A Modest Proposal

Sensible Regulation of Books


Gary Marbut © 2010 (with thanks to Jonathan Swift)
Owner, Montana Publishing

It is common knowledge that books, and many other publications, may foster bad behavior, even criminal behavior, and wrong beliefs.  Some books may stimulate hostility towards a helpful government.  Others may actually enable criminal activity.  Some books may expose to public view information about government activity better kept confidential.  People have been injured and killed because of inflammatory or incorrect information in books or other publications.  There are even books or publications about jihad and making atomic weapons.  Then, there are books that inspire wrong thinking, such as books disclaiming man-caused global warming or critical of helpful public officials.

Of course, there are certainly responsible publishers, purveyors and buyers of books along with the irresponsible players.  Therefore, a system must be devised to help ensure that books and other publications are only published, distributed and sold by those responsible persons, and only purchased by people without criminal history, a history suggesting that they would read the wrong sort of books or might even misuse the right sort of books.

Such a system is obvious.  The federal government must license publishers, distributors and sellers of books.  Every book published must be individually identifiable, must be traceable to its point of sale and to the purchaser.  Every purchaser must undergo a simple and noninvasive criminal record check to make sure he or she is not prohibited because of a criminal record from possessing and thereby misusing books.  It is only sensible that people who are unstable or have been adjudicated as mentally incompetent should not be allowed to possess books.

Permitted individuals would still be allowed to trade books with others, or even occasionally sell books, as long as they do not actually get into the "business" of selling books as a vocation.  To do otherwise would violate their individual constitutional rights.  Those who are trafficking in high volumes of books, however, must be licensed just as the sellers of new books, and must be required to validate their buyers.

It is also obvious that such restrictions would not accomplish their intended purpose if the restrictions did not also apply to other types of publications, such as magazines and newspapers.  Absent a broad, fair-to-all approach, some ill-intended person could publish an unregulated book by simply calling it a "newspaper."  To round out this beneficial exercise, copy machines and computer printers, as well as all forms of electronic publishing, must be included within the regulatory mechanism since books may easily be produced from those.

Certainly, the careful employees of government regulatory agencies will be able to set reasonable rules for what sorts of people should be licensed, under what conditions, to publish, distribute, sell and buy books and other sorts of publications, and engage in any other types of publishing or book consuming.

Such a modest regulation of books with reasonable government oversight will go a long way towards reducing the bad outcomes too often associated with the currently unregulated marketplace, where any sort of person may obtain any sort of book.  After all, these books may be misused with disastrous consequences for our children, our families, our communities and our Nation.

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Note:  For those readers who object that publishing and buying of books is protected activity under the First Amendment (although books are not actually mentioned there), be advised that the exact same scheme proposed above for books is currently applied to all firearms which are supposed to be protected under the Second Amendment (and ARE mentioned THERE).  If the Second Amendment
("shall not be infringed") may be undercut so seriously, so may the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law").