The soft side of the Internet: #DancingMan receives outpouring of support after photo posted on message board

The Internet can be a harsh place. Bloggers pick apart celebrities; trolls tweet rude comments; and cyberbullies run rampant all too often. But the Internet does have a soft side.

When I tell friends and family I want to defend online civil liberties as an attorney they point to these examples of the bleak Internet environment. I counter by explaining how a robust Internet allows for unfettered expression, self-realization, and the sharing of ideas among diverse communities. I also emphasize how the Internet is a place where the public can support and encourage others. A recent story reminded me why I value the Internet as an open marketplace. Although this is merely an anecdote, it demonstrates how the Internet can inspire people to be themselves:

A recent patron of a London nightclub took a picture of a man dancing and posted it to a message board with the caption, “Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.”

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Cassandra Fairbanks,  a member of an Los Angeles group for women, tweeted the post on Twitter and tried to identify the man using #FindDancingMan. Fairbanks then extended an invitation to him from her woman’s group.
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Eventually the group located Sean (the name of the Dancing Man), and he accepted their offer. In the meantime, celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, Ellie Goulding, Moby, and Susan Sarandon showed their support for Sean. They were also invited to the party.

Read more about this heart-warming story of the #Dancing Man from the Daily Mail and Time.

UPDATE (May 27, 2015): Promises fulfilled as #DancingMan enjoys numerous events.

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Louisiana Law Review Comment – A Gunman’s Paradise: How Louisiana Shields Concealed Handgun Permit Holders While Targeting Free Speech and Why Other States Should Avoid the Same Misfire

I am pleased to share my Comment published in Louisiana Law Review Volume 75, Issue 2. Below is a brief summary of my Comment followed by a citation. The Comment itself begins with the “Introduction” section. You may need to click “continue reading” at the bottom of this post in order to read the entire Comment.

Summary: This Comment provides a legal analysis of a law passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2013 that imposes criminal penalties against government employees, the press, and citizens for releasing, disseminating, or making public information regarding concealed handgun permit ownership. The law has been named “Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech” for purposes of this Comment. Part I discusses the development of concealed handgun permit laws in America and how the surge in handgun permits has led to increased investigations of state permit schemes by the press. It further considers how this amplified attention has resulted in permit holders expressing privacy concerns and how many state legislatures have responded to these worries by limiting public access to permit records. Part II then examines the history of gun laws in Louisiana and explores the legislative history of Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech. Part III addresses the law’s constitutionality in the context of First Amendment jurisprudence and analogous privacy precedent from the United States Supreme Court and concludes that Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 7, of the Louisiana Constitution because it infringes on the constitutional protections against punishment for truthful speech about matters of public concern. Finally, Part IV demonstrates the negative effects of Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech and advocates for other state legislatures to abide by the Constitution and refuse to adopt laws criminalizing gun speech.

Michael J. Lambert, A Gunman’s Paradise: How Louisiana Shields Concealed Handgun Permit Holders While Targeting Free Speech and Why Other States Should Avoid the Same Misfire, 75 La. L. Rev. (2014), available at http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/lalrev/vol75/iss2/11.

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 Introduction

Debra Wills feared for her life.[1] One night in May 2011, Debra called the Union County, North Carolina, police for protection from her threatening, estranged husband, Ricky.[2] While the police were speaking with Debra inside of her home, Ricky, who lived just a few hundred feet away, drunkenly stumbled over to Debra’s house and began shooting at the home.[3] As a result of the night’s events, Ricky was convicted and sentenced to jail on two counts of assault.[4] After Ricky’s conviction, the Union County sheriff was compelled by law to revoke Ricky’s concealed handgun permit, but the sheriff initially failed to do so.[5] Eventually, North Carolina authorities rescinded Ricky’s concealed handgun permit—but only after the New York Times informed the local sheriff’s office of Ricky’s criminal convictions and outstanding permit.[6] A New York Times investigation revealed that from 2007 to 2011, Ricky was one of about 200 convicted felons in North Carolina with a concealed handgun permit that should have been revoked or suspended by the sheriff—at least 10 of whom committed murder or manslaughter.[7] Media in other states have uncovered similar flaws in state handgun-allocation systems where handgun permits remained in the hands of unqualified individuals, including felons and the mentally ill.[8] As alarming as these stories may be, the media was at least able to publicize the identities of unqualified handgun permit holders and advocate for change in the North Carolina permit system.

This would not be the case in Louisiana.[9] Even if a whistleblower uncovered similar discrepancies in Louisiana’s concealed handgun system and revealed them to a newspaper, the newspaper could not inform its readers by exposing the errors of the government.[10] This is the result of a new law passed in Louisiana in 2013 making it illegal for a newspaper or other media outlet to publicize such governmental mistakes.[11] If a media outlet releases any information concerning the identification of a concealed handgun permit holder, the state could fine the media outlet $10,000, and the media outlet’s employees could face up to six months in prison.[12]

During the 2013 Legislative Session, the Louisiana Legislature amended its concealed handgun statute, Louisiana Revised Statutes section 40:1379.3, to include section 40:1379.3(A)(3).[13] The amendment makes it unlawful for “any person” to “intentionally release, disseminate, or make public in any manner any information contained in an application for a concealed handgun permit or any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit.”[14] Violators of the law could face a $10,000 fine and could be imprisoned for up to six months.[15] The new law is referred to throughout this Comment as “Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech.”

The Legislature passed Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech, the first of its kind in the nation, in response to the release of an online map by The Journal News,[16] a New York newspaper, in December 2012 that identified the names and addresses of thousands of citizens with concealed handgun permits in the New York area.[17] In the months following the publication of the map, constituents around the country voiced fears that their privacy could be invaded by other media outlets publishing their identities and addresses.[18] Responding to these concerns, state legislatures have considered passing laws similar to Louisiana’s that criminalize speech on gun permits, and this trend will likely continue.[19]

However, given the probable unconstitutionality[20] and dangerous effects of Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech, similar laws should not be enacted in other states. Instead, Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech should serve as a cautionary example. This Comment argues that Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 7, of the Louisiana Constitution.[21] A court should strike down the law because it infringes on these constitutional protections against punishment for truthful speech about matters of public concern.[22]

Part I of this Comment discusses the development of concealed handgun permit laws in America and how the surge in handgun permits has led to increased investigations of state permit schemes by the press. It further considers how this amplified attention has resulted in permit holders expressing privacy concerns and how many state legislatures have responded to these worries by limiting public access to permit records. Part II then examines the history of gun laws in Louisiana and explores the legislative history of Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech. Part III addresses the law’s constitutionality in the context of First Amendment jurisprudence and analogous privacy precedent from the United States Supreme Court and concludes that, should the law be challenged, it would likely be found unconstitutional. Finally, Part IV demonstrates the negative effects of Louisiana’s Ban on Gun Permit Speech and advocates for other state legislatures to abide by the Constitution and refuse to adopt laws criminalizing gun speech.

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