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Officials could check social media of people applying for gun license under New York bill

Applicants would have to show they have “the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon.”
New York would require people applying for a handgun license to turn over a list of their social media accounts so officials could verify their “character and conduct” under a bill being considered Friday by the state Legislature.
New York would require people applying for a handgun license to turn over a list of their social media accounts so officials could verify their “character and conduct” under a bill being considered Friday by the state Legislature. [ LARRY HIGGS | nj.com ]
Published Jul. 1

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York would require people applying for a handgun license to turn over a list of their social media accounts so officials could verify their “character and conduct” under a bill being considered Friday by the state Legislature.

The provision was part of a proposed redesign of the state’s firearms licensing laws hammered out by lawmakers after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down rules severely limiting who could get a permit to carry a handgun outside their home.

A bill advanced by Democratic leaders would eliminate the most strict barriers to getting a permit but also impose new requirements for applicants.

Among the requirements: Applicants would have to show they have “the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon and to use it only in a manner that does not endanger oneself and others,” according to the bill.

And as part of that assessment of good character, the bill says, applicants have to turn over a list of any social media accounts they have had in the past three years “to confirm the information regarding the applicant’s character and conduct.”

“Sometimes, they’re telegraphing their intent to cause harm to others,” Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said at a news conference.

She cited the online writings of the gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket in May. However, his hate-filled online diary was private until he invited a small group of people to view it about a half-hour before opening fire with an assault-style rifle.

Those applying for a license to carry a handgun would also have to provide four character references, take 16 hours of firearms safety training plus two hours of practice at a range, undergo periodic background checks and turn over the contact information of their spouse, domestic partner or any other adults living in their household.

The bill didn’t specify whether applicants would be required to provide licensing officers with access to private social media accounts not visible to the general public.

The idea that the state would let licensing officials review an applicant’s speech as a condition of getting a license infuriated gun rights advocates.

“This is the kind of bill that the Gestapo would be proud of. This is the kind of bill you’d see in Communist China,” said Aaron Dorr, the executive director of the New York State Firearms Association. “This will never survive a court challenge. This is the kind of concept that would pass in those countries.”

Hochul’s chief lawyer, Elizabeth Fine, insisted the state was setting out “a very clear set of eligibility criteria” and noted that the legislation includes an appeals process for applicants who may feel the reviewer acted inappropriately.

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The state Senate approved the measure Friday during a special legislative session called to address the state’s gun laws. The Assembly was expected to consider the measure later in the day.

The Supreme Court ruling struck down a previous rule requiring people to demonstrate an unusual threat to their safety to get a license to carry a handgun outside their homes. That restriction generally limited the licenses to people who had worked in law enforcement or had another special need that went beyond routine public safety concerns.

Under the new system, the state wouldn’t authorize permits for people with criminal convictions within the past five years for driving while intoxicated, menacing or third-degree assault.

People also wouldn’t be allowed to carry firearms at a long list of “sensitive places,” including New York City’s tourist-packed Times Square.

That list also includes schools, universities, government buildings, places where people have gathered for public protests, health care facilities, places of worship, libraries, public playgrounds and parks, day care centers, summer camps, addiction and mental health centers, shelters, public transit, bars, theaters, stadiums, museums, polling places and casinos.

New York would also bar people from bringing guns into any business or workplace unless the owners put up signage saying guns are welcome. People who bring guns into places without such a sign could be prosecuted on felony charges.

That’s a reverse approach from many other states where businesses that want to keep guns out are usually required to post signs indicating weapons aren’t allowed.

Gun advocates said the bill infringes on rights upheld by the Supreme Court.

“Now we’re going to let the pizzeria owner decide whether or not I can express my constitutional right,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican. “This is a disgrace. See you in the courts. You all know this is unconstitutional. You all know this is just a ruse. Another attempt to say to the people of the state of New York: ‘We don’t trust you.’”

The bill would also fix a recently passed law that barred sales of some types of bullet-resistant vests to the general public, but inadvertently left out many types of body armor, including the type worn by the Buffalo gunman.

If passed, the bill would go to Hochul’s desk for her expected signature, then take effect Sept. 1.

By MARINA VILLENEUVE, Associated Press

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