United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
VIRGINIA CITIZENS DEFENSE LEAGUE, DANIEL L. HAWES, and PATRICIA WEBB, Plaintiffs,
KATIE COURIC, STEPHANIE SOECHTIG, ATLAS FILMS LLC, and STUDIO 3 PARTNERS, LLC, Defendants.
A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.
2016 film Under the Gun deals with the social issues
of gun control and the proliferation of firearms in the
United States. The film includes an interview with members of
the Virginia Citizens Defense League (the "VCDL"),
a gun rights advocacy organization. At one point during the
interview, Under the Gun shows VCDL's members
apparently stumped when an interviewer asks how to keep
felons and terrorists from getting guns without background
checks. In the real interview, the VCDL members responded to
the question, but their responses did not actually answer the
question. They either could not, or would not, say how to
keep felons and others from obtaining firearms without
VCDL and two of its members have sued the director, producer,
and distributor of the film for defamation. The defendants
have moved to dismiss. Because the film is not false or
defamatory, the Court grants the defendants' motion.
the Gun portrays firearms as a serious social problem
and advocates gun control.Each of the defendants took roles in
making and distributing the movie. Stephanie Soechtig
directed the film. Katie Couric interviewed the VCDL members,
narrated the film, and served as an executive producer. Atlas
Films LLC ("Atlas") was the production company for
the film. Studio 3 Partners LLC, doing business as EPIX
("EPIX"), distributed the film.
2015, Couric interviewed nine members of the VCDL. The VCDL
"is a non-partisan, grassroots organization dedicated to
advancing the rights of responsible gun owners under the
Second Amendment and Virginia Constitution." (Compl.
¶ 18.) Two of the members interviewed are plaintiffs
here: Patricia Webb, a licensed firearms dealer and gun store
owner, and Daniel L. Hawes, an attorney who practices
litigation related to firearms and personal defense.
the interview, Couric asked the VCDL members to sit in
silence for ten seconds to allow for calibration of the
recording equipment. The cameras filmed the members during
the period of silence.
the interview, Couric asked:
If there are no background checks how do you prevent-I know
how you all are going to answer this, but I'm asking
anyway-if there are no background checks for gun purchasers,
how do you prevent felons or terrorists from walking into say
a licensed gun dealer and purchasing a gun?
VCDL members, including Hawes and Webb, did not answer
Couric's question. Instead, they articulated their
opposition to any gun control, but never said how to keep
guns out of the hands of felons and terrorists. One VCDL
member said that felons should have the right to own a gun
after serving their time. Hawes responded by discussing
existing laws related to firearms. Webb responded by saying
why she opposed background checks. While they offered views
on gun control, they did not answer Comic's query about
how to stop the wrong people from getting guns without
film opens on a dimly lit, empty circle of chairs. Text
appears: "Before this film is over ... 22 people in
America will be shot." People begin filing into the
interview room. Text appears: "6 of them will die."
Couric then thanks the seated group for the interview,
identifying the group as one with "a specific point of
view on this issue and some of the issues we're
tackling." She then asks how many in the group are
carrying guns. Everyone in the group raises their hand.
film then shows opening credits, with a background of
historical voice and video clips related to guns. It shows
headlines and footage of the shootings of John F. Kennedy,
Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Ronald
Reagan. The film also plays news clips regarding the National