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Rep. Jim Lucas' journalist licensing bill isn't about reporters. It's about guns.

Posted at 7:31 PM, Oct 12, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas says the idea of the government licensing journalists is “reprehensible.” That’s why he had a bill drafted to do it.

The Seymour Republican had the draft bill – officially Preliminary Draft No. 4377 – written up during the last legislative session to make a point about what he sees as similarly misguided legislation currently requiring a license to carry a handgun.

“Everybody should be appalled,” Lucas said. “I’m highlighting the licensing of a constitutional right. Society has become accustomed to that exact very thing. But if we allow the licensing of one constitutional right – even one – that means the floodgates are open for something like this to happen.”

Among other provisions, the draft calls for journalists to register with the Indiana State Police and have their fingerprints taken. Lucas says it would require reporters to face the same licensing requirements and punishments as Hoosiers who carry handguns.

The draft is essentially a bad faith argument – Lucas doesn’t actually want it to become law and, in fact, described the idea of licensing journalists as “the most vulgar thing you’ve ever seen” – but Lucas says he doesn’t see it as “trolling.”

“The only thing this draft does is it puts in perspective how horrible and reprehensible it is to license a constitutional right,” Lucas said.

For Lucas, the issue is part of his larger crusade to pass a “constitutional carry” law in Indiana, which would repeal the requirement that gun owners have licenses to carry handguns. But his most recent comments about the draft bill – made Tuesday on WFYI’s “No Limits” – came just a day before President Donald Trump suggested that NBC’s broadcast license should be pulled for, as he described it, unfair coverage of him.

"It's frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” Trump told reporters. “And people should look into it."

MORE | Trump threatens NBC’s TV license over a news story

John Krull, director of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College and host of “No Limits,” said regardless of whether Lucas and the president were serious about their proposals, the idea of press freedom is critical to a functioning democracy.

“I can’t imagine that the courts would stand for something like that, or that, I would hope, members of either party in Congress would abide by something like that,” Krull said about licenses for journalists. “The reality is that in this country, freedom isn’t just a chess piece, it’s not something we toss around on a game board, it’s the reason we’re a country. It’s what’s supposed to define us.”

“In Rep. Lucas’ case, the fact that he thinks this is something between a joke and a debating point is just regrettable,” Krull added.

Krull described Lucas’ comparison of licenses for journalists and handguns as inept, saying, “He’s not even comparing apples to oranges. He’s comparing apples to dumbbells.”

And, as Krull pointed out, there are already regulations in place on journalists.

“First, let’s talk reality, which is one of the things Rep. Lucas is sometimes reluctant to do,” Krull said. “There are already licenses in place. [RTV6] has to be licensed. All TV stations have to be licensed. All radio stations have to be licensed.”

Krull said Lucas is essentially arguing that the fact that RTV6, and other stations, have to have a license and operate within FCC restrictions is an abridgment to First Amendment rights.

“I’m assuming, then, that he’s going to file another bill dispensing with all regulation of the public airwaves and turning it into a free-for-all,” Krull said. “And, I might add, allowing people to broadcast whatever they choose, at any time they choose, including porn or anything else. I can’t imagine that’s where he would go, but that’s really the point he’s trying to make here: that any restriction that honors the common good is by definition a violation of individual liberty.”

At the heart of Lucas’ draft bill, at least in the opinion of Krull – who, by his own admission, has been publicly critical of Lucas’ gun control stances in the past – is a desire for publicity.

“For someone who dislikes journalists and the media as much as Rep. Lucas says he does, he seems awfully desirous of media attention,” Krull said. “Most politicians who are savvy approach media coverage the way a carpenter approaches a nail. They want to do a job. They want to drive a point home. Rep. Lucas seems to approach it the way a junkie pursues his next fix.”

As evidence, Krull offered Lucas’ response when the “No Limits” host asked him on air about the draft bill.

“I asked him during the broadcast and said, ‘You drafted this just to score a point, right?’” Krull said. “And he smiled and said yes.”

Lucas said he intends to introduce bills next session that would legalize constitutional carry and medical marijuana – another of his legislative priorities. For now, he said he plans to just “hold on” to the draft bill requiring journalists to get licenses.

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