A California law that turns over gun owners’ personal information to researchers is facing its first legal challenge.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court on Wednesday. It alleges the state’s law allowing gun violence researchers to view sensitive details about California gun owners runs afoul of state and federal legal protections.
“The United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and California statutory law protect Plaintiffs’ right to privacy in the Personal Information that they provided to the Cal DOJ as a condition to Plaintiffs’ lawful exercise of their Second Amendment rights,” the suit reads. “Plaintiffs disclosed their Personal Information in reliance on the government’s assurance that their information would be used only for law enforcement purposes.”
The law at the center of the suit directs the California DOJ to disclose all the information the state collects about firearm and ammunition purchasers to researchers at accredited institutions such as colleges and universities. That could include a whole host of information. Plaintiffs allege the information is so voluminous it could include a gun owner’s name, address, place of birth, telephone number, occupation, California driver’s license or ID number, race, sex, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and, in some instances, social security number.
The lawsuit alleges that such information could be vulnerable to accidental or intentional disclosure, whether by hackers or by partisan research institutions with a bias against gun ownership. That could threaten the safety of gun owners and their families.
Attorney General Ron Bonta’s (D.) office said the state plans to defend the law against the NRA suit.
“We are currently reviewing the complaint,” the AG’s press office told The Reload. “The Attorney General will continue to enforce and defend the state’s laws, including AB 173, and its provisions that seek to improve public safety by providing research institutions with the data they need to study gun violence in order to help us prevent it.”
Jason Ouimet, Executive Director of the NRA-ILA, likened this privacy risk to doxxing gun owners in a statement on the lawsuit. He also suggested the law would be ineffective at preventing crime.
“This information is a person’s identity,” he said. “And it’s being handed over to organizations that have no duty to safeguard it. This will do nothing to prevent crime — it will only serve to put law-abiding gun owners at risk. Gun owners are entitled to the same privacy rights as all law-abiding citizens. They should not be ‘doxxed’ for exercising their rights.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five California gun owners whose identities remained anonymous in the filed complaint. The gun owners said they are afraid criminals will target them for their lawfully-acquired firearms due to the personal information disclosed under AB 173.
Ouimet said the court should hold the state of California to account for violating the privacy rights of California gun owners.
“California must be held accountable for its near-constant, unconstitutional assaults on law-abiding gun owners and the Second Amendment,” Ouimet said. “This law strips privacy rights from anyone who has ever purchased a firearm, transferred a firearm, purchased ammunition, or obtained a concealed-carry license. This is an outright violation of our rights and must be reversed.”
UPDATE 1-7-2022 9:59 AM: This piece has been updated to include comment from Attorney General Bonta’s office.