SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state appeals court has ruled that California can continue to provide gun owners’ personal information to researchers studying gun violence, reversing last year’s decision by a lower court judge who said such data sharing violates privacy rights.
In 2021, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing the state Department of Justice to share identifying information of more than 4 million gun owners in California with qualified research institutions to help them better study gun violence, gun accidents, and suicides. The information, which the state collects with every firearm sale to conduct background checks, includes names, addresses, phone numbers and criminal records, among other things. Under the law, investigators can use the information and make their findings public, but they cannot reveal any information that identifies gun owners.
In response, gun owners and organizations sued the state, arguing that the release of their information violates their privacy rights. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal ruled to temporarily block the law last October.
But on Friday, a three-judge panel of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal found that the lower court did not consider the state’s interest in studying and preventing gun violence in its analysis before suspending the law. In the opinion, Associate Judge Julