Bill could infringe on rights
A newly proposed handgun bill proposed by state Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, isn’t practical.
The bill would allow authorities to search social media and internet usage for any “red flags,” similar to those that have preceded some mass shootings. Permit applicants would have to consent to provide investigators with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat passwords so agencies in charge of background checks, like sheriff’s offices, could check the past three years’ worth of social media content, both public and private. A year’s worth of internet search results from Google, Yahoo and Bing would also be required for investigators to skim through, in search of red flags.
Investigators would have to look for defamatory content — such as racial slurs, discriminatory behavior or biased language against those of different genders, sexual orientations, religion, age and disability — threats against the health and safety of others, talk or acts of terrorism, and other issues deemed necessary by the New York State Police.
Counties would have to spend a lot of money each year to hire enough staff to perform such investigations, and, as Gerace says, the background check process is already exhaustive. The law is also duplicative because, in New York state, making certain types of threats is already a crime that prohibits those convicted of making such threats from owning a gun.
There is a bigger problem with Parker’s legislation than simply being unfeasible. A strong argument can be made that the legislation infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech as well as the Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Who decides what material is offensive and what isn’t? Who oversees the overseers? In a state like New York, who makes sure the government isn’t overstepping its bounds? Some determinations must be left up to a judge, not a local overseer who may be prejudiced against a particular type of applicant.
Too often, there has been ample evidence on social media that a shooter planned a horrifying act of violence. We can understand, then, legislators’ desire to prevent these types of issues. There are avenues to do so simply by reporting these things to police. Some states have laws that allow civil gun seizures if a judge agrees that a person is a threat. For instance, prohibitions against domestic abusers having guns make sense to us.
There is an interest in keeping guns out of the hands of those who would do harm. Parker’s proposed legislation, however, is not the best way to do so.
Security measures will have to work around the rights of liberty enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.