Louisiana Just Criminalized Journalism

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Major newspapers and cable and broadcast media have ignored Louisiana's passage of a law that makes it a crime for journalists to publicly identify concealed handgun permit holders or applicants.

On June 19, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) signed a bill that sets penalties of up to six months in jail and $10,000 for those who publish "any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit." The law includes exceptions for cases in which the concealed handgun holder is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.

Supporters cited as their rationale for proposing the law a New York paper's controversial December publication of a Google map that featured the names and addresses of local handgun permit holders, saying that the legislation was necessary to prevent local media outlets from publishing similar information. Most states, including Louisiana, have laws that make such information confidential, but Alabama is the only other state that currently makes publication of that information illegal subject to a penalty.

The law's passage comes during a furious debate over whether the federal government infringed upon freedom of the press by naming a reporter as a co-conspirator in a leak case; the journalist was never charged with a crime.

Louisiana's law, explicitly passed in order to chill and criminalize journalism, has not received national attention. According to a review of the Nexis and Factiva databases*, major newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today have not mentioned the law. Neither have ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. The Associated Press produced several articles as the bill moved through the legislative process and became law, reporting on June 19:

Despite criticism it would violate the First Amendment, Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday signed into law a bill that makes it a crime for journalists or anyone else to publicly identify concealed handgun permit holders or applicants.

Carl Redman, the executive editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate and chairman of the Louisiana Press Association's Freedom of Information Committee, offered a stirring defense of freedom of the press in opposing the Louisiana law at a May 7 state Senate committee hearing. He called 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."

Other advocates for freedom of the press joined him in opposing the bill.

*Media Matters reviewed the Nexis and Factiva databases since February 5, the day the bill was prefiled in the Louisiana House of Representatives, using the search terms: Louisiana and (handgun or gun) and (permit or concealed carry or house bill 8) and (journalist or reporter or media). Due to the limitations of the Nexis database, daytime programming on MSNBC and Fox News is excluded from this study.

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