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By Vanessa McGrady

The following appeared as an OpEd piece in the Portland Oregonian. The author, whom I much admire, is the PR person for my publisher.

America's talk-show hosts let out a collective squeal of delight when they learned that Kip Kinkel learned to make bombs from the Internet.

"Fabulous!" they exclaimed, "Now the Internet is killing people! We got ourselves a show!"

Kinkel is the troubled teen who gunned down his parents and classmates in Springfield, Ore. in April. In his home, police found more than a dozen homemade bombs.

I work as an editor at Loompanics Unlimited, a Port Townsend, Wash., publishing house that sells books on subjects such as drug manufacture, survival, lock picking, criticism of the government, and yes, bombs. We don't advocate breaking any laws, and we certainly don't want to see people get hurt, nor is our information or anything else like it appropriate for children. But we feel it's important to live in a society where ideas and information are available, rather than one where information is doled out in scarce rations, available to some of the people some of the time.

"But isn't it your civic responsibility to see that that information isn't out there?" Bay Buchanan asked me on a segment of CNBC's "Equal Time."

No, it's not. Quite the opposite. It is my civic responsibility to see that ideas and information are freely available to anyone over 18 who wants it. It doesn't matter if they want to plant a garden, criticize the powers that be, or learn how drugs are made. Drug enforcement agents order our books so they know exactly what they're going after. Investigators use our police-science volumes. Novelists and screenwriters use almost everything in our catalog to add authenticity to the entertainment on which we spend a good chunk of paycheck every week.

We don't advocate committing any crimes or hurting anyone, and we, like everyone else, feel that what happened in Springfield was a tragedy. The guns that Kinkel used, however, had little to do with the information he got on the Internet. They belonged to his father, and to him.

Trying to quash information protected under the First Amendment won't bring back those people who were killed. It won't cure the frustration of disenfranchised teenagers. And it won't stop someone from picking up a gun and using it for nefarious purposes.

Though it may have stemmed from noble roots, the suffocating thicket of political correctness is extending into places it has no business. Americans are outraged by censorship in places like Indonesia and Cuba, while certain people including the President in his endorsement for the failed Communications Decency Act are inviting censorship to come in, sit down, and have a cup of tea. Right in our living room.

The ready access to information has drastically changed the way we do almost everything, from baking a cake to making major medical decisions. But as we navigate this sometimes painful evolution, perhaps we need to wake up and realize that $25 modem locks and Internet-screening programs won't always keep children away from what we don't want them to see. Perhaps we need to give up the notion that today's children can live in a world free from images of sex and violence, no matter how hard we try. Perhaps we need to help them interpret the things they see and include them in an informed society, rather than keep them in the dark.

And who gets to decide what is appropriate for adults to read and see? While I presumably am part of the machine that put my government representatives in office, I don't feel that they are qualified to decide my reading list. I'll run the risk of being offended in exchange for the right to choose my own material, thank you.

Once censorship begins to descend upon the Internet, the next logical steps will be to rip pages out of encyclopedias, lock doors to libraries, and cancel high school science classes. And once our zombied society sits contentedly in tune with the buzzing drone of self-imposed censorship, there will be dozens of miserable, unemployed talk show hosts left out in the cold.

But maybe that part wouldn't be so bad.

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14 September, 1998