Back when I was in school taking economics, I was told that the rule for economic forecasts was give a number or give a date, but never give both at once. But every so often, events have a way of popping up that make something look like a prediction. In my recent article about how attacking one right makes attacking all rights easier, I pointed out efforts to curtail free speech rights protected by the First Amendment by banning offensive speech. This was to illustrate the way that all rights are targets for those who yearn to control others.
And right on schedule, I find an article reporting that South Carolina State Representative Mike Pitts has introduced a bill to register journalists in his state and subject them to background checks. He declares himself not to be a “press hater,” instead wanting “to make sure journalists adhere to a code of ethics.”
The language he’s using sounds exactly like what gun control advocates say with regard to gun legislation. He acknowledges that his bill is something of a reaction to gun control proposals, and if so, it’s a good piece of trolling, but it reinforces the point that I keep making that rights stand or fall together.
Let me say right here that if Pitts is serious, I oppose what he’s doing. I’ve discussed the ethics of journalism before, and I’ll repeat here that we are indeed obliged to live up to standards. But if we go astray, there are solutions in place already. Readers can choose to ignore what we write—or to leave comments, often. If we commit libel, there are remedies in the courts. In that latter case, just as with gun rights, things have been much worse in England. More importantly, the vast open forum of the Internet makes exposing mistakes and deliberate falsehoods much easier.
But the advocates of gun control will tell us that no one gets killed because of what journalists do. That claim can only be sustained if we are unaware of our own history, since the influence of yellow journalism leading up to the Spanish-American War is a matter of record. The act of journalism is itself dangerous, as we see in the number of reporters who die in conflict zones. And of more significance to those who favor control, journalists are often seen as a threat to the regime in power. The news about reporters being killed in Russia whose work was seen as unfavorable to President Putin illustrate this.
What Representative Pitts has done is sharpen the debate. We need a general discussion about what rights mean in modern-day America. Do we want to continue valuing the Enlightenment thinking that each one of us is born with basic rights and the assertion that we give to government a limited amount of power? Do we want one function of that government to be the defense of these rights? Or have we reached the point at which most in this country want a different social contract?
Since I’m firmly in the Enlightenment, I say that rights would still be ours, even if the legal protections for them were removed, and I have faith that Americans want rights to retain those protections. Given all the attacks our rights have experienced, especially during this century, it’s time for us to be clear on this point.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.