Here we go again

by Alan Lange

This morning, “nonpartisan” “journalists” Adam Ganucheau and Ryan “RL” Nave penned a piece about a 1992 bill in the Mississippi legislature co-sponsored by then State Rep. Phil Bryant.

The piece entitled “Gov. Bryant’s stance on guns in school is a reversal from his legislator days” highlights a bill (that died in that 1992 session) that refined the criminal section of Mississippi’s deadly weapons law at the time.  The bill was co-sponsored by Bryant.  Nave attached the pithy title of the bill when he uploaded it on scribd as “When Phil Bryant opposed guns in schools.”

MS Today’s primary contention in the article is that Governor Bryant has essentially changed his stance about guns in schools.

The law involving the criminal section of weapons possession (MS Code 97-37-1) has three main sections.

Section 1 of the bill defines the penalties and is more definitional in nature.  Bryant’s bill sought to add a a one-year prison sentence, $1,000 or both “for any person convicted under this section if the offense occurred on the premise of any public school campus or any activity sponsored by public school or the entire school district.” 

Section 2 generally deals with who can and can’t be permitted and the permitting process.  The then-proposed section 19 was basically a “belts and suspenders” provision that clarified something already prohibited at the time.

However, MS Today screwed up pretty bad.  In the predicate to Section 1, it said “Except as otherwise provided in 45-9-101 . . .” and it then went on to provide the penalties they cite. 45-9-101 was the concealed carry law on the books at the time, which already had it as a provision that stated . . .

No license issued pursuant to this section shall authorize any person to carry a stun gun, concealed pistol or revolver into any place of nuisance as defined in Section 95-3-1 …. any school, college or professional athletic event not related to firearms; any portion of an establishment, licensed to dispense alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, that is primarily devoted to dispensing alcoholic beverages; any portion of an establishment in which beer or light wine is consumed on the premises, that is primarily devoted to such purpose; any elementary or secondary school facility; any junior college, community college, college or university facility unless for the purpose of participating in any authorized firearms-related activity; 

Since then, Mississippi has passed an enhanced concealed carry law in 2011 (during Phil Bryant’s 2nd term as Lt. Governor) that has different prescriptions for where and when those permittees may carry.

Ganucheau & Nave also misrepresented Bryant’s involvement with the bill saying he “co-authored” it.  In fact, he co-sponsored it, which is a small but real difference.  The author of the bill was the late Rep. Roy Dabbs.

Mississippi’s foremost expert on gun laws is Rep. Andy Gipson, Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee.  Based on his research, the bill was likely a result of a 1990 incident and subsequent MS Supreme Court case involving a Gulf Coast teen bringing a gun to school to sell to other students.  His case sought to challenge whether or not the guns he brought to school were weapons proscribed by the statute.

Regarding the MS Today article, Gipson stated, “Having reviewed the 1992 bill authored by the late Rep. Roy Dabbs, that bill would not have represented any significant change in the gun laws of the State.  Possession or carrying of guns on school premises was generally prohibited back then and remains prohibited today by Miss. Code Section 97-37-17 and 97-37-1.  The 1992 bill would simply have made the crime a first offense felony and would have clarified the prohibition to extend to school-sponsored activities.  Of course, the enhanced concealed carry law we have today that authorizes concealed carry on school grounds did not even exist in 1992.”

The biggest issue with the MS Today article is that they thought no one was listening in, and how they conducted the interview stood in stark contrast to the ultimate piece they wrote.  Here’s the actual audio of the “set up” conversation between Ganucheau and Governor Bryant.  Audio was provided by the Governor’s office.  Listen as Ganucheau admits that at 1:32 that the bill in question (which he later misrepresented) was 25 years ago, Bryant was a co-sponsor (not a co-author) and that this predated Pearl, Columbine or any other mass school shooting.

The bottom line is that there is systemic bias in the media, on both sides.  The old principle of caveat emptor (or buyer beware) should be applied to everything you read including this piece.  Unfortunately, the ones you have to look out for the most are the ones touting their “nonpartisanship” the loudest.  But this “non profit” media model supercharges it with tax deductible donations to achieve what some could argue is a political public policy end game.

This article from MS Today is yet another “in your face” example that there is a systemic bias within that organization and that there are few if any controls in place (even with a slew of editors) to review long form articles like this for the appropriate fact checking and contextual review.  Donors should continue to be wary that their money is going to make these efforts possible.  Public officials, to the extent that they’ve not already reduced or eliminated their access by MS Today reporters, should probably use this as yet another “teachable moment” to have their guard up at all times, depending on the side of the political fence they’re on.