California gun owners will soon have their personal information released to gun-violence researchers across the country.
Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) signed Assembly Bill 173 into law on Thursday. The bill requires the California Department of Justice to supply information identifying firearm and ammunition purchasers to a newly created research center at the University of California Davis or any other university that requests them. The information includes details such as the buyer’s name, address, date of birth, what they purchased, when and where they bought it, and more.
“This bill would name the center for research into firearm-related violence the California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis,” the bill’s text reads. “The bill would generally require that the information above be made available to the center and researchers affiliated with the center, and, at the department’s discretion, to any other nonprofit bona fide research institution accredited by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, as specified, for the study of the prevention of violence.”
California already records all gun and ammunition transactions performed by a licensed dealer in a state registry. This law expands that level of record-keeping by requiring the registration of “firearm precursor parts.” It then makes all registry data available to researchers.
That represents an unprecedented sharing of legal gun owners’ confidential information by the state. It is unclear why researchers would need detailed personal information about gun owners’ identities to look at gun violence, how they would use it, or how the state could ensure it is kept confidential while being shared with colleges and universities from across America. Assemblymember Phil Ting (D.), the primary sponsor of the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
Gun-rights groups denounced the new law.
“Although the stated intent of this legislation may be to prevent violence, the data that the bill would require DOJ to release includes the personal and confidential information of lawful firearm owners who legally purchase ammunition and firearm parts,” Roy M. Griffith Jr., Legislative Director at the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said in a letter to Governor Newsom. “The identities and confidential personal information of individuals should only be provided by DOJ or other state entities to law enforcement agencies when conducting an investigation that has a specific need for it. No other entity – not even research institutions – has sufficient justification to have access to an individual’s private information.”
Griffith decried what he said was a lack of transparency in how the assembly passed the bill.
“This language amended into a ‘budget bill’ in the final week of the legislative session, providing no opportunity for review or public comment,” Griffith said. “Democracy truly has sunk to an all-time low in California!”
He argued the bill violates California’s constitutional guarantee of privacy and said it was unnecessary to release gun owners’ personal information to conduct gun-violence research.
“We are in support of the study and research of illegal firearm-related crime to prevent violence, however this can be done without violating the constitutional rights of all Californians!” he said.
Governor Newsom’s office did not respond to questions about the privacy concerns raised by the bill.