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No charges over NBC ammo clip display

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
January 12, 2013 -- Updated 0225 GMT (1025 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 'Meet the Press' host displayed empty high-capacity ammo clip on air
  • DC prosecutor said city law violated, but no charges will be filed
  • NBC's efforts to determine what it could do legally were unsatisfactory, prosecutor says
  • Show followed school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut

Washington (CNN) -- No employees of NBC will face criminal charges over the display of a high-capacity ammunition magazine on a "Meet the Press" program in violation of local law in Washington, prosecutors told the network on Friday.

The capital city's attorney general, Irvin Nathan, said in a letter to NBC there would be no charges, but added that it was "a very close decision."

Nathan also said "there is no doubt of the gravity of the illegal conduct in this matter, especially in a city and a nation that have been plagued by carnage from gun violence."

The letter also confirmed the 30-round magazine displayed by show host David Gregory on December 23 was empty. At the time, Gregory was interviewing Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, a strong opponent of new gun control proposals.

Nathan said the network used the magazine with the "purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy" not long after the school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Even an empty magazine violates city law. Conviction carries a possible sentence of up to a year in jail as well as a possible fine of up to $1,000.

A police spokeswoman said that NBC asked before the program whether it would be legal to show a high capacity magazine on air and was told no.

An official with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives told CNN he consulted with city police after receiving a similar request from NBC and was told an empty magazine would not be a problem.

The official passed the information to NBC, but later learned there was a "miscommunication" with police and that showing an empty magazine would, indeed, violate the law.

The official said he did not give NBC permission to use a magazine.

In his letter, Nathan referred to "feeble and unsatisfactory efforts" made by NBC to find out what it could legally do.

"Although there appears to have been some misinformation provided initially, NBC was clearly and timely advised by a (Metropolitan Police Department) employee that its plans to exhibit on the broadcast a high capacity magazine would violate D.C. law, and there was no contrary advice from any federal official," Nathan said.

He added that any uncertainty about the law was unjustified.

"Meet the Press" issued an e-mailed statement following Nathan's decision.

"We displayed the empty magazine solely for journalistic purposes to help illustrate an important issue for our viewers," the show said. "We accept the District of Columbia Attorney General's admonishment, respect his decision and will have no further comment on this matter."

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