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.

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