NEW YORK—The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that a part of New York’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act that requires applicants to register their social media handles with the government is unconstitutional. The brief does not take issue with the remainder of the act but argues that the registration requirement imposes a significant and unjustified burden on individuals’ First Amendment rights. In addition to the Knight Institute, five gun owners’ associations that advocate for safe and responsible gun ownership signed on as amici. Though the groups disagree about other parts of the act, they are united in the view that the social media requirement is unconstitutional and invites discrimination.

“While New York plainly has a legitimate interest in regulating concealed carry, its regulations must conform to the First Amendment, and this particular provision of New York’s new gun law does not,” said Anna Diakun, staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Not only has the state failed to demonstrate that the social media registration requirement will actually further its goals, but it has also failed to acknowledge its costs: It will have a profound impact on the right to speak anonymously and associate privately online, and it will invite discrimination by licensing officials.”

Under New York’s gun law, applicants for concealed carry permits must turn over to the state a list of social media accounts used in the past three years, including applicants’ pseudonymous accounts, thereby directing the state to a vast number of personal posts, pictures, and likes, across an unlimited number of social media platforms.

Amici, including the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association, the DC Project Foundation, the Liberal Gun Club, the National African American Gun Association, Inc., Operation Blazing Sword–Pink Pistols, and the Knight Institute, argue that the social media provision chills concealed-carry applicants’ constitutionally protected speech and conditions their ability to get a permit on their willingness to give up their rights to speak anonymously and associate privately online. Moreover, the groups highlight that these harms will be exacerbated for members of marginalized communities whose members already have particular reasons to distrust law enforcement and fear the government’s scrutiny of their online lives. 

“The state’s dragnet social media registration requirement goes far beyond what is necessary, and will set a dangerous precedent for broad intrusions on individuals’ First Amendment rights,” said Katie Fallow, senior counsel at the Knight Institute. “If the New York law is allowed to stand, one can easily imagine the government imposing these requirements in any number of other situations.”

Read today’s brief here.  

Lawyers on the case, in addition to Diakun and Fallow, include Stacy Livingston, for the Knight Institute.

For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected]