As mass murder investigations pile up on missed warning signs, New York state is implementing a new strategy for screening applicants for gun permits. People who want to carry concealed handguns will have to submit their social media accounts for a “character and conduct” check.
It’s an approach welcomed by many Democrats and national gun groups, but some experts are raising questions about how the law will be enforced and address free speech concerns.
Some of the local officials tasked with reviewing social media content are also questioning whether they will have the resources and, in some cases, whether the law is constitutional.
Peter Kehoe, executive director of the New York Sheriffs Association, said sheriffs have not received additional money or staff to handle the new application process. The law, he argued, violates Second Amendment rights, and while applicants must list their social media accounts, he doesn’t think local officials will necessarily look at them.
“I don’t think we would,” Kehoe said. “I think that would be a constitutional invasion of privacy.”
The new requirement, which takes effect in September, was included in a law passed last week that sought to maintain some restrictions on firearms after the Supreme Court ruled that most people have the right to carry a gun for personal protection. It was signed by Gov. Cathy Hatchul, a Democrat, who noted that shooters sometimes telegraph their intent to harm others.
Increasingly, young people are taking to the Internet to give hints of what will happen before committing mass murder, including the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
By law, applicants must provide local officials with a list of current and former social media accounts for the past three years. Local sheriff’s officials, judges or government officials will review these profiles to see if applicants have made statements that indicate dangerous behavior.
The law would also require applicants to complete hours of safety training, prove they have shooting skills, provide four character references and pass personal interviews.
The law reflects how the Supreme Court’s ruling shifted the responsibility for vetting those who carry firearms in public to states, said Tanya Shardt, senior counsel and director of state and federal policy for the Brady gun control organization.
Her group said it is not aware of any other states that require gun permit applicants to provide social media profiles.
The new approach, however, comes amid a growing debate over the control of social media posts and the legacy of unjustified surveillance of black and brown communities.
“The question has to be: Can we do this in an anti-racist way that doesn’t create another set of violence, which is state violence that happens through surveillance?” said University of Pennsylvania professor of social policy, communication and medicine Desmond Upton Patton, who also founded SAFElab, a research initiative to study violence involving youth of color.
Meanwhile, gun rights advocates are undermining the law.
“You will also have to report your social media accounts to them because New York City wants to thoroughly investigate you to see if you are one of those dangerous law abiding citizens who are taking the country by storm and causing a spike in crime. ” says Jared Janis, host of the YouTube channel Guns & Gadgets, in a widely shared video about the new law. “What have we come to?”
Khachul, who has also tasked state police with cracking down on online extremism, did not immediately respond to a list of questions about social media requirements, including how the state would address free speech and privacy concerns.
“Often the question remains: How do we do this?” Metro State University criminal justice professor James Dansley, co-founder of the research initiative The Violence Project, said. “I think it’s starting to open up a little bit of a can of worms because nobody really knows the best way to do it.”
He said it can be difficult to decipher messages from young people on social media who are simply expressing themselves by posting music videos.
“It’s going to be more difficult, to what extent is it expression and to what extent is it evidence of wrongdoing?” Dansley said.
Representatives for Facebook, Twitter, 4Chan and Parler did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Instead, New York should consider giving the job to a trained team tasked with figuring out how to best reach out to people online who show signs of radicalization or trauma and may need help, Patton said.
“There are many nuances and contextual issues. We speak differently; the way we communicate, it can be misunderstood,” Patton said. “I’m concerned that we don’t have the right people or the right tools to do this in a way that really prevents violence.”
Adam Scott Wandt, a professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he supports gun control but worries the New York law could set a precedent for mandatory disclosure of social media activity for people seeking other types of licenses. . from the state.
New York’s laws are rushed and vague, said Wandt, who teaches law enforcement officers how to conduct social media searches.
“I think what we may have done as a state here in New York has confirmed their worst fears — that a slippery slope will be created that will gradually reduce their right to bear arms and allow the bureaucracy to decide based on unclear criteria , who can have a gun and who can’t,” Wandt said. “That’s exactly what the Supreme Court was trying to avoid.”
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