By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – No one milks a bad joke quite like Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas.
The Seymour Republican with a love for guns that knows no bounds trotted out a stunt a few days ago. While he was appearing on “No Limits” – the radio show I host – he pointed to a proposed state law he’d had drawn up (at taxpayer expense) that would license journalists.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
His proposed “law,” he said, would put journalists on the same level as gun owners.
He acknowledged on the air that he did it as a kind of joke, a way to stick it to me because I’ve been critical of his strident stances on guns.
Given that we were talking about a problem that causes the deaths of 33,000 Americans per year, the rest of us didn’t see it as quite the thigh-slapper he did.
Nonetheless, his little game won him much attention. The Indianapolis Star, several Indiana TV stations, The Washington Post, USA Today and other news organizations did stories on his stunt.
Lucas reveled in the spotlight. Like so many politicians who criticize journalists, he seems to love media attention. That’s why there’s a jest running around political circles that says the most dangerous place to be in the Statehouse is between Jim Lucas and an open microphone or a live video camera.
Lost in all of Lucas’s mugging and grinning for the mics and cameras was the fact that, even as a stunt, his comparison made no sense.
First, in this plane of reality – a realm Lucas visits only occasionally and then under protest – it would be news to television and radio journalists that they work in an unlicensed environment.
Radio and TV stations must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s reporting requirements are far more onerous than anything imposed on gun owners. To deal with the FCC, those stations often must retain lawyers who are admitted to practice before the FCC.
Those attorneys bill, on the low end, at $350 per hour.
And the penalties for transgressions for the station’s owners can run up to $325,000 per incident, regardless of whether the mistake was made by a journalist or not. (Remember Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction?)
Other journalists must apply for credentials – licenses – to cover certain events or enter certain buildings.
So, licensing for journalists already exists.
Unless they are unduly restrictive or issued unfairly, these licenses aren’t considered an abridgement of journalists’ First Amendment rights.
But, again, that’s in the realm of reality – a place Jim Lucas does not like to inhabit.
Thus, if Lucas really were trying to level the playing field, he’d draft a bill that requires gun owners to file for expensive licenses that require the expertise of highly paid lawyers and subject those gun owners to six-figure fines for misuse of their guns, whether they were the ones who pulled the trigger or not.
That would go over well with Lucas’s buddies at the National Rifle Association, wouldn’t it?
But then there’s the gun piece of this.
If Lucas really wanted to test his belief that government can’t restrict arms in any way – he refused to say on the show whether he thought private citizens should be allowed to own nuclear or biological weapons – he wouldn’t do it by drafting gimmicky joke laws.
Again, at taxpayer expense.
No, he’d challenge licensing requirements in court.
Oh, wait, someone has.
In fact, a lot of people have.
And they’ve lost.
In Peruta v. California, a federal court ruled there is no Second Amendment right to carry concealed weapons in public. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear that case just this past June, so the decision stands.
What about here in Hoosierland?
Well, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in the Matthews case that the Indiana constitution allows the state to regulate firearms in the interest of public safety.
But those are facts.
Jim Lucas hates facts almost as much as he loves guns.
That’s why, rather than going to court – where he’d lose – he’s dreaming up another stunt legislative proposal.
Again, at taxpayer expense.
This one would require a license to go to church.
Let me save your life here.
When Jim Lucas uncorks that joke bill, don’t get caught between him and a microphone or camera.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.