As missed warning signs pile up in mass-shooting investigations, New York state is implementing a novel strategy to screen applicants for gun permits. People who want to carry concealed handguns will have to hand over their social media accounts so that their “character and conduct” can be evaluated.
Many Democrats and national gun control advocacy groups support the approach, but some experts have raised concerns about how the law will be enforced and how it will address free speech concerns.
Some of the local officials who will be tasked with reviewing social media content are also concerned about resources and, in some cases, the law’s constitutionality.
According to Peter Kehoe, executive director of the New York Sheriffs’ Association, sheriffs have not received additional funding or staffing to handle a new application process. He claimed that the law violates Second Amendment rights, and that while applicants must list their social media accounts, he does not believe local officials will look at them.
The new requirement, which goes into effect in September, was included in a law passed last week that sought to keep some firearms restrictions in place after the Supreme Court ruled that most people have a right to carry a handgun for personal protection. It was signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who noted that shooters sometimes telegraph their intent to harm others. Young men, including the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, are increasingly going online to give hints about what’s to come.
According to the law, applicants must provide a list of current and former social media accounts from the previous three years to local officials. It will be up to local sheriff’s deputies, judges, or county clerks to review those profiles and determine whether applicants have made statements implying dangerous behavior.
The law will also require applicants to complete hours of safety training, demonstrate shooting proficiency, provide four character references, and sit for in-person interviews.
According to Tanya Schardt, senior counsel and director of state and federal policy for gun control advocacy organization Brady, the law reflects how the Supreme Court ruling has shifted responsibility for vetting those who carry firearms in public to states.
Her organization stated that it was not aware of any other states requiring applicants for gun permits to submit social media profiles.
However, the new approach comes amid growing controversy over the policing of social media posts and a legacy of unwarranted surveillance of Black and brown communities.
Hochul, who has also charged state police with combating extremism online, did not respond immediately to a list of questions about the social media requirement, including how the state will address free speech and privacy concerns.
“A common stumbling block is figuring out how to enforce this.” According to James Densley, a criminal justice professor at Metro State University and cofounder of the research initiative The Violence Project. “I think it opens up a can of worms because no one knows what the best way to go about it is.”
He admitted that deciphering social media posts by younger people, who may simply be expressing themselves by posting a music video, can be difficult.
Patton believes that New York should instead consider appointing a trained group to figure out how to best reach out to people online who are showing signs of radicalization or trauma and may require assistance.
Adam Scott Wandt, a public policy professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he supports gun control but is concerned that the New York law will set a precedent for mandatory disclosure of social media activity for people seeking other types of state licenses.
According to Wandt, who teaches law enforcement personnel how to conduct social media searches on people, New York’s law is rushed and vague.