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Appeals Court Strikes Blow to Gun Owner Privacy Rights in Ruling Accommodating 'Violence Researchers'

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A California appeals court ruled Friday that the state may continue sharing the personal information of gun owners with “gun violence” researchers.

California’s Department of Justice had been permitted to share “identifying information of more than 4 million gun owners” collected by the state during the background check process for firearms purchases with “qualified research institutions,” ostensibly to aid in the study of gun-related accidents, suicides and violence.

The information sharing was authorized by new law, Assembly Bill 173, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, according to The Associated Press.

California’s DOJ was permitted to share “names, addresses, phone numbers, and any criminal records, among other things” under the new regulation.

The AP didn’t note how much of that information had already been shared with researchers, but apparently at least some sharing had occurred, since the outlet reported the state attorney general’s intention to “resume” the provision of it to unspecified researchers.

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“California Attorney General Rob Bonta said once the data sharing ruling is implemented, the state will resume providing this information to researchers,” the AP reported Tuesday.

“The court’s decision is a victory in our ongoing efforts to prevent gun violence,” Bonta said in a November 20 media release.

Bonta’s statement made no reference to the importance of the gun owners’ privacy rights, other than to say that the “one individual gun owner and a handful of gun rights organizations” had argued that the 2021 law violated their privacy rights under California’s state constitution, an argument the DOJ called “erroneous.”

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal blocked implementation of the law last October, according to the AP. That ruling was reversed by the California Appeals Court for the 4th District on Friday.

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“AB 173’s information-sharing serves the important goal of enabling research that supports informed policymaking aimed at reducing and preventing firearm violence,” Bonta said in the statement. “Research and data are vital in our efforts to prevent gun violence in California and provide a clear path to help us save lives.”

“The court’s decision is an important victory for science,” Garen Wintemute, who heads up the California Firearm Violence Research Center at University of California, said in a statement.

“For more than 30 years, researchers at UC Davis and elsewhere have used the data in question to conduct vital research that simply couldn’t be done anywhere else,” Wintemute said. “We’re glad to be able to return to that important work, which will improve health and safety here in California and across the country.”

According to the statement from the Office of the Attorney General, the Firearm Violence Research Center was established by a 2016 law requiring the university system “with the goals of producing interdisciplinary research addressing the nature and consequences of firearm violence, and working with policymakers to identify, implement, and evaluate innovative firearm violence prevention policies and programs.”

The judges on the court of appeals found that the public health benefit of the research outweighed the plaintiffs’ privacy concerns, according to Bloomberg. They remanded the case back to the lower court with an order to reverse its earlier decision on the preliminary injunction halting implementation of AB 173.

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Interested readers can find the court of appeal’s decision here.

A suit similar to the one under consideration here was dismissed earlier this year by a federal judge, according to the Times of San Diego, but that decision was being appealed.

The test of AB 173 is available on the California legislature’s website.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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