U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- The Second Amendment Foundation has filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Rob Bonta, alleging implementation of a new law that requires the state Department of Justice to share gun owner information with the California Firearm Violence Research Center and others violates their privacy rights under the constitution.
SAF is joined in the lawsuit by the Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc., California Gun Rights Foundation, San Diego County Gun Owners PAC, Orange County Gun Owners PAC, Inland Empire Gun Owners PAC and Doe Brandeis, a private citizen. The case is known as Brandeis v. Bonta.
Under provisions of Assembly Bill 173, passed by the Democrat-controlled California legislature last year, plaintiffs assert their privacy rights, which are specifically protected by the state constitution, are being violated. The lawsuit says people purchasing or transferring firearms and ammunition in California “have a reasonable expectation that the information provided to and collected by DOJ would not be used for purposes unrelated to law enforcement, much less be disclosed to a third party for ‘research’ on them.”
That no longer may be the case, and gun rights advocates want to prevent this from happening.
“This is clearly an attempt violate the law, and the constitutional privacy rights of California gun owners for reasons we could only begin to imagine,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “This proves once again that gun prohibitionists are willing to trample on laws they previously passed with a new law that violates the rights of gun owners for the alleged purpose of so-called ‘research,’ the nature of which seems dubious at best.”
Plaintiffs in the case, which is known as Brandeis v. Bonta, contend the new law not only violates their privacy, but runs counter to provisions of Proposition 63, the ammunition background check measure adopted nearly six years ago, in 2016. They are represented by attorneys Bradley A. Benbrook and Stephen M. Duvernay with the Benbrook Law Group, PC in Sacramento.
The lawsuit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court.
In addition to the thousands of members both gun rights groups have in the Golden State, it is estimated there are more than 4 million gun owners in the state. As noted in the lawsuit:
“From the creation of AFS in 1996 until September 2021, California law treated AFS records as confidential and restricted DOJ’s disclosure of personal information in the database except when it was necessary to share such information with other government officers to further law-enforcement purposes. The explicit purpose of DOJ’s collection of data in AFS is “to assist in the investigation of crime, the prosecution of civil actions by city attorneys pursuant . . ., the arrest and prosecution of criminals, and the recovery of lost, stolen, or found property.” Penal Code § 11106(a)(1) Consistent with this purpose, Section 11106 had always imposed strict conditions on sharing information from within the database. See § 11106(a)(2) (providing that the Attorney General “shall furnish the information” in AFS “upon proper application” to specified state officers for criminal or civil law enforcement purposes, including peace officers, district attorneys and prosecutors, city attorneys pursuing civil law enforcement actions, probation and parole officers, public defenders, correctional officers, and welfare officers). Despite several intervening amendments to Section 11106, this information-sharing limitation has remained consistent since 1996.
“The expectation of privacy in firearm-related records was reaffirmed by the voters’ enactment of Proposition 63 in 2016, which established a background-check requirement for ammunition transactions. As part of that process, ammunition vendors must collect personal information from each purchaser or transferee (including their driver’s license or identification information, their full name and signature, address, telephone number, and date of birth) and transfer that information to DOJ for collection in the “Ammunition Purchase Records File.” Penal Code § 30352(a), (b). Similar to Section 11106, Proposition 63 placed strict limits on the use and disclosure of personal information in the course of ammunition transactions: As enacted by the voters, information collected by DOJ “shall remain confidential and may be used by [DOJ and other law enforcement agencies] only for law enforcement purposes.”
But AB 173 essentially “upended” this protection, the lawsuit contends, by requiring Cal DOJ to disclose this personal information to non-law enforcement “researchers” without the knowledge or consent of gun owners.
Gottlieb boils it down, observing, “In their zeal to treat California gun owners as second- or even third-class citizens, anti-gunners in Sacramento forget that those citizens have rights including the right to privacy. More than 4 California million gun owners have a reasonable expectation that their personal information is protected by the law and the state constitution. We will not stand idly by while their privacy is violated under the guise of research that has nothing at all to do with law enforcement.”
Article 1, Section 1 of the California State Constitution is clear: “All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.”
That does not appear to offer any wiggle room to the authors of AB 173, yet the measure was passed last year, and it raises a question. Why would “researchers” want such information, and what do they plan to do with it?
As the lawsuit notes, “At a minimum, the data being transferred is going to be actively used, mined, and manipulated for so-called research and statistical purposes. Strangers at the Center – and other ‘bona fide’ researchers – will now know intimate details about millions of law-abiding Californians who were given no advance notice that their personal information would be shared and had no opportunity to opt out of the disclosure.”
When AB 173 was adopted, proponents asserted the research might be used to prevent suicide or so-called “gun violence.” But the lawsuit paints this argument into a corner, stating, “Claiming that personally identifying information is necessary to prevent suicide or firearm violence at the individual level only makes sense if the researchers intend to use personal information to contact individuals and violate the privacy of their home by prying into their personal affairs.”
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