Connaughton, Jenkins to save us from indecency

According to a front-page article in the Jan. 8 edition of the Potomac News, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is moving forward with a proposal to regulate adult-oriented bookstores and video rental stores. The action stems from a September 2002 recommendation by Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, that the county should regulate businesses “catering to sexual stimulation or activities.”

The new proposal would require businesses that sell books or rent adult videos to apply to Police Chief Charlie Deane for a special $500 permit. Additionally, the proposal would require that the businesses install surveillance cameras to keep a record of which persons patronize the stores. The police would thereafter review the tapes from the cameras to determine which county residents are depraved.

In making a motion to approve a zoning text amendment that would begin the process of regulating adult-oriented businesses, Supervisor John D. Jenkins, D-Dale City, stated, “we don’t want to allow access to smut to minors, and many people are concerned about this.” Chairman Connaughton reportedly also wants restrictions on bookstores and video rental stores because of vague concerns about increases in crime, sexually transmitted diseases and declining property values. The county code, of course, already prohibits the dissemination of sexually explicit material to minors and also prohibits nudity where alcohol is served.

It warms my heart to know that local politicians, lacking more important work to do, are going to take steps to improve the morals of ordinary citizens by controlling their access to books and videotapes. With the implementation of this new proposal, the unwashed masses in the county will at last be forced to upgrade their personal standards of conduct to conform to the Connaughton-Jenkins-Deane model. Surely there can’t be a downside to any of this. (Remember, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” was mere fiction.)

But a few things trouble me about this New Puritanism. For example, Supervisor Jenkins talks knowingly about “smut,” but I confess to knowing little about the subject. Mr. Jenkins really should provide the Potomac News with an essay about how to recognize smut and, more important, how we are supposed to protect ourselves from it. Also, if the supervisors really think that crime, diseases and declining property values are caused by some businesses, then they should supply supporting statistics. How many crimes are directly attributable to adult bookstores? How many cases of sexually transmitted diseases are attributable to video stores? Which parts of the county are experiencing declining property values? You get the idea.

While they are at it, our otherwise bored county supervisors should also impose restrictions on bookstores and theaters at Potomac Mills. The Borders bookstore on Prince William Parkway, for example, sells many books on sex, some of which have graphic illustrations. Also, nudity in films is commonplace (see “Gangs of New York”), and sexual scenes are rampant. Even the movie “Titanic,” which won 11 Academy Awards, had a scene where Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio had sex in the back of a car stored in the hold of the ship. Such scenes may cause weak-willed county residents to run into the street, breathing heavily, looking for opportunities to engage in antisocial behavior. Thus, it is important that our elected officials clamp down firmly on anything and everything that is the least bit naughty. Video rental stores are merely a small part of a much larger problem.

Gary Jacobsen lives in Woodbridge.

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