Should Social Media Play A Role In Letting People Own Guns?

A friend who labors for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (send them a few bucks) sent us the text of a new bill just introduced in the New York State Senate that would amend the process of issuing handgun licenses in a rather interesting and unique way. The bill, NYS09191, would require that anyone applying for or renewing a handgun license give the cops approval to review the following social media accounts – Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram – and search engines – Google, Yahoo and Bing. The purpose of this review, according to the text of the bill, would be to “ascertain whether any social media account or search engine history of a licensee presents any good cause for the revocation of a license….”

              The bill was introduced by Kevin Parker, who represents the 21st Senate District, which happens to cover Flatbush but borders on two other neighborhoods, Brownsville and East New York, which remain serious contenders for suffering from high rates of gun violence every year. Since Parker is the Democratic Whip, and since both chambers of the Legislature are now controlled by the blue team and the author of the state SAFE law is still the executive in charge, what do you think are the odds that this new bill will become law?  I’d say the odds are good to better than good. Which means that using social media as a criteria to determining the issuance of gun licenses in ‘may issue’ states will probably spread beyond the borders of the Empire State.

When and if this law gets to a public hearing, you can bet that Gun-nut Nation base their opposition to this law on their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ because they oppose every gun law based on their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ But I’m willing to bet that America’s ‘oldest civil-rights organization,’ the NRA, will also oppose this law based on their fervent belief in the 1st-Amendment’s protection of free speech. After all, isn’t that what social media’s all about?

Putting aside the rantings and ravings of the gun-nut lunatic fringe, the fact is that this amendment to New York State’s gun-licensing process really does move the issue of gun control into uncharted waters that will certainly need to be explicated by an appellate court.  The courts have held again and again and again that government has a ‘compelling interest’ in public safety, which means that the cops can always be asked to decide whether any particular individual might be a threat to public safety, and then take steps to reduce or eliminate the threat.  But until now, the authorities have based such decisions on overt acts of potentially threatening behavior, as in ‘I’d like to shoot that m-f,’ or other such declarations of intent.  That being said, does the fact that some guy goes on Google to search for ‘mass shootings’ mean that the guy has any intention to precipitate such an event?

The kid who walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 and shot the place apart had access to an AR-15 that his mother kept in their home.  The kid also spent much of the previous year compiling a large, digital library on mass shooting events.  But there is no evidence that he ever said anything about committing such an act himself. The Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in 2011 used the internet to share and spread hatred-filled remarks about the Muslim threat, but again, never made any specific mention of wanting to gun people down.

I have no problem with cops using social media to determine my fitness to own a gun; more than 150 jurisdictions have spent nearly $6 million to equip themselves with social media tools which are used to deal with crime. But giving law enforcement carte blanche to create a profile of me based on how I meander around the World Wide Web raises all kinds of issues which need o be sorted out.

That being said, I think Senator Parker is onto a good thing.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Should Social Media Play A Role In Letting People Own Guns?

  1. I read NY S-9191 after seeing one of the pro gun groups launch a fit over it on Twitter. Well, it worries me as it puts the cops in the position of mind reading to decide if someone is a threat and I suspect they would err on the side of caution.

    If looking up mass shootings is grounds for denial, then those folks at The Trace and other GVP groups better watch out.

    I figured out where to download a copy of Mein Kampf and have it on my laptop, if I can remember where I put it. I have a hard copy of the History of the German General Staff in the library, next to Maj. Gen.von Mellinthin’s Panzer Battles and Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, two biographies of Schickelgrubr, one of Mussolini, and Mao’s Little Red Book. Some of that sort of stuff I read in grade school when the alarmed teachers kicked me out of the library for tottering out with a pile of “war books”. Then again, I’ve held a NYS pistol permit since 1976 without incident. Might have to tell them where to shove it.

    There is a law against assault or violating someone’s civil rights. There is yet to be a law against thinking. I don’t think they can do this right, esp. since the underlying premise is prejudicial.

    The government can snoop what is public information, or what it can find without a warrant, but giving the government carte blanche to snoop my electronic records, i.e., turn over my passwords, etc, raises all sorts of red flags about privacy, the links between thought and action, and protected speech, which politicians seem to think we have all figured out. I suspect this bill, should it become law, will be fodder for the appellate courts, as it should be.

    • Interesting take. It seems to me that a key to enacting this kind of legislation would Ben to have health professionals do the reviewing of social media accounts. How would police be trained well enough to perform these reviews effectively? That said, if I were worried about an estranged spouse or boyfriend who was threatening me with gun violence (40 women per day are shot and killed by estranged partners), I’d want NY to figure out how to implement this.

      • The Sandy Hook shooter had extensive pyschological testing/treatment and not one health professional detected a problem.

      • Re Sandy Hook shooter, I wonder if that same psychologically evaluated and profiled young man existed today, if evaluations would have revealed concerns. His father’s extensive interview published a couple of years ago, revealed a deeply troubled young man. The shooter was very active in on-line forums where gun violence was front and center. His Mother was the most complicit of all, in encouraging his gun hobby, and keeping weapons around the house.

