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Monday, 27 May 2013

Louisiana seeks to muzzle reports on gun permits

Journalists could face $10,000 fines, prison under proposal 

By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston, Texas on May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

VIENNA, May 27, 2013 – Journalists could face up to six months in prison and a $10,000 fine for reporting information about concealed handgun permits in Louisiana under a proposed law that appears headed to the state’s governor for signing.

Louisiana’s Senate on Tuesday voted 33-2 in favour of the bill, which would make it illegal for journalists or members of the public to “release, disseminate, or make public in any manner any information contained in an application for a concealed handgun permit or any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit”.

International Press Institute (IPI) Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “This bill is a clearly-unconstitutional prior restraint that would interfere with legitimate newsgathering activities. Its language, plainly read, could criminalise reporting on weaknesses or flaws in the state’s permit-granting process, and on crimes in which a handgun was involved. We urge Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to veto this measure.”

IPI North American Committee Board Member Philip Gailey, former editor of editorials and vice president of the St. Petersburg Times, said that it was important to continue to highlight concerns over state-level initiatives amid recent revelations that the federal Justice Department has targeted journalists as part of investigations to uncover sources of leaked information.

“In much of the country the Second Amendment trumps the First Amendment – gun rights over a free press,” he commented. “Both the Louisiana legislature and the Obama Justice Department view reporters doing their job as criminals. A dangerous line has been crossed. This is a reminder that the press’ First Amendment protection cannot be taken for granted.”

Under the Louisiana bill – House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Thompson – law enforcement officers who released the same type of information without a court order and with the intent that it be published would face a $500 fine and up to six months in prison.

According to New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune, the bill is largely a reaction to the publication of local gun permit holders’ names and addresses by New York newspaper The Journal News in December following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The newspaper drew widespread condemnation from gun rights advocates after it published interactive Google maps containing the names and addresses of permit holders in two New York counties.

Louisiana journalists and press freedom advocates have expressed significant criticism of House Bill 8. Mother Jones magazine reported that Pamela Mitchell, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association, the state’s official newspaper trade organization, said the bill was “patently unconstitutional” and “troubling because of the precedent it sets”. The magazine also reported that Carl Redman, executive editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate, said in a Senate committee hearing that he “found it very ironic that the very people who screamed the loudest about attempts to limit their Second Amendment rights are here eager to limit my First Amendment rights”.

Amendments by Louisiana’s Senate mean that the bill will go back before the House for another vote before the measure goes before Jindal.

In other news, two brothers face criminal charges after they allegedly opened fire on a crowd at a May 12 parade in New Orleans, leaving 19 people, including two journalists, wounded.

Deborah Cotton, a cultural blogger and contributor for New Orleans-based weekly The Gambit was covering the event when she was hit in the back by gunfire. Reports indicate that Cotton underwent surgery to remove one of her kidneys. Mark Hertsgaard, an environment correspondent for The Nation who was present at the event as a bystander, was wounded in the calf.

The journalists apparently were not the targets of the shooting, which authorities have described as being gang related.

 
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