While I understand that there’s been plenty of debate over the idea of “expanding” background checks for the legal purchase of firearms, as usual, New York State is looking to take a mile instead of an inch. One Democrat in the state senate has put forward a bill which would have the police spending their time browsing through your tweets, Facebook updates and Instagram posts before approving you for a handgun permit. And what would they be looking for? “Hate speech,” of course. (Associated Press)
Should authorities be able to deny handgun licenses for hateful tweets?
A New York lawmaker is raising the question with a bill that would require police to scrutinize the social media activity and online searches of handgun license applicants, and disqualify those who have published violent or hateful posts.
State Sen. Kevin Parker says he hopes his proposal sparks discussion about how to balance public safety and online privacy. The Brooklyn Democrat noted that mass killers often provide warning signs through their social media posts, as in the case of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect, who ranted online that Jews were “children of Satan.”
Here’s the senator now, talking about his bill in this video from the AP.
It’s not just a process of looking at your social media posts. The bill would require permit applicants to turn over their login information so the government can check all your direct messages and all the rest. On top of that, search histories on Google, Bing and the other major platforms would be up for grabs.
Parker is acknowledging that people may have concerns about this plan and insists he’s mostly trying to start a discussion, but he’s approaching it from the perspective of a privacy and free speech issue. That’s really not the point we should be focusing on, is it? At least not entirely. Yes, I think asking for people’s passwords to look at their private conversations when they’ve never been charged with or even suspected of a crime is far too intrusive, particularly when they’re only seeking to exercise one of their fundamental rights. But anything you post in public is already fair game in that regard.
The real issue here isn’t about your right to free speech, but the government’s ability to interpret that speech. The senator gives the example of someone who may have tweeted bigoted comments implying racism or antisemitism. But that’s not sufficient justification to deny them their Second Amendment rights. While I would hope that most of us would be offended by such social media bile, that speech is still protected and the government can’t punish you for what you think or say.
There are clearly exceptions. If they see someone posting on Facebook saying that they plan to go shoot up a school, church, synagogue or other location, then, by all means, put a hold on their pistol permit. That’s an indication of intention to commit a crime. But spewing offensive opinions doesn’t fall into the same category.
If New York gets away with passing a bill like this and it holds up under court challenges, liberals will have a powerful new weapon in their efforts to erode Second Amendment rights. And if that’s the case, if you live in New York you may want to go stock up at your local gun shop sooner rather than later. Individual police departments and sheriff’s offices will have broad discretion in deciding whose tweets “go too far.”