Yes, we want to prevent mass shootings.
Yes, we want to prevent suicides.
But there must be limits to how we go about doing that.
It’s one thing for a court to hold an emergency hearing on an application to temporarily restrict an individual’s access to weapons when that person reveals he may be in imminent danger of harming himself or others.
It’s another to require individuals who have exhibited no such threatening tendencies to forfeit their right to privacy as a condition for owning a weapon.
While state Sen. Kevin Parker’s proposal to add an extra layer of scrutiny to gun-permit applications is well intentioned, it ventures too far into the realm of invading personal privacy.
The bill, S9191, would require applicants for pistol or revolver permits and renewals to consent to have their social media accounts and search histories reviewed by authorities in order to demonstrate they are of “good character, competency and integrity.”
That would include turning over log-in names, passwords and other security safeguards for phones and computers so authorities could look for evidence of biased language and profane slurs relating to someone’s gender, race, ancestry or sexual orientation, as well as any threats and potential acts of terrorism.
Unlike the so-called “red flag” legislation designed to stop an immediate threat, this bill requires no hearings, applications or judicial review before access to firearms can be restricted.
There are already sufficient safeguards in New York to deny gun-permit applications to criminals and people with a history of mental illness and violence.
Under this bill, citizens could be denied a weapon simply by refusing to turn over their security codes and passwords.
Not only does this bill threaten our Second Amendment rights, it threatens our First Amendment rights.
In this country, you’re allowed to be a racist.
You’re allowed to hate blacks and gays and women and Muslims.
You’re allowed to join the KKK and display the Confederate flag.
Having thoughts or seeking information or writing what you think, short of making threats or participating in criminal conspiracies, doesn’t make you a criminal. Nor is internet activity necessarily an indication someone intends to go on a shooting spree.
Better indicators are criminal background, history of mental illness, domestic violence and threatening statements.
Police would be wasting their time conducting forensic internet searches on thousands of gun-permit applicants who pose no threat to society. Worse, they might use what they find in a search history to deny an application for a gun to someone who poses no threat.
This legislation is well-meaning.
But lawmakers must be careful in denying citizens’ constitutional rights without a legitimate and legal cause.