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2nd Amendment supporters question NYC proposal to scrutinize gun buyers’ web searches, social media

November 13, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Borough President Eric Adams (at podium) at a press conference in October to explain moves the borough is taking in response to a recent spate of gunfire incidents in Downtown Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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“This country doesn’t have a gun problem. It has a moral, mental health, synthetic drug and crime problem. There are enough laws in place already,” said free speech and gun rights advocate Tony Martin on an online forum at Newsweek.

Martin was responding to a bill proposed by New York City officials that attempts to keep guns out of the hands of violent people. The legislation would authorize state or local law enforcement authorities to scrutinize the social media and internet search history of any person wanting to purchase a firearm.

Martin said this bill would violate the First, Second and Fourth Amendments at the same time. “Wrong on so many levels,” he wrote.

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The American Civil Liberties Union has argued that government surveillance of social media has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, discouraging free expression. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from warrantless searches where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. ACLU did not comment on this story in time for publication.

The purpose of the scrutiny would be to “identify any patterns of engaging in violent hate speech and/or posting threats,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said at a press conference on Nov. 2. The legislation, backed by state Senator Kevin Parker, would allow authorities to review three years of social media history and one year of internet search history.

The notion, however, is raising alarm among free speech and gun rights supporters, who say police scrutiny of Google searches, for example, could reveal much more than potential threats, such as political beliefs, sexual orientation or medical conditions.

The pushback shows one of the impediments to finding solutions that would protect the populace from gun violence and guard civil liberties as well. Adams, a former police officer, has explored a number of avenues to improve gun safety, including the use of technology that would make guns safer.

The announcement of the legislation comes on the heels of the horrific Pittsburg synagogue shooting in October. Gunman Robert Bowers had made a series of anti-Semitic posts on the now-defunct Gab website in advance of the shooting. In another case, Nikolas Cruz, the teenager arrested and charged in the Parkland shooting, also left threatening comments on social media in advance of his violence.

Adams said police currently check the social media of a person who has already committed a crime. “If the police department is reviewing a gang assault, a robbery, some type of shooting, they go and do a social media profile investigation,” he said. Police also use social media “mining” to detect threatening phrases.

“The difference Mr. Adams is those people have already committed a crime, gun buyers have not,” commented Robert Moon on the Newsweek forum. “Hate speech is not illegal because it can’t be defined. Denying someone their Constitutional rights because of free speech is crazy.”

Another Second Amendment defender raising the alarm is commenter Mickey Phelps. “Instead of looking at our emails, why not get competent city/state contractual or employee therapists, not like the moron who let this guy [Bowers] go saying he wasn’t a threat?” he said.

Extreme Risk Orders Proposed

New York is one of the toughest states in the U.S. when it comes to applying for a gun license. Proposed legislation, strongly backed by Brooklyn officials, could add more hurdles.

An “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (ERPO) bill  — aka red flagging — would allow the use of protective orders to temporarily disarm individuals deemed to be a harm to themselves or to others.

The ERPO bill (S7133/A8976) was originally introduced by two Brooklyn officials — Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and Sen. Brian Kavanagh — along with state Sen. Brad Hoylman (Manhattan) last January. The bill has 28 Senate sponsors, all Democrats.

It passed the Assembly but was rejected by Senate Republicans in March. In June, Kavanagh, Simon and other members of a gun control coalition renewed their backing for the bill.

ERPO would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a state court to prevent the accused person from buying or possessing guns, even before any actual crime is committed. If the court agrees the accused is likely to harm themselves or others, they would be required to surrender their guns, and police would be sent to search their home or apartment in order to confiscate their firearms.

The complaining family member or law enforcement officials would have to provide clear documentation to back up their claims, according to the language of the bill.

Sponsors say the language of the bill protects people who are unfairly accused. The order would last for one year, and the accused person would have one opportunity during that year to present evidence to the court as to why the order should be lifted

The New York ERPO Coalition includes officials and groups such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, the New York Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and many more.


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