Sometimes I feel like a little bit of an old man for listening to NPR during my daily commute. Other times I feel a lot like a crotchedy old man after finding myself outraged at one of the stories the NPR hosts are reporting on. Today was one of those days. I generally try and stay fairly neutral politically, but the lead story on my drive home today had me in fits. I just have to talk about it. It’s going to cause some discussion.
The gentleman in the photo above is South Carolina State Representative Mike Pitts (R). On Tuesday, January 19, 2016 Mr. Pitts introduced House Bill 4702, otherwise known as the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry. Yes, you read that right. The venerable Mr. Pitts want to create a registry for “responsible” journalists in South Carolina. His bill would require that all journalists employed in South Carolina pass a criminal background check as well as procure assurances of their “[competence] to be a journalist” in order to procure a journalism permit. Without this permit, an individual would not be allowed to work as a journalist in the state. The penalty for practicing journalism without a state-licensed permit could range from a $25 fine to a 30 day jail sentence.
Wait, wait, wait!. Before you start lighting your torches and gathering your pitchforks, let it be known that Mr. Pitts has proposed this bill not in an attempt to restrict journalists, but rather to make a point… about gun control laws.
Now you can light those torches and gather those pitchforks.
In all honesty, after reading the bill in its entirety I can kind of see what Mr. Pitts is trying to do with his stunt. If I crane my neck to the left, take a shot of cheap tequila, and squint really hard.
What Mr. Pitts claims that he is trying to raise awareness and provide information on gun control laws and gun culture at large in his state. At the root of this mission is his opinion that the media presents the first two constitutional amendments in different lights. According to a Jan. 19, 2016 story in the Greenwood, S.C., Index-Journal, Pitts says that “media continue to slant views on the Second Amendment right to bear arms and demonizes gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment.”
Mr. Pitt furthers his opinion that the national media treats the first amendment differently than the second by saying, “it’s well presented by the media, that the Second Amendment is more of a privilege than a right. If the First Amendment is so absolute, why isn’t the Second Amendment?”
Without getting too far into the details of constitutional law, a topic in which neither Mr. Pitts nor myself have a degree in (though if anyone is interested I have some pretty interested articles from reputable sources that reside on either side of the debate), I must protest that these are two utterly and completely different issues.
While I do agree with Mr. Pitts on some of his opinions on the sensationalization of journalism – most notably broadcast journalism. CNN, FOXNews, we’re looking at you. I do not agree that the drafting of this bill, one that Mr. Pitts said he had no serious hopes of passing and acknowledged had absolutely no constitutional grounds in the first place, was a valid medium through which to discuss the laws and culture around gun control. To be fair, Mr. Pitts does claim that his stunt was to bring attention to the equality of all constitutional rights and not only the Second Amendment, although he did affirm that “basically, it is the (concealed weapons permit) law with journalists and pens instead of guns.”
Not only was the introduction of this bill and thinly veiled attempt to defend gun culture a massive waste of valuable congressional floor time, (not to mention the tax-payer dollars wrapped up in a blatantly unconstitutional bill) it was a huge insult to the principles of journalism as a whole.
First, there are already laws on the books punishing irresponsible – or at least harmful – journalism. See libel and slander. Second, while the pen has been proven to be mightier than the sword, a pen in the hands of a journalist has never been known to accidently kill anyone. That is not to say there is not an inherent responsibility that goes with serious journalism. Words do have power and the way in which they are wielded does have the potential to influence the lives of real people. Endeavors such as WikiLeaks (which many people continue to debate the journalistic qualifications of) do have the potential to put lives and efforts at risk across the globe. But, more often than not, quality journalism is a vessel for truth, transparency, and accountability. I know that many lambaste The New York Times as the pinnacle of the liberal media, but it is one of the few print outlets that continues to sponsor long-form investigative journalism opposed to a sound bite-driven reporting style. In my opinion, The New York Times continues to be an excellent example of the good journalism can do in the world.
One of the many differences that do exist between journalism and gun culture is that one is used to routinely shed a light on the follies of the other. For example, some of these headlines:
- 5 things to know about Renton movie theater shooting
- Accidental Shootings
- Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers)
Despite my choice in examples of journalistic reporting, it is not my intention to lobby heavily for gun control in America. I just hope to point out the folly in Mr. Pitts’ attempt to compare the requirements of permits for gun ownership and journalism as if they are cut of the same cloth. Such attempts are both irresponsible and ill-informed. In the midst of the myriad issues our country faces on the national, state, and local levels it saddens me to see this is the manner in which some of our elected officials choose to use their time and effort.
Thanks for sticking around through a long post. I would love to hear your opinions and continue to conversation in the comments section below.
Until next time,