A state law providing the names and other identifying information of gun owners in California to researchers studying the effectiveness of gun-violence restraining orders has been blocked by a judge, who says it may violate the owners' privacy rights. Information shared consists of addresses, phone numbers, fingerprints, and any criminal records of the more than four million Californians who own firearms, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This information is collected by the state attorney general's office, which uses it for background checks on purchases and for studies of the relationships between gun ownership, homicides, and suicides. After questions arose about the office's authority to share the information with others, legislators approved a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom allowing the newly established California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis to receive the data and provide it to other researchers. Their main goal is to determine whether state laws allowing family members or police to obtain court orders prohibiting someone from possessing a gun have reduced violence.
The new law allows researchers to make their findings public but prohibits the public release of any identifying information about gun owners. Gun organizations immediately sued the state, saying the disclosure of owners' personal information to researchers was a "severe privacy intrusion" that violates the right to privacy approved by California voters in 1972. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal issued an injunction halting any further release of gun owners' names to researchers while the case is pending. Although many gun owners make their purchases in public and can be seen at shooting ranges, that does not mean "there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for all owners' private identifying information," Bacal wrote. While the state shared identifying information with researchers as recently as last November, she said, "this does not account for the potential ongoing and future harms that could occur by continuous use of the information." She cited reports of "a massive data breach" in June that revealed identifying information of applicants for permits to carry concealed weapons. Bacal said she would not require the state to withdraw information it has already provided to researchers, but she prohibited any further disclosures pending a decision on whether the law's claimed intrusion on privacy outweighs California's interest in allowing researchers to review the data.