COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina legislator whose journalism registry proposal touched off a media firestorm said Monday he never actually wanted to require reporters to register with the state, but the instant backlash made his point.
By "immediately screaming First Amendment," the media reacted to his bill exactly as he expected, Rep. Mike Pitts told The Associated Press.
The retired law enforcement officer said he mirrored the state's concealed weapon permit law in proposing a "responsible journalism registry," substituting language he found in journalistic associations' ethics codes.
"Do I really want to register reporters? No. I don't want to register guns or pens. I'd prefer to have a lot less government," said Pitts, R-Laurens.
But he did want to spark discussion on what he calls media bias in treating free speech rights under the First Amendment as more sacrosanct than gun rights under the Second Amendment.
"The Second Amendment is just as pure and simple," said Pitts, who's holding a news conference on his bill Tuesday.
The backlash began on social media within minutes of the bill's introduction a week ago. Pitts said Monday he's not even seeking a subcommittee hearing on the proposal, as it stands no chance of passing — even if we were serious about the registry — though he would like a debate.
Other gun bills are sure to be debated this session.
Democrats filed various gun-control measures after the massacre last June of nine parishioners inside a historic black church in Charleston, including requiring guns to be registered and barring sales without a permit. But those face little to no chance in this gun-friendly state controlled by Republicans.
Pitts, who has for years taught concealed weapons permit classes for legislators in both parties, said he opposes a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow people to openly carry a gun without a permit.
"I think anyone who has a weapon should have training with it," he said. "Someone with a weapon who's not trained is a danger to themselves."
In 2008, Pitts successfully pushed to exempt the identities of permit holders from the Freedom of Information Act. The law limited access to law enforcement or through a court order.
Pitts said he pushed for it after media in other states published the names and addresses of permit holders.
"Firearms are a target for thieves," he said. The publishing names "pinpointed targets of opportunity for thieves to say, 'Here's a good place to break in.'"