Thoughts

Proposed Law Would Let State Search Gun Owner’s Social Media and Internet History

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A proposed law is causing a stir among firearms enthusiasts as it could set a precedent that many members of the community are worried about. The legislation in question would expand the scope of existing background checks for firearms, placing an onus upon the applicant to disclose their social media profiles and internet search histories before they are able to purchase a firearm.

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New Legislation

The aim of the bill is obvious – it is an arguably misguided attempt to identify and prevent potential mass shooters and terrorists before they are able to acquire a firearm. On the surface of it, especially considering the tendency for mass shooters in recent years to make posts to social media that, in hindsight, appear to be indicative of a disturbed mental state, no one could argue that potentially preventing more mass shootings isn’t a very good thing. However, there are questions as to whether this is the right way to go about it.

Mirman, Markovits & Landau, PC has a great blog post that covers the proposed law and how it fits in with New York’s existing gun control measures. New York already has some of the most extensive gun control measures in the whole United States and has also remained relatively unaffected by mass shootings. But will these new proposals further strengthen New York’s approach, or could they potentially divert attention away from more important issues?

Early Warnings

Hindsight is 20/20 – it is easy to look over the life of a known killer and find all sorts of clues as to their mental state. When it transpires that a mass shooter read up on serial killers and other shooters, these seem like obvious warning signs. However, what this line of thinking overlooks is that although lots of people read up on serial killers (there’s a whole genre of books about serial killers) and mass shooters, only a very small number will actually become serial killers or mass murderers.

In some cases, social media posts unambiguously cause concern and refusing to sell firearms to people on the basis of them making such posts is not an unreasonable position. However, the question is how reliably these posts are a predictor of wrongdoing and what are the precise features of a post that should trigger an alarm.

Other Issues

The new proposals will almost certainly be subjected to challenges under the first and second amendments and have a long battle to fight before they are passed as law. However, a larger problem with the bill is that it ignores the manifestation of gun crime in New York. Gun crime in New York is primarily confined to inner-city areas. New York’s gun problem is not white men committing mass shootings; it is young African-Americans living in the most impoverished areas of the city that are suffering the impacts of gun crime in New York. This new bill does nothing to address those issues.

No one could argue that preventing more mass shootings should be a priority for all of us. Whether this method will yield any worthwhile results remains to be seen but it is encouraging that legislators are willing to take on the gun lobby in the legislative arena.

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