Proposed Legislation Tramples On First And Second Amendments

Sheriff Joe Gerace is absolutely correct when he says a newly proposed handgun bill proposed by state Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, isn’t practical.

The new bill submitted by Parker on Nov. 14 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 the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, 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.

Content investigators would have to look for includes 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, talks or acts of terrorism and other issues deemed necessary by the New York State Police.

To say the legislation isn’t practical is an understatement. Counties would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars 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 and the Second Amendment rights to bear arms and is an impermissible violation of the right to privacy. 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 have an ax to grind against a particular 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.

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.