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Does CNN Not Understand How Gun Laws Work?


CNN published on Tuesday a comprehensive update on the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte, North Carolina. The article, entitled “Keith Scott Shooting: What we know a week later” and written by CNN reporters Catherine Shoichet and Polo Sandoval, purports to tell readers all of the relevant facts surrounding the shooting. Unfortunately, the CNN report leaves out some vital facts while wildly misstating or misrepresenting others.

The most glaring omission in the report is any mention that police witnessed Scott in possession of illegal drugs. That fact is key, because Scott’s simultaneous possession of a firearm and use of illegal drugs is a glaring violation of both state and federal law. When police initially witnessed Scott in possession of marijuana, which is illegal under both federal law and North Carolina law, they chose to ignore it, because they were in the area to serve a warrant on a separate individual. He was not a priority at that time. Police did not move in on Scott until they also witnessed him brandishing a gun while under the influence of illegal drugs.

It is impossible to understand how or why police chose to confront Scott without knowing about his use of illegal drugs and his illegal possession of a firearm while under the influence of illegal drugs. Here’s how Slate described the importance of this fact in this article with the headline “Marijuana Possession Played Key Role in Police Shooting of Keith Scott”:

Possession of marijuana played a significant role in the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney said during a news conference that officers were trying to serve a warrant for someone else when they spotted Scott rolling “what they believed to be a marijuana ‘blunt’ ” in his car. At first they allegedly didn’t think much of it, until they saw Scott had a weapon and thought, “uh-oh, this is a safety issue for us and the public,” Putney said.

The omission by CNN of Scott’s drug use is by itself enough to tar the rest of CNN’s attempt at objective reporting, but CNN’s reporting only gets worse from there. In fact, it appears that CNN has little to no understanding about the federal and state laws governing possession and use of handguns in North Carolina:

Officers decided to approach Scott after Officer Brentley Vinson saw Scott hold up a gun up while in his SUV, police have said.

North Carolina is an open-carry state, meaning gun owners can carry their firearms in public and openly in their vehicles.

That is not true. North Carolina law does not allow all “gun owners” to carry firearms in public and openly in their vehicles. North Carolina law allows legal gun owners to openly carry firearms in public without a permit. Scott was not a legal gun owner by any stretch of the imagination. As a formerly imprisoned felon convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Scott was permanently banned from gun possession and gun ownership by both federal and state law.

In addition to omitting Scott’s illegal drug use, CNN also conveniently forgot to disclose that Scott was not allowed to so much as touch a gun, let alone carry one around in public. Scott’s gun possession didn’t just violate one gun law (the law against felon possession), but two (the law against possession while under the influence). CNN didn’t see fit to mention either of these key facts, which undoubtedly influenced the police decision to confront him.

But let’s get back to CNN’s implication that Scott was legally allowed to be handling his firearm in his car because North Carolina is an “open carry” state. CNN’s passive-aggressive assertion requires a near-total ignorance of how open-carry laws like those in North Carolina actually work.

For starters, Scott was not “open carrying.” He was actually carrying his weapon concealed in an ankle holster, and he was doing so without a permit (state law prohibits the state from issuing concealed carry permits to convicted felons like Scott). According to the North Carolina Department of Justice, “It is unlawful to transport a weapon (absent a proper permit) that is BOTH concealed and readily accessible to a person.” Even if Scott were not prohibited from carrying any weapon, concealed or otherwise, his method of carry in his vehicle was a clear violation of North Carolina law. A gun concealed in an ankle holster, itself concealed by someone’s pants, is the near-polar opposite of “open carrying.”

This brings us to CNN’s next egregious error. “Open carry” laws do not allow individuals to walk around in public with a gun in their hand. In the absence of an imminent mortal threat which requires the threat and potential use of deadly force, handling a firearm in public is a gigantic no-no. The term used for this type of illegal handling is called “brandishing.” Open-carry laws do not, by any stretch of the imagination, authorize individuals to brandish firearms or to openly handle them in such a manner that a reasonable person would take the exhibition of the weapon to be a threat.

Contrary to what CNN suggested, the term “open carry” has a near-universal legal definition: it is the visible carrying (not handling) of a weapon via a visible holster for handguns, or via a shoulder or chest-mounted sling for a rifle. Police officers open-carry their handguns on a belt-mounted holster, usually on their hips.

Rather than lawfully open carrying, as CNN implies Scott was doing, Scott was actually a felon (legally banned from gun possession) under the influence of drugs (which also legally bans an individual from gun possession) who was carrying a concealed weapon (which is banned for non-permit holders) which he then brandished (also illegal) and which he then refused to surrender to police (also illegal).

It would be extremely difficult for Scott to have simultaneously violated any more gun laws than he did. Police saw him smoking marijuana and decided to give him a pass on his apparent penchant for weed since they were focused on more important matters. It wasn’t until Scott, by openly using illegal drugs while in possession of a firearm, left police no choice but to confront him. Yet CNN didn’t just refuse to provide that information, its reporters went out of their way to mischaracterize North Carolina’s gun laws. Its readers deserve better than lies and half-truths about what happened in Charlotte.