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Rod Watson: Proposed gun bill threatens more than 2nd Amendment

Rod Watson

Close to 5.9 million people voted for governor of New York three weeks ago. In a 2015 survey, the scholarly journal Injury Prevention put the rate of gun ownership in the state at 10.3 percent, while DemographicData.Org put it at 18 percent.

Do the math and you can understand why Andrew Cuomo and most members of the State Legislate easily won re-election despite perpetrating a public fraud like the SAFE Act. Because most people don't own guns and know relatively little about firearms, politicians are able to fool the majority of the electorate who care little about a Second Amendment right because they think it doesn’t affect them.

But what about when those same politicians start going after First Amendment rights?

Or Fourth Amendment rights?

If you think it couldn’t happen here, think again. It already is.

The ink wasn’t even dry on vote totals putting Democrats in charge of the State Senate when Brooklyn’s Kevin Parker introduced a chilling bill. It would require anyone applying for a handgun permit or for the mandated recertification every five years to provide the State Police with their log-in and password so troopers can search their social media accounts for the prior three years and review their Google or Yahoo search history for the prior year.

Police would look for everything from "commonly known profane slurs or biased language" to posts "threatening ... another person" to the ridiculously vague "any other issue deemed necessary by the New York state police."

One hardly need be a constitutional scholar to recognize this blanket permission slip constitutes a blatant assault on free speech and an intrusion on privacy rights with no semblance of due process or judicial review.

One of the few things gun owners and gun banners agree on is the need to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a danger. Too many times a mass shooting is followed by revelations that the gunman – Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, or Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago – had raised all sorts of warning signs but there was still no effective intervention.

But those warning signs are the key. That kind of specific evidence should be necessary before subjecting any American to a fishing expedition by government agents to determine what they are reading online or what they are saying to whom.

Yet instead of basing action on any semblance of individualized probable cause, this dragnet would ensnare every handgun owner whether they’ve said anything or done anything that warrants scrutiny or not. That’s exactly what the First Amendment’s free speech protections and the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches were designed to prevent.

"They want to punish you for things you haven’t even done," said attorney Max Tresmond, outlining the bill’s dangers at a recent meeting of the 1791 Society, a relatively new constitutional rights group that takes its name from the year the Bill of Rights was ratified.

Tresmond raised the example of someone doing scholarly research on the early 1940s and then being denied a pistol permit on the grounds that she was a Nazi sympathizer. I’m sure you can think of your own example of a line of inquiry or of free expression that might run afoul of bureaucratic sensibilities even if it is not illegal.

And where does it stop? If your social media activity indicates you like to drink, is that grounds for denying you a driver’s license? Will government snoopers be able to pry into the online lives of anyone applying for any type of professional license?

Of course, if you value your privacy and free speech rights and refuse to give them your log-in and password, then you could automatically be denied the right to own a handgun.

As Tresmond put it, we are all in danger "when they make you trade one Constitutional right for another." And of course this is only aimed at legal gun owners because criminals – by definition – will ignore such a law anyway.

Tresmond also is correct that this could be more dangerous than the SAFE Act, the 2013 con job rushed through under the guise of safeguarding the public. In fact, after listening to the governor and his legislative minions, most of the public probably thinks you can no longer buy a so-called "assault weapon" in New York.

The truth is you can still buy an AR-15 that shoots exactly the same ammunition at the same rate of fire – one shot for each pull of the trigger – as any AR-15 in any of the less-regulated states. All you can’t do is buy one with a thumbhole, or a bayonet mount or some other purely cosmetic feature that has nothing to do with a gun’s lethality.

Yet that’s what passes for "common sense gun control" because politicians are confident that most of the public won’t know any better or won’t care.

But everyone should care about free speech and privacy.

I normally reject the slippery slope argument because life is about drawing lines. But when it comes to gun rights, there is no line opponents will not cross. And this one carries implications not just for those who care about gun rights, but those who care about rights in general.

Reflecting in the post-Holocaust era, Martin Niemöller memorably described what can happen when individuals sit idly by. His chilling warning has Constitutional parallels in New York as basic rights are put in jeopardy:

First they came for the Second Amendment, and I did not speak up because I was not a gun owner.

Then they came for the First Amendment ...

Then they came for the Fourth Amendment .....

And pretty soon there was nothing left of the Bill of Rights.

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