      • I’d want NY or NM to figure it out too, but this bill reminds me of the joke about the drunk looking for his car keys under a streetlight because that’s the only place he can see the ground. Certainly if people want to hide their tracks, this will give them a reason to do so.

        ACLU has something on its web site worth reading called “social networking privacy”. It applies to schools and jobs but could equally apply to this.

        “A growing number of employers and schools are demanding that job applicants, employees, and students hand over the passwords to their private social networking accounts.

        Such demands constitute a grievous invasion of privacy. Private activities that would never be intruded upon offline should not receive less privacy protection simply because they take place online. An employer or school official would not be permitted to read an applicant’s or student’s diary or mail, listen in on the chatter at their private gatherings with friends, or look at their private videos and photo albums. Similarly, they should not be permitted to demand access to their electronic equivalents.

        The privacy line should be clear: Any communications not intended to be viewable by the public are out of bounds for employers or school officials. But current laws are inadequate to protect individuals from these flagrant invasions of privacy. Comprehensive legislation should:

        Make it illegal for any government, private employer, or public or private school to require, request, suggest, or cause any student, employee, or prospective employee to provide passwords to Facebook or any other password-protected accounts.

        Make it illegal for employers to require employees to permit access to private material through indirect routes, such as requiring employees to add them to their private social networks (e.g., by “friending” them) as a condition of employment. The legislation should likewise make it illegal for schools to do the same as a condition for receiving educational benefits or privileges such as participating on a sports team.

        Make it illegal for employers to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize any employee who refuses to provide access to private materials, or to threaten to do so. It should also be illegal for employers to refuse to hire prospective employees for this reason.”

        In a “may issue” state like NY, the state may try to make a compelling case for enhanced social media snooping on a handgun license but I find that spurious logic since permit holders are statistically low risk. Since we mentioned it, if we recall, the Sandy Hook, CT shooter’s mom was licensed. She was not the culprit. She got shot by the kid, who was not licensed.

        Gun violence is a problem but this solution smacks too much of Big Brother for me and I am probably more sympathetic to the problem than the average frothing gun nut.

  2. (hopefully this is not double posting)

    I read NY S-9191 after seeing one of the pro gun groups launch a fit over it on Twitter. Well, it worries me as it puts the cops in the position of mind reading to decide if someone is a threat and I suspect they would err on the side of caution.

    If looking up mass shootings is grounds for denial, then those folks at The Trace and other GVP groups better watch out.

    I figured out where to download a copy of Mein Kampf and have it on my laptop, if I can remember where I put it. I have a hard copy of the History of the German General Staff in the library, next to Maj. Gen.von Mellinthin’s Panzer Battles and Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, two biographies of Schickelgrubr, one of Mussolini, and Mao’s Little Red Book. Some of that sort of stuff I read in grade school when the alarmed teachers kicked me out of the library for tottering out with a pile of “war books”. Then again, I’ve held a NYS pistol permit since 1976 without incident. Might have to tell them where to shove it.

    There is a law against assault or violating someone’s civil rights. There is yet to be a law against thinking. I don’t think they can do this right, esp. since the underlying premise is prejudicial.

    The government can snoop what is public information, or what it can find without a warrant, but giving the government carte blanche to snoop my electronic records, i.e., turn over my passwords, etc, raises all sorts of red flags about privacy, the links between thought and action, and protected speech, which politicians seem to think we have all figured out. I suspect this bill, should it become law, will be fodder for the appellate courts, as it should be.

  3. Certainly anyone running for an elected office should be willing to undergo such benign scrutiny. And remember, cops carry guns. Surely this should be part of their screening as well.

  4. Social media is our new (or not so new) battleground. I agree with the ACLU for the most part. I did not read the proposed statute in NY but I was assuming that reviewing social media activity meant reviewing the activity that is public and available, not diving into password protected activity. Activity that is public is mostly going to be benign, one would assume. Except that I go back to the statistic which I overstated earlier but that is still striking and appalling – 50 women on an average month in the US are killed by an intimate partner, and many more are injured. The kind of intimate partner that would shoot and kill their spouse, I would argue, could very probably demonstrate the kind of rage and mental instability that would allow them to post on social media, without any boundaries of appropriate behavior. An assumption, I know. The states that currently have red flag laws that allow a family or person to petition a court to remove guns from an unstable or violent family member, I would bet, often include evidence of social media rage. Another assumption, I know.
    There are no simple answers to the gun violence problem in this country. But some laws are making a meaningful difference. Red flag laws are one such example.
    I can’t help but think that artificial intelligence will be a new frontier for social ills like gun violence. But we have a lot to talk about, as a country. And we have to agree on what role the tech giants have in being policed / policing themselves.

  5. Nancy.
    Domestic violence is a thing and guys going to the trouble of getting a license for legal pistol ownership is also a thing. But they have almost no overlap.
    People who go to the trouble of getting any kind of license requiring a background check are not the sort who do violence. For all kinds of reasons. Like, having so much more to lose. Proven impulse control.
    In my world, people get a CHL in order to be compliant, not because they could not otherwise have access to a firearm.
    MJ people want it legalized so they do not get arrested when they indulge… not because they could then try it for the first time.

Leave a Reply