And she’s using a pretty surprising platform to do so. The editorial page of the New York Daily News is generally a pretty hostile place when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms, so I was shocked to see the paper run an opinion piece by Syracuse University professor Lynn Greenky that slams one of the new gun control laws on the books in New York State; the mandate that all those applying for a concealed carry license turn over a list of their social media accounts so that law enforcement can examine posts for evidence of “good moral character” or the lack thereof.
As Greenky writes, while this provision includes things like not being convicted of a felony or any involuntary commitments to mental health institutions that are prohibiting factors in owning a gun, the new rule goes far beyond those relatively objective standards.
But problematically, as further evidence of one’s good moral character, an applicant must submit a list of their former and current social media accounts from the past three years. What, if anything, is to be discovered from this is not at all clear. The government is unlikely to have the power to compel access to the accounts; and as to public-facing social media posts, the government will have to clear major First Amendment hurdles before it can use the posts to deny an applicant a license to own and carry a gun in New York State.
It is an unfortunate truth that many use social media as an avenue to spew hate and vitriol. They do so under the protective umbrella of the First Amendment. Importantly, the constitutional prohibition against laws abridging freedom of speech applies only to the relationship between individuals and the government. Social media platforms do not belong to the government; they are owned by shareholders, which include private citizens and corporations. So while social media platforms, as non-governmental entities, have wide latitude to draft rules of engagement and moderate speech, including removing posts or blocking users, the First Amendment prohibits the government from taking such action. Lies, misinformation, disinformation and hate for the most part enjoy the same First Amendment protection as truth and kindness.
And speech protected by the First Amendment shouldn’t be cause to deny someone their Second Amendment right to bear arms, no matter how offensive or vitriolic it might be deemed by the authorities responsible for issuing concealed carry licenses. In Greenky’s view, “[o]ur right to speak our minds is not supposed to be suddenly subject to monitoring and punishment when we seek to assert our right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment”, but the anti-gun Democrats in control of the state legislature wouldn’t have it any other way. Their goal is to block as many people as possible from exercising their right to bear arms in self-defense, and if that means stepping all over their First Amendment rights so they can infringe on their Second Amendment rights so be it.
Greenky, however, doesn’t see this ending well for the state of New York.
The court in Bruen went to great pains to assert that the rights recognized in the Second Amendment are equally as important as the rights recognized in the First. The reverse is also true; protection, once granted to speech by the First Amendment, cannot later be withdrawn by the Second. A gun applicant’s social media posts are shielded equally from government interference by the First Amendment and the Second. Those parts of the New York gun law that provide the government the power to upend that balance will not survive constitutional scrutiny.
Let’s hope that Greenky is right, but the bigger problem is that New York’s Democratic majority has nothing but contempt for many of the fundamental freedoms of residents; whether it’s the right to carry a gun in self-defense or the right to speak your mind. It’s this authoritarian ideology that’s at the root of these evil infringements on the civil rights of New Yorkers, and unfortunately that ideology isn’t confined to the borders of the Empire State.