South Carolina Legislator: Regulate Journalists Like Gun Owners

S.C. State Rep. Mike Pitts. John Bazemore/AP, via npr.org.

We’ve often heard it asked: what would happen if a law were crafted that would treat other rights with the same disrespect and contempt with which the right to keep and bear arms is treated? Well, wonder no more. South Carolina State Representative Mike Pitts (R) has introduced the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law” for what might be called, tongue planted firmly in cheek, a common sense regulation on irresponsible journalism. NPR has the story . . .

Criminal background checks and assurances that a person “is competent to be a journalist” are among the requirements put forth by State Rep. Mike Pitts in a new bill in South Carolina’s Legislature. The bill would also create a responsible journalism registry….

[S]ome of the bill is patterned on gun registration laws — something Pitts, a Republican from Laurens, S.C., has acknowledged.

The bill lays out fines — and prison time — for a “person who works as a journalist without registering,” culminating in a maximum punishment of either a $500 fine or a 30-day prison term. Those who head media outlets that hire unregistered journalists would be subject to the same penalties.

“Basically, it is the (concealed weapons permit) law with journalists and pens instead of guns,” Pitts tells the Greenwood, S.C., Index-Journal.

“My real issue is simply to start to debate about all of your constitutional rights. And that they are all equally important, and they are all separate,” Pitts tells the newspaper. “This was an easy parallel.”

According to the Index-Journal, Pitts “does not necessarily want the bill to pass,” but he wants to generate a debate over First and Second Amendment rights.

The bill itself contains some…amazing requirements that should sound all too familiar for anyone who’s ever purchased a firearm in the United States:

(A) The Secretary of State’s Office shall create a registry for the registration of persons who qualify as a journalist pursuant to this chapter.
(B) A person seeking to register shall provide all information required by the office including, but not limited to, a criminal record background check, an affidavit from the media outlet attesting to the applicant’s journalistic competence, and an application fee in an amount determined by the office.

(C) A registration is valid for two years and must be renewed within thirty days of expiration.

(D)(1) The Secretary of State’s Office may deny, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew a registration if the office finds that the person:

(a) has filed an application for registration that contains a statement that is false or misleading with respect to a material fact;

(b) has failed to pay the proper application fee or any other fee or penalty imposed pursuant to this chapter; or

(c) has failed to comply with any provision of this chapter.

(2) The Secretary of State’s Office shall deny, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew a registration if a media outlet has determined pursuant to Section 40-85-40 that the person is not competent to be a journalist….

(B) Before working as a journalist for a media outlet in this State, a person shall provide a criminal record background check to the media outlet to determine journalistic competence and register with the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry. After registering, the person shall provide a copy of the registration to the media outlet. A person may not work as a journalist until the person provides a copy of a registration to the media outlet.

Section 40-85-40. (A) A person is not competent to be a journalist if:

(1) within the three years before submitting an application for registration, the person has been determined by a court of law to have committed:

(a) libel, slander, or invasion of privacy; or

(b) a felony if the underlying offense was committed to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet; or

(2) as a journalist, the person has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.

I don’t know about you, but I found myself uncontrollably smiling while reading the bill.

Reaction was swift. The ACLU’s branch in South Carolina — demonstrating a hilarious level of self-unawareness, given their parent organization’s disrespect for the right to keep and bear arms — denounced it as “another (unconstitutional) waste of tax dollars.”

NPR also quoted Bill Rogers of the South Carolina Press Association as stating that he would fight against the bill “tooth and nail”, no doubt because it would impact his bottom line rather severely. In 2008, Rogers came out to fight another bill tooth and nail, as a matter of what he called “principle”. That bill protected the privacy of South Carolinians who had obtained licenses to carry concealed firearms. The principle being, I suppose, to protect his right to violate the privacy of people who were exercising rights protected by the Constitution, but subject to licensure anyway, in a manner not really all that different than what was in Pitts’ bill.

No doubt some will object to the fact that Pitts is abusing the legislative process just to make a political point. And there’s always the danger that some damned fool legislators will try to pass a law just to find out what’s in it. But if this helps wake a few more people up to the fact that the principles enshrined in gun control lead us toward a more repressive state, I’m all for it.

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