Earlier today, after a campaign stop at the FN America manufacturing plant in Columbia, South Carolina, Jeb Bush tweeted a photograph (caption: “America.”) of a .45-caliber handgun engraved with his name. As it happens, FN America is a subsidiary of the Belgian company FN Herstal, which, the Washington Post points out, was requisitioned by the Nazis in its previous incarnation as Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre.
Anyway! In September, Bush told the Telegraph that he did not own a gun. This raises some questions: Does he own this gun now? Is it registered? In a sense, yes—it has his name on it. Does he have a license? Does he have one in Florida? Or South Carolina? Law enforcement officials might wonder all of these things, and more, if Jeb Bush was almost anyone other than himself.
The NYPD has been monitoring social media for posts indicative of gun violence since at least 2013. “We have identified the bad guys and we are going after them,” Deputy Inspector Joseph Gulotta, commander of the 73rd Precinct, in Brownsville, said. “Social media has changed everything.” That year, in a single bust, police seized 250 guns and arrested 19 people connected to an interstate gun ring. Some of the sellers had posted pictures of their guns to Instagram.
On the same day in December 2013, police responded to photographs of guns two Connecticut boys posted to Instagram—the first turned out to be a pellet gun (although the boy was still charged with disorderly conduct), and the other was taken from the Internet. A year later, a 17 year old in Texas was arrested for posting a photograph of an Airsoft replica gun pointed at a police car with the caption, “Should I do it?”
In January of last year, the NYPD arrested a 17 year old for allegedly threatening police officers after he posted the emoji gun pointing at the emoji policeman. In March, a Virginia woman was arrested after she posted a picture of herself holding a gun on Facebook. “Be careful what you put on the internet,” she said at the time. “Because you can go to jail for it. Facebook thugging is a crime.”
In October, a Dallas middle schooler was arrested after posting a photo of a man holding a gun she’d found through Google to Instagram with the caption, “everybody at t.w. Browne gone die,” referring to T.W. Browne Middle School, where she was a student. She told police that she wanted to see how many followers she could get.
Last summer, KMOV 4 St. Louis reported that the police department there was looking to social media in much the same way the NYPD has been:
The St. Louis Police Department has been posting photos of guns they are taking off of the streets on their Facebook page. Young criminals, however, are also showing off weapons and high-capacity magazines on their Facebook pages and social media, in a way police view as taunting. Dotson and other police officials are worried the posts may be leading to violent confrontations.
“So if you’re from a rival school, or from a different neighborhood and you see that, it’s almost sticking your chest out and saying ‘my gun’s bigger than your gun, let’s see what you’ve got,’” Dotson said.
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