New York Lawmakers Consider Gun Control Legislation Mandating Social Media Background Checks

Every year, the NYPD fields thousands of calls concerning domestic violence and abuse. About 230,000 to be precise. These calls aren’t just false alarms. Between 2010 and 2017, there were 508 domestic violence homicides in New York City. That accounted for more than 17 percent of all homicides in the city during that period of time. Many of these homicides involve weapons – including guns – that are purchased legally in the state.

Guns aren’t just problematic when it comes to domestic violence. Mass shootings are increasingly common. In the first ten months of 2019, there have been at least 334 mass shootings in the United States. In New York, alone, there have been 7 mass shootings resulting in at least 5 deaths. Again, many of the weapons used in mass shootings are purchased legally by those who use them.

Lawmakers in New York want to make it more difficult for residents to get their hands on a gun, especially if they have a history of aggressive behavior or have expressed discriminatory beliefs. Following a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York State Senator Kevin Parker announced a new gun control bill. Under the proposed legislation, anyone who wants to buy a gun in New York would be subject to a social media and internet search history review. 

Social Media Might Indicate Potential Threats of Violence

Why focus on a gun applicant’s social media and internet search history? Following mass shootings, police and the media tend to do a deep dive in the shooter’s online presence. They scour social media and look at what they’ve searched on Google in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the violent outburst. Many times, they find that shooters don’t hide their anger or hatred or desire to hurt others. In fact, it’s often right out in the open.

Following the Tree of Life shooting, police discovered that the shooter “had left a trail of vitriol and hate online.” Lawmakers believe that this is information that could be “mined for warning signs” before anyone is legally capable of getting their hands on a dangerous weapon.

Prospective Gun Owners Would Be Subject to Social Media, Internet History Review

If the proposed legislation became law today, the New York State Police and New York City Police Department would be authorized to perform a social media background check on prospective gun owners. Applicants would be required to hand over information for four platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The police would then review three years of social media activity, searcing for “patterns of behavior, hate speech, and anything else that would seem troubling.”

According to Eric Adams, one of the lawmakers behind the proposed bill, “too many people who are emotionally disturbed are doing and showing their emotional instability on the social-media platforms.” However, this information doesn’t come to light when these individuals go to buy a gun. Adams is adamant that a simple scan of a gun applicant’s social media history could be a huge step toward ending gun violence in New York.

What Are the Current Gun Laws in NYC?

It’s not too difficult to get your hands on a firearm in New York City. However, compared with the rest of the country, New York City has some relatively stringent rules. Under the current law, you have to be at least 21 and an American citizen or have an Alien Registration Card. If you’ve been in the United States for less than 7 years, you have to submit a good conduct certificate from your country of origin and two letters of recommendation, as well.

If you satisfy those requirements, you have to have a handgun or rifle permit. To get your permit, you’ll have to complete a lengthy application, submit fingerprints for analysis, and undergo a background check. At this point in time, the background check only searches for a criminal record and known mental health issues. However, having either arise won’t automatically bar you from getting a license and a gun. The city reviews each application on a case-by-case basis.

Lawmakers hope that by requiring a social media check, something that’s overlooked in the current process, it would keep guns out of dangerous hands.  Limiting access to guns could, in their eyes, help to prevent harmful acts of domestic violence, stop mass shootings, and keep New Yorkers safe.