New York is adding new restrictions to the state’s gun applicant screening laws. Among them is a rule that any person applying for a concealed carry handgun permit will need to submit a list of all of social media accounts for review. The legislation goes into effect starting September 1, and is part of a large package of laws that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed last week.
The bill (SB S51001) specifically states that—in addition to contact information for themselves and others in their household, character references, and a certificate of firearms training—concealed carry applicants will have to provide, “a list of former and current social media accounts of the applicant from the past three years to confirm the information regarding the applicant’s character and conduct.”
On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York state’s prior restrictions on carrying firearms in public. The majority opinion in that 6-3 decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, asserted that the limitations violated the Second Amendment. In response, Hochul vowed she and legislators would swiftly act to pass further restrictions, different from those impacted by the Supreme Court ruling. SB S51001 is clearly part of the governor making good on that promise.
A separate piece of related New York state legislation passed last week also requires social media companies, “to provide and maintain mechanisms for reporting hateful conduct on their platform[s].”
Hochul has been outwardly critical of social media companies’ failure to recognize and report potential threats of violence since the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York on May 14. Ten people were killed and three others injured by a white supremacist armed with a semi-automatic rifle at a Tops supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood. Prior to the attack, the shooter discussed his plans openly on the messaging platform, Discord. He also streamed his actions during the shooting live on Twitch.
However it’s not clear if a Discord account would fall under the purview of either piece of new legislation. The licensing restriction contains no definition of social media, and the company requirement defines social media networks as: “Service providers, which, for profit-making purposes, operate internet platforms that are designed to enable users to share any content with other users or to make such content available to the public.”
Discord chats occur between a set group of people, and are not publicly viewable in the same way that Facebook posts and Tweets can be. Although social media accounts listed on a firearm application under the new law will in theory be subject to review, the bill also doesn’t clarify if or how private and restricted social media accounts would be dealt with.
Officials have already expressed concerns about how the legislation will be enforced, and if the social media requirement is itself legal. The director of the New York Sheriff’s Association, Peter Kehoe, told the Associated Press that he believes the new law is unconstitutional, and that law enforcement tasked with reviewing applications won’t check social media accounts listed. “I don’t think we would do that,” Kehoe said to the AP. “I think it would be a constitutional invasion of privacy.”
“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?” said University of Pennsylvania social policy, communications and medicine professor Desmond Upton Patton, who also founded SAFElab, a research initiative studying violence involving youths of color.
Many state Democratic legislators are in support of the new laws. But Republicans and anti-gun control lobby groups are already pledging to pursue (or pursuing) legal challenges against the new bills. For instance, New York Republican Party Chairman, Nick Langworthy, said that he would be suing.