Florida Bill Would Jail Minors for Posting Pictures of Guns

Pistol at a rally in support of an open-carry gun law in Romulus, Mich., in 2014. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
It’s not only completely unnecessary, it is also very much unconstitutional.

A new Florida bill would make it a crime for a minor to post a picture of a gun — “or a device displayed to resemble a firearm” — on social media.

The bill, SB 1310, was introduced by Florida state senator and Democrat Jason W. B. Pizzo.

The bill states that anyone younger than 18 “who posts or publishes a picture of a firearm, a BB gun, an air or a gas-operated gun, or a device displayed to resemble a firearm to a social media page, post, profile, or account that is openly viewable to the public commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable” by a fine of $1,000 or up to a year in jail.

Furthermore, as if throwing kids in jail for innocuous social-media posts isn’t going far enough, the bill has provisions to punish their parents, too:

(2)(a) Any parent or guardian of a minor, or other adult responsible for the welfare of a minor, if the minor possesses a firearm in violation of this section, may, if the court finds it appropriate, be required to participate in classes on parent education which are approved by the Department of Juvenile Justice, upon the first conviction of the minor. Upon any subsequent conviction of the minor, the court may, if the court finds it appropriate, require the parent to attend further parent education classes or render community service hours together with the child.

This bill is not only completely unnecessary and totally bananas, it is also — as a piece in Reason points out — very much unconstitutional. After all, it’s not like this bill only bans pictures of guns where they are displayed in a threatening manner (which would be perfectly fine, since the law makes exceptions for real, credible threats) or where they are showing a minor using a gun illegally. No, this bill bans any photo of any gun, or even a “device displayed to resemble” one.

As Reason points out, a photo of a minor using a gun legally at a shooting range with his or her parents could be enough to send him or her to jail. That’s true — and it’s also true that it could get even more ridiculous than that. According to these rules, being 17 and posting pictures after dressing up as, say, Ralphie from A Christmas Story with a fake BB gun as a prop would also be something that Pizzo apparently believes would mean you deserve a year of incarceration for. In fact, I could think of a lot of Halloween costumes — cowboy, police officer, soldier — that could land a kid in jail if he dared to post pictures of himself. Speaking of cops and soldiers, by the way, what if a kid were to take a photo with one who happened to have a gun on them that was visible in the photo? According to this bill, that, too, could be enough to send the kid to jail. Presumably, because of that “device displayed to resemble” qualifier, posting a picture of an innocent summer squirt-gun fight could result in the same consequences.

If someone is using social media to threaten others with gun (or any other kind of) violence, then that person should obviously be punished. The thing is, though, that is already illegal. All this bill would do would be to punish children for the harmless expression of their First and/or Second Amendment rights — and it shouldn’t be hard to understand why that’s wrong.

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