In the latest move by Louisiana to plow ahead with looser gun laws, the state legislature passed a measure that would criminalize journalists for publishing information about gun owners. Under House Bill 8, which now goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) for his signature, those who “release, disseminate, or make public” any information contained in a handgun permit or about the identity of the permit-holder, including journalists, may be subject to a $10,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
The law comes in response to anger over the publication by a local New York newspaper of the names and addresses of gun permit holders. But as Mother Jones reports, the law goes beyond most others that merely forbid the release of gun permit information, to one punishing journalists for publishing it, in likely violation of the First Amendment.
The seminal Supreme Court case upholding the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers said government attempts to impose a “prior restraint” on journalists’ reporting is unconstitutional. And while some First Amendment scholars concede an argument could be made that this law does not impose prior restraint but merely punishment after the fact, even that sort of First Amendment restriction would have be accompanied by an unusually compelling justification for so severe an infringement on First Amendment rights.
“I find 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,” newspaper editor Carl Redman said during a May 7 hearing.
Other bills passed by both houses of the Louisiana legislature this week would allow for lifetime gun permits, and allow off-duty officers to carry their weapons onto college campuses.
The state Senate is set to consider four additional gun bills Monday, including one to nullify federal gun law that even its sponsor admits is likely unconstitutional. The state passed a constitutional amendment by ballot initiative last November that arguably makes state gun rights even broader than the Second Amendment.