A group of gun owners in California is suing the state in federal court over a new law that allows law enforcement agencies to share personally identifying gun owner information with researchers and nonprofits.
The bill, AB 173, “requires” that “various data relating to crimes and firearms” be shared with the California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis along with “any other nonprofit” accredited by the United States Department of Education.
While the bill prohibits public reports that include personally identifying information, it allows the California Department of Justice to share that information with these researchers and nonprofits.
Last week, five anonymous plaintiffs backed by the NRA-ILA sued the California Department of Justice in a San Diego federal court over AB 173. They claim the law violates their privacy and will subject them to “unwanted public attention, harassment, threats and physical violence by individuals and groups including persons in the community who are hostile to guns and gun owners.”
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Michael Schwartz, executive director of SD County Gun Owners, told local media that he fears the information will be used to advance an anti-gun agenda. But he also thinks that no matter a person’s stance on gun rights, everyone should be concerned about the attack on privacy inherent in this bill.
“That’s the biggest problem. If you’re a gun owner in California, the state of California is giving personal information like your name, your address, your place of birth, your phone number, your social security number… all this personal information to institutions that don’t have firewalls in place to protect them from the general public,” he said. “To give up your privacy to exercise a fundamental right is wrong and dangerous.”
The law, according to Schwartz, would allow researchers and nonprofits to know the type and number of guns and ammo a person purchases along with any “firearm precursor parts” purchased.
Privacy hawks have also piled on. “Nothing in the law as written applies any stern level of oversight or punishment over misuse of the information,” said Reason’s Brian Doherty.
“With this law, anyone working in or near any academic ‘violence prevention’ work ‘with an ax to grind, or had fallen from grace, would know that some [named person] with x number of guns lives at 123 Boogie Woogie Avenue in Sunnyvale,’” Roy M. Griffith told Doherty. Griffith is the legislative director of the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
The law was passed by massive majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 23.
Schwartz thinks the lawsuit will be successful. “I think it’s going to go our way. It’s a clear violation of privacy. I think the courts are going to see that,” he said.