Commentary

California School PSA Baits Kids to Steal Guns from Parents and Bring Them to School

By Hans Bader | December 29, 2014 | 12:51pm EST

People gather on the edge of Fremont High school in Plain City, Utah, during a lock down after reports of a student seen with a gun on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A teenager caught with a loaded gun at the northern Utah high school planned to shoot a former girlfriend and open fire on the rest of the school, police said Tuesday. The student had a 9 mm semi-automatic gun capable of holding 11 rounds, though it wasn't immediately clear whether it was fully loaded when he was arrested. The teen was booked into a juvenile detention center on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of a firearm in a school, and possession of a weapon with intent to assault. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Francisco Kjolseth)

California’s North Oakland Community Charter School helped producePublic Service Announcement encouraging kids to do something that would get them expelled and arrested (the PSA approvingly shows a kid stealing his mom’s gun and bringing it to school in his backpack, and giving it to a terrified teacher, because he doesn’t feel comfortable with having a gun in the house.  In real life, he would be expelled and arrested for bringing a gun into school, which violates the California Education Code, and maybe also for theft).

At the Washington Post, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh calls the PSA “appalling” and notes that it encourages students to commit multiple crimes, but also opines that the creator of the PSA, a San Francisco filmmaker, couldn’t be prosecuted for incitement under the Supreme Court’s Brandenburg ruling.  That’s true even though “the results” of following the PSA “could include expulsion, criminal prosecution, or even death,” and the professor can easily “imagine some impressionable teenager seeing what the appealing protagonist is doing, and trying to copy it, especially since the serious tone of the video seems to invite its being taken seriously.”

As commenter InklingBooks laments, “Perhaps worst of all is that the credits say that North Oakland Community Charter School allowed this ill-thought-out PSA to be made on their campus. On its website, the school gushes about ‘helping children become thoughtful, informed, and inquisitive citizens. Mind-numbingly stupid and eager to inform on their parents would be more accurate. . .Depressing. I pity the parents who send their children there.”

Professor Volokh is an expert on firearms regulation and constitutional law.  In his commentary, “How many crimes can you see being committed in this anti-gun ‘public service’ ad?” he says that despite the deplorable nature of the PSA, “This speech is likely not going to be seen as intended and likely to produce imminent unlawful conduct; at most, even if it is intended to get kids to copy the protagonist’s behavior, at worst, it [would] amount to nothing more than advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time. That is not enough to qualify as punishable incitement, see Hess v. Indiana (1973) and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).”

The filmmaker is now plainly on notice, though, that her PSA counsels the commission of various crimes, notes Liberty Unyielding’s Mike Dorstewitz. When confronted with this fact, she essentially laughed it off, saying that she was amused when people notified her that among the crimes depicted in her PSA were “Weapons theft, unlawful possession of a weapon by a minor, illegal concealed carry of a weapon, carrying a weapon onto school property, assault, and brandishing.” Indeed, wrote filmmaker Rejina Sincic, “I’m entertained by tweets that I’m getting about my PSA.”

One commenter wrote that “by producing this video,” Sincic became “an accessory to the crimes” she was “encouraging.” There is one federal appeals court that likely would agree.  That decision allowed a book publisher to be sued for aiding and abetting murder, for publishing a book that described how to be a hit man.  See Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc.  Most courts would disagree, but a lawsuit by the parents of a student incited to commit crimes by Sincic’s video (and arrested or expelled) would have a colorable basis for suing the filmmaker under the logic of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Rice case.

Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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