We all know that a New York state proposal that would require gun buyers to hand over their login information so officials can examine their social media history prior to allowing them to purchase a firearm is a bad idea. We know it at every level of our being. There’s no part of this that’s remotely a good idea.
And yet, it’s still a proposal.
However, it’s such a bad proposal that there are some surprising opponents to the measure.
Free-speech watchdogs and even some gun-control advocates have raised concerns about the bill, which would require handgun applicants to turn over login information to allow investigators to look at three years’ worth of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram postings. Google, Yahoo and Bing searches over the previous year also would be checked.
Licenses could be denied if investigators uncover threats of violence or terrorism or the use of racial or ethnic slurs. The process would be the same for five-year re-certifications.
Even likely allies raised concerns.
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence staff attorney David Pucino said while he shared the legislator’s goals, he thought there were better alternatives, such as another bill that would create a court order of protection to bar people considered dangerous from possessing or buying guns.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said he believes bill language directing police to consider “commonly known profane slurs or biased language” is too broad to pass constitutional muster.
“A person could be prejudiced,” Siegel said. “That doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to his Second Amendment right.”
Giffords won’t come right out and say this is a stupid idea, but it’s clear that it won’t put its weight behind this. Neither will any other major gun control group, most likely. The reason is that this measure would make one thing perfectly clear to everyone who isn’t already pro-gun. It would make it clear that this is about punishing gun owners more than anything else.
Further, there’s absolutely no way this would pass constitutional muster. None.
While using racial slurs is stupid and wrong, it’s not illegal. The First Amendment says we have freedom of speech. While the courts have restricted certain kinds of speech – namely things that may cost people their lives in a direct manner such as sedition or the proverbial “yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater – it doesn’t include mean words.
I find it highly unlikely this would survive even the first challenge, and I guarantee you that someone would drop some racially charged language, then go try and buy a gun just to be denied, all to set up the challenge.
Which is probably why Giffords wants no part of this.
Groups like Giffords can only survive if they can appear reasonable. Demanding people hand over the keys to their social media accounts isn’t reasonable by any stretch, and everyone knows it. Well, most everyone, anyway. At least one lawmaker in New York thinks it’s a good idea, but as they say, “The stupid you will always have with you.”
Even the Giffords crowd isn’t that stupid.