The South Carolina lawmaker who filed a bill Tuesday that would establish a registry for “responsible” journalists now says the whole thing was really — well, mostly — about exposing the media’s double standard on gun control. Gotcha!
After submitting the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law,” state Rep. Mike Pitts, a Republican, basically told the Post and Courier of Charleston that he was trolling the media; he knew journalists would flip out over the proposal to curtail 1st Amendment freedoms (we did), and he figured that reaction would stand in contrast to their lack of outrage over efforts to limit 2nd Amendment rights.
“It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts said. “With this statement, I’m talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the 6 o’clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership.”
Gun-rights advocates have gleefully mocked reporters who denounced the bill for playing right into Pitts’s hands. In the interest of sparing colleagues, I'll stick to highlights of my own taunting, which included a cameo by Pitts himself:
— Brad (@Brad_D80) January 20, 2016
— Mike Pitts (@RepMikePitts) January 20, 2016
— shonuffharlem (@shonuffharlem) January 20, 2016
@callumborchers man you really got trolled there. Hook, line and sinker. Great job!
— Michael Nicholson (@mike_nicholson1) January 20, 2016
I’ll readily admit that I didn’t know what Pitts was up to, vis-à-vis the 1st and 2nd Amendment comparison; I wrote about the bill yesterday afternoon before he explained his motive to the Post and Courier.
But let’s be clear on one point: This is a real bill with a real number and a real sponsor. It prompted responses from South Carolina House Democrats and the dean of the College of Information and Communication at the University of South Carolina. And in case you still think Pitts was merely playing around, note that he told the Post and Courier even afterward that he “would love” to have a real hearing to “further the debate and discussion” of the bill.
And to the extent that the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law” is a critique of the media and guns, it’s a completely nonsensical one. Pitts’s point seems to be that the press applies a double standard to 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. No kidding — and for good reason.
There are limits on constitutional freedoms. The 1st Amendment protects a free press, yet journalists can be sued for libel, right? The 2nd Amendment protects gun ownership, but does anyone believe 3-year-olds or convicted murderers are actually entitled to carry firearms? Neither freedom is absolute.
The point is that most people — and, more importantly, the courts — agree that some boundaries should exist. So the question is where those boundaries should be, and it’s a question that must be answered separately for every right. If murderers and 3-year-olds who can’t own guns want to publish blogs, let them. And if a reporter who has been sued for libel wants to blow off steam at the gun range, that’s fine too. One has nothing to do with the other. You can’t impose a uniform standard across the entire Bill of Rights.
Which seems to be what Pitts is really arguing for here.