Shooting range owner John Deloca goals his pistol at his range in Queens, Latest York on June 23, 2022.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images
As missed warning signs pile up in investigations of mass killings, Latest York state is rolling out a novel technique to screen applicants for gun permits. People searching for to hold concealed handguns can be required at hand over their social media accounts for a review of their “character and conduct.”
It’s an approach applauded by many Democrats and national gun control advocacy groups, but some experts have raised questions on how the law can be enforced and address free speech concerns.
Among the local officials who can be tasked with reviewing the social media content are also asking whether or not they’ll have the resources and, in some cases, whether the law is even constitutional.
Sheriffs have not received additional money or staffing to handle a latest application process, said Peter Kehoe, the manager director of the Latest York Sheriffs’ Association. The law, he asserted, infringes on Second Amendment rights, and while applicants must list their social media accounts, he doesn’t think local officials will necessarily take a look at them.
“I do not think we’d try this,” Kehoe said. “I believe it might be a constitutional invasion of privacy.”
The brand new requirement, which takes effect in September, was included in a law passed last week that sought to preserve some limits on firearms after the Supreme Court ruled that almost all people have a right to hold a handgun for private protection. It was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who noted shooters sometimes telegraph their intent to harm others.
Increasingly, young men have gone online to drop hints of what is to come back before executing a mass killing, including the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
Under the law, applicants have to supply local officials with a listing of current and former social media accounts from the previous three years. It can be as much as local sheriff’s staff, judges or country clerks to scroll through those profiles as they check whether applicants have made statements suggesting dangerous behavior.
The law also would require applicants to undergo hours of safety training, prove they’re proficient at shooting, provide 4 character references and sit for in-person interviews.
Latest York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to the media during her swearing in ceremony on the Latest York State Capitol in Albany, Latest York on August 24, 2021.
Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images
The law reflects how the Supreme Court ruling has shifted responsibility to states for vetting those that carry firearms in public, said Tanya Schardt, senior counsel and director of state and federal policy for gun control advocacy organization Brady.
Her group said it was not aware of another states requiring gun permit applicants to submit social media profiles.
The brand new approach, nevertheless, comes amid growing debate over the policing of social media posts and a legacy of unwarranted surveillance of Black and brown communities.
“The query needs to be: Can we do that in an anti-racist way that doesn’t create one other set of violence, which is the state violence that happens through surveillance?” said University of Pennsylvania social policy, communications and medicine professor Desmond Upton Patton, who also founded SAFElab, a research initiative studying violence involving youths of color.
Meanwhile, gun rights advocates are blasting the law.
“You are also going to must tell them your social media accounts because Latest York desires to thoroughly investigate you to work out in case you’re a few of those dangerous law-abiding residents who’re taking the country by storm and causing crime to skyrocket,” Jared Yanis, host of the YouTube channel Guns & Gadgets, says in a widely viewed video on the brand new law. “What have we come to?”
Hochul, who also has tasked state police with routing out extremism online, didn’t immediately reply to a listing of questions on the social media requirement, including how the state will address free speech and privacy concerns.
“Often the sticking point is: How can we go about enforcing this?” Metro State University criminal justice professor James Densley, cofounder of research initiative The Violence Project, said. “I believe it starts to open up a little bit of a can of worms, because nobody quite knows one of the best approach to go about doing it.”
It might be tricky, he said, to decode social media posts by younger people, who could simply be expressing themselves by posting a music video.
“Where this can get tricky is to what extent that is expression and to what extent is that this evidence of wrongdoing?” Densley said.
Spokespeople for the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, 4Chan and Parler didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
Latest York should as an alternative consider giving the job to a trained group tasked with determining the best way to best reach out to people online who’re showing signs of radicalization or trauma and might have help, Patton said.
“There’s a whole lot of nuance and contextual issues. We speak in a different way; how we communicate, that may very well be misunderstood,” Patton said. “I’m concerned we do not have the suitable people or the suitable tools in place to do that in a way that is useful in actually stopping violence.”
Adam Scott Wandt, a public policy professor on the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that he supports gun control, but that he worries the Latest York law could set a precedent for mandatory disclosure of social media activity for people searching for other forms of licenses from the state.
Latest York’s law is rushed and vague, said Wandt, who teaches law enforcement personnel the best way to conduct searches on people through social media.
“I believe that what we may need done as a state here in Latest York is, we can have confirmed their worst fears — that a slippery slope can be created that may slowly reduce their rights to hold guns and permit a bureaucracy to make a decision, based on unclear criteria, who can have a gun and who cannot,” Wandt said. “Which is precisely what the Supreme Court was attempting to avoid.”