We’re less than a month away from the new, post-Bruen restrictions on the right to bear arms taking effect in New York, though there’s a distinct possibility that some of the new provisions will be put on hold thanks to the multiple lawsuits that have already been filed. If these measures are enforced in just a few weeks, however, one attorney in the state says it’s going to be a “debacle,” especially when it comes to the state’s new requirement that concealed carry applicants disclose all social media accounts to law enforcement.
Peter Tilem tells the Rockland/Westchester Journal News that lawmakers in Albany “put a major premium on being first and not necessarily getting this right,” and predicts big problems if the new restrictions are enforced. He’s not alone. In fact, I was struck by the fact that the paper couldn’t find anyone willing to praise the social media snooping provision… not even the governor’s office.
“Social media can be sort of a window into the interests that people have,” observes Clare Norins, director of the University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic. “I certainly understand the desire to build some due diligence into the law, to look and see if there are red flags.”
But without clear guidance on how feeds should be evaluated, Norins said that this could allow officials to exercise unfettered discretion and, potentially, “open the door to viewpoint discrimination.”
“If a government official personally doesn’t agree with what you have on your account, or doesn’t like it for whatever reason related to their own biases, they can potentially use that against you,” she explained.
Numerous questions remain unanswered about the level of invasiveness that will accompany this new scrutiny, including how officials will access private feeds and whether the First Amendment’s protection of anonymous speech will extend to applicants holding anonymous accounts.
After the reforms were passed, the New York State Association of County Clerks wrote to Gov. Kathy Hochul, warning that “the process as it stands now will be riddled with complex, confusing and redundant barriers of compliance,” according to Spectrum News.
New York City has issued rules clarifying how licensing officers should assess someone’s moral character, including references to their criminal history, driving record and certain outstanding debts. But these rules don’t apply statewide, and the injection of an entirely new medium promises to complicate this process.
The USA Today Network New York requested guidance from the governor’s office on how to interpret the recently enacted changes, but has not received a final response.
For now, it’s left up to the issuing authorities to decide for themselves how to apply the new social media screening mandate. Peter Kehoe, the executive director of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, says the new mandate is a waste of time for law enforcement and an invasion of privacy for applicants.
“In order to exercise your constitutional right to a concealed carry weapon, you must let the government rummage around in all the stuff you’ve ever said to see if there’s anything that we don’t like,” said Kehoe.
Kehoe says agencies don’t have the time or money to enforce this, and he believes it infringes on rights.
He also emphasized that there’s no gauge for what they’re looking for once the accounts are turned over.
When asked if he thinks local law enforcement will look at the social media accounts, Kehoe agreed, saying, “Exactly. So, again it’s putting an impossible burden on law enforcement. They’re telling us that we’ve got to do something that we don’t have the resources to do.”
I can’t wait for small town police departments and rural sheriffs’ offices to explain to residents that they’re having to pull officers off the street in order for them to sit at a desk and scroll through Snapchat and Instagram so they can’t determine someone’s moral character.
Actually, I’d much prefer that these new restrictions never take effect, and I’m optimistic that the court challenges we’ve seen so far will lead to an injunction being granted against not only the social media mandate but some of the other newly-approved laws as well, like the sweeping “sensitive places” language that will make it a felony offense for a concealed carry holder to set foot into one of the many places the state has labeled “gun-free” zones. If that doesn’t happen then we really will be looking at a debacle unfolding, and it’s going to be the state’s legal gun owners and law-abiding citizens who will be most affected.