Proposed state law would require NY pistol owners open up social media and online searches

November 20, 2018 10:24 PM

New Yorkers applying for handgun licenses or renewing existing licenses could potentially have to submit to a state review of their social media histories and internet searches under a proposed new state law.

"We hear about these instances where there's a mass shooting," said Rochester area Assemblywoman-elect Jamie Romeo, "but there were all these red flags. People should've seen this activity or somebody should have… is there a way that we could've seen this before tragedy struck?"

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To head off violent incidents such as mass shootings, 21st District State Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn introduced Senate Bill 9191 which requires anyone getting a state handgun license "to have his or her social media accounts and search engine history reviewed." 

The law would empower State Police to investigate for "commonly known profane slurs or biased language used to describe the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person."

It also notes that police would be on the alert for mentions of violence or terrorism in online writings and searches.

The law would require handgun licensees to open those records up for an audit of their search records going back one year, and of their social media activity going back three years.

 "The Bill of Rights is totally under assault with this particular bill," said Tim Andrews, president of the New York Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE). "It's an invasion of privacy. Some would see it as a Fourth Amendment violation, and a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of speech."

Senator Parker unveiled the bill in Brooklyn, accompanied by Brooklyn's borough President Eric Adams who tweeted, "#Hatespeech that incites violence, or indicates the intent to commit violence, is not part of our constitutional tradition …our primary goal must always be to end #gunviolence."

"What might seem offensive to you might not to me, and vice versa," said Andrews. "And, unfortunately, even bigoted, tasteless speech is protected under the Bill of Rights. Your right to bear arms under the Second Amendment shouldn't be subject to potentially limiting your First Amendment rights."

Rochester social media lawyer Scott Malouf saw privacy pitfalls in the bill, but also a potentially slippery slope where a social media or search audit for guns today could become something much more pervasive tomorrow.

 "So you can imagine if this went through," he said. "Five years from now, people saying, 'well maybe, licensed professionals, teachers, nurses, attorneys … we should look at their social media before we renew their licenses.'"

Romeo pointed out that Senate Bill 9191 has no companion bill in the state Assembly and said she considers it more of a helpful starting point to ignite discussions of what could be a long list of other new gun control measures like a ban on bump-stocks or "red flag" provisions to keep guns away from violent or mentally ill people.


Charles Molineaux

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