The US state of New York has rolled out a novel strategy to screen applicants for gun permits that requires people seeking to carry concealed handguns to hand over their social media accounts for a review of their “character and conduct”.
The new requirement is to take effect in September and was included in a law passed last week that sought to preserve some limits on firearms after the Supreme Court ruled that most people have a right to carry a handgun for personal protection. It was also signed by Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who noted shooters sometimes publicise their intent to hurt others online.
Although the approach has been applauded by many Democrats and national gun control advocacy groups, some have raised questions about how the law will be enforced and address free speech concerns.
Some of the local officials who will be tasked with reviewing the social media content also are asking whether they will have the resources and, in some cases, whether the law is even constitutional.
The new law comes as the nation is reeling from multiple mass shootings in recent weeks that have left dozens of people – including at least 19 schoolchildren – dead. The shootings have reignited a national debate over gun laws and the policing of social media posts.
The issue of increased policing in the United States, however, may revive the legacy of unwarranted surveillance of Black and brown communities in the country.
“The question should be: Can we do this in an anti-racist way that does not create another set of violence, which is the state violence that happens through surveillance?” University of Pennsylvania Social Policy, Communications and Medicine professor Desmond Upton Patton, said in an Associated Press news agency interview. He also founded SAFElab, a research initiative studying violence involving youths of colour.
Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, are blasting the new law.
“You’re also going to have to tell them your social media accounts because New York wants to thoroughly investigate you to figure out if you’re some of those dangerous law-abiding citizens who are taking the country by storm and causing crime to skyrocket,” Jared Yanis, host of the YouTube channel Guns & Gadgets, says in a widely viewed video on the new law. “What have we come to?”
Law enforcement agencies have not received additional money or staffing to handle a new application process, said Peter Kehoe, the executive director of the New York Sheriffs’ Association. The law, he asserted, infringes on Second Amendment rights, and while applicants must list their social media accounts, he does not think local officials will necessarily look at them.
“I don’t think we would do that,” Kehoe said. “I think it would be a constitutional invasion of privacy.”
Increasingly, however, young men have gone online to drop hints of what is to come before executing a mass killing, including the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school in May.
Under the law, applicants would have to provide local officials with a list of current and former social media accounts from the previous three years. It will be up to local sheriff’s staff, judges or country clerks to scroll through those profiles as they check whether applicants have made statements suggesting dangerous behaviour.
The law also will require applicants to undergo hours of safety training, prove they are proficient at shooting, provide four character references and sit for in-person interviews.
Meanwhile, memorial services and funerals for three of the seven people killed when a gunman opened fire on a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, in Chicago, Illinois, are scheduled for Friday: 63-year-old Jacquelyn Sundheim, 88-year-old Stephen Straus and 78-year-old Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza.
Also on Friday, details emerged about the condition of Cooper Roberts, an eight-year-old boy who was shot in the chest during the attack on the parade.
Anthony Loizzi, a spokesman for the family told reporters in a Zoom call that Roberts suffered a severed spinal cord and doctors are unsure whether the boy will ever walk again.
Roberts’ twin brother Luke, was hospitalised with shrapnel wounds in his lower body but was discharged after doctors removed some of the debris. While their mother, Keely Roberts, suffered gunshot wounds to her legs and feet.
The twins had attended the parade alongside both parents, with the father, Jason Roberts, unhurt.