Law & the Courts

Allowing the State to Search Gun Seekers’ Social-Media Accounts Is a Terrible Idea

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
It would also seem to be blatantly unconstitutional, but that hasn’t stopped a New York state senator from trying to write it into law.

A  New York state senator has introduced a bill that would require all gun-permit applicants to allow their social-media accounts and search history to be evaluated before receiving a handgun permit.

The bill was introduced by Senator Kevin Parker (D., Brooklyn), and it would let an investigating officer obtain applicants’ usernames and passwords so that they could log in and scrutinize those applicants’ search histories and accounts. According to 13WHAM, the investigators would be looking for “commonly known profane slurs used or biased language used to describe race, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation; threatening health or safety of another person, or an act of terrorism.”

This may sound like a great idea. After all, there have been multiple mass shooters who have posted disturbing things on social media that weren’t discovered until after the fact. The truth is, though, that it is actually a terrible idea.

I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I’d be willing to concede that there might be something to banning people who have made blatant, credible online threats from having access to guns. That, however, is not all this bill does. No — it also has investigators look for things like “biased language,” which is terrifying when you consider just how much has been deemed “racist” or “sexist” or “insensitive” in our current climate. (For example, Lord of the Rings. Or a white girl wearing hoop earrings. Or open offices. Or the phrase “you guys.”) If the investigating officer happened to be someone who subscribed to the logic of social-justice warriors, a post in a coed group chat that you open with “Hey, guys!” could be enough to deny you a gun. In fact, I’d wager that every single Internet user in the world has said or Googled something that could potentially be construed as offensive at one point or another. At the very least, anyone who’s a comedian would be essentially banned from protecting himself or herself — and I’d bet most other people would be, too.

I’m no lawyer, but I do understand what words mean, and as such I’m having a hard time understanding how this bill could even come close to being constitutional. Are people who use biased language (and I’m talking actually biased language, not innocuous things like “you guys”) jerks? Of course they are. But the thing is, the Second Amendment does not say that you have a right to keep and bear arms unless you’re a jerk. It doesn’t say that you have a right to keep and bear arms unless you make a sexist joke. It says you have a right to keep and bear arms, period. So, as much as I may hate people who are jerks, I don’t see how it would be constitutional to deny them the right to protect themselves just because they’re jerks. What’s more, as long as they are nonviolent jerks, I don’t see any logical reason to deny them this right, either. I’m all for keeping people safe, but we have to be careful that we don’t endanger our freedoms in the process.

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