegal under the city's gun laws even when detached from a firearm. The D.C. police department said it advised NBC it would be illegal to display the device, but NBC has said it received conflicting guidance.
Some letter writers asserted LaPierre would have been more likely to end up prosecuted had he been holding the magazine instead of Gregory. NRA president David Keene has said that Gregory should not have been charged and that his display demonstrated the law was "silly."
Nathan, the attorney general, said in a Jan. 11 letter to a lawyer for "Meet the Press" that while the decision was a close call, he had concluded that it wouldn't serve the public's best interest to prosecute Gregory. He said he appreciated that the magazine was used "to promote the First Amendment purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy in the United States."
That reasoning prompted particular ridicule from some email writers who said they interpreted the opinion to mean that they could freely display their own high-capacity magazines in Washington, even in front of the White House, without risking arrest.