Do you remember the Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig “documentary” Under the Gun, in which they lied like a rug about gun owners? Here’s how they portrayed the group of gun owners they called upon to defend expansive gun rights:
When called to defend expansive gun rights and asked how to keep guns out of the hands of felons or terrorists, they were completely stunned. Only they weren’t.
That’s the exact opposite of what the real response was. What these gun owners were not shy about sharing was a full-throated defense of the right to keep and bear arms coupled with a sober, realistic view of violence in society – and a liberal interpretation of felon rights to boot! Of course, the footage was unacceptable for Couric’s movie exactly because the response from these gun owners was compelling and reasonable. Those driven only by their narrative are hostile to anything that doesn’t fit their narrative.
Other than some ranting on firearms forums, that’s all that we would have likely heard – except that Couric and Soechtig chose the wrong patsies. They got most if not all the participants to agree to do the movie thanks to the help of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). The VCDL is well regarded in firearms circles as one of the preeminent state-level gun rights advocacy organizations. It’s leader, Phillip Van Cleave, is so accustomed to dishonest and hostile legacy media that he made a recording of the interview. The gun owners did answer, and here’s what they said:
Couric was roundly criticized. According to The Guardian, even The Washington Post got in on it:
At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple called Soechtig’s initial response to the criticism “weaselly” and wrote: “An apology, retraction, re-editing, whatever it is that film-makers do to make amends – all of it needs to happen here.”
Naturally, the VCDL sued Couric and Soechtig for defamation and libel. They claimed the deceptive editing was a knowing falsehood that damaged their reputations. Federal judge and Obama appointee John Gibney recently threw out the suit. What’s surprising are the grounds for the dismissal; Gibney ruled in part that the responses given to Couric were non-responsive.
The plaintiffs’ defamation claims fail because the interview scene is not false. Under the Gun portrays members of the VCDL not answering the question posed by Couric. In reality, members of the VCDL did not answer the question posed by Couric. They talked about background checks and gun laws generally, but did not answer the question of how to prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing guns without background checks. The editing simply dramatizes the sophistry of the VCDL members.
This route to dismiss a defamation case is unconventional at best. As noted by law professor Eugene Volokh in the Washington Post:
[T]here is no “sophistry” in either Hawes’s response or the response about felons having the right to own a gun after serving their time. Hawes’s response is simply that we should prevent misconduct by the threat of punishment, not by prescreening — of course, a controversial position, but hardly a sophistic one. The other response is a legitimate, and not at all sophistic, challenge to the premise of the question.
The VCDL has resolved to continue the fight. After the ruling, Van Cleave issued the following statement:
Today, I have directed VCDL’s attorneys to move forward with the appeal to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it will be heard by a three-judge panel “de novo” (which means the merits of the case will be heard anew with no consideration of the judge’s ruling that recently dismissed the case).
Federal appellate courts are not known for the speed of their deliberations, so it’s unclear when a ruling may come down to allow the suit or grant it’s dismissal, but Liberty Nation will report when it does.
Editor’s note: The author is a member of the VCDL and contributed to financing the litigation against Couric.