Va. Citizens Defense League v. Couric (P)

This case arises from the creation and publication of Under the Gun, a documentary film on gun violence in America. Aggrieved at their portrayal in the film, the appellants — Virginia Citizens Defense League and two of its members — filed this action for defamation by the film’s creators. The district court properly dismissed the case.

One member, who owns a gun store, contends that her business requires her to be knowledgeable about the right of individuals to purchase firearms” and that the edited footage suggests she isn’t. But no part of her job requires her to have nuanced views on gun policy. Had the film suggested that she didn’t know, for instance, whether a gun store owner must perform a background check, this might be a different case. But not having an answer as to effective alternatives to background checks does not imply anything about fitness to own a gun store and to sell guns.

The edited footage cannot reasonably be construed as implying that the League is unfit as a pro-2nd Amendment advocacy organization. At most, the film suggests that a handful of members could not immediately answer a difficult gun policy question. To be sure, the film gives the impression that a reporter’s final question stumped the panelists. But at worst, the plain, ordinary meaning of this edit conveys that these particular League members, after answering a series of related questions, didn’t have a ready-made answer to a nuanced policy question.

Although the filmmakers’ editing choices were questionable, the edited footage simply does not rise to the level of defamation under Virginia law.


Va. Citizens Defense League v. Couric (P), No. 17-1783, Dec. 13, 2018. 4th Cir. (Motz) from EDVA at Richmond (Gibney).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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