TV Reporters to Register with the Federal Government

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 1 by Grand Junction Free Press.

A menace stalks our society, contributing daily to panic and untimely death. Irresponsible television reporting whips the public into a passionate frenzy and leads them to make imprudent decisions, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Clearly there should be a law. Congress should require reasonable, common-sense television controls to register all reporters with the federal government and require background checks to purchase cameras and other sensitive equipment. After all, it’s for the children.

Yes, that’s our attempt at an April Fool’s joke. But our point is quite serious: the First Amendment and the freedom of speech protects the rights of journalists, even though some journalists act irresponsibly and contribute to harmful and even deadly behavior.

Similarly, the Second Amendment and the right of self-defense rightly protects peaceable gun owners, even though a tiny fraction of people with guns handle them irresponsibly or even commit horrific crimes.

Apparently Don Coleman’s idea of news reporting over at KJCT Channel 8 is to lie to law-abiding, peaceful gun owners by calling them under false pretenses to harass them about existing gun laws. Coleman reports that his station called people making private gun sales and asked them about background checks, knowing full well that private sales are not subject to such checks. Coleman’s resulting report is a barely-disguised editorial masquerading as news.

The background check system is riddled with problems, to which we’ll return. First we want to demonstrate that irresponsible journalism can in fact help to kill people, something journalists might care to remember when they advocate forcing people to register with the federal government to practice their Constitutional rights.

Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, writes the “media seized hold of the story” about the bogus link between vaccines and autism and “helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever.” This “led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough.”

* Gary Taubes argues in Good Calories, Bad Calories that the media contributed to the demonization of saturated fat in favor of high-carb grains, promoting more obesity and diabetes.

* “The media are much more likely to do scare stories about plane crashes than car accidents,” John Stossel points out, leading some people to avoid planes in favor of risker car travel.

* While much of the media have sensationalized the risks of nuclear power in the wake of Japan’s earthquake, Lachlan Markay writes for Newsbusters that “wind energy has killed more Americans than nuclear energy.” Science writer Matt Ridley adds, “Compared with coal, oil, gas and biofuels, nuclear energy is pretty harmless and its environmental footprint is minuscule.” Tom Zeller of the New York Times points out that most nuclear reactors in the world are even safer than those in Japan. Yet media fear mongering may encourage Americans to utilize relatively dangerous forms of energy.

* What about guns? John Lott writes in The Bias Against Guns, “Though not always intentionally, the media and government have so utterly skewed the debate over gun control that many people have a hard time believing that defensive gun use occurs — let alone that it is common or desirable.” This media bias discourages some from considering the benefits of gun ownership, leading to more criminal victimization.

Yet, even though “pens don’t kill people, bad journalists do,” we fully endorse the First Amendment and its protections for all writers and speakers. The law should not punish good journalists for the irresponsibility of a few.

Likewise, the law should punish criminals who misuse guns, not responsible gun owners who help keep society safe by discouraging crime. But punishing the responsible is precisely what background checks are about.

Properly they are called “background registration checks,” because they register gun owners with the federal government. No, the names are not kept in a central database; they are kept on file by gun sellers, accessible to federal agents on request.

Under a demagog, such information easily could be abused. Those who want the global history of how gun-owner registration can lead to gun confiscation (and far worse) should see Death by ‘Gun Control’ by Aaron Zelman and Richard Stevens.

There is no magical, all-knowing Santa Claus who checks his list during a background check. The lists can be wrong, or somebody with a similar name may be wrongly delayed. When it comes to buying a tool for self-defense, delays can matter.

At Colorado gun shows, private sales must go through licensed dealers for a background check, adding to the costs of the gun.

Meanwhile, we have little reason to believe that background checks stop crime. Usually a criminal has easy access to black-market guns, or he’ll pass a check anyway. Meanwhile, we’re paying state and federal agents tax dollars to sit around running checks rather than chase down actual criminals.

Remember that nothing is so dangerous to our lives and the future of our nation than unjust, abusive laws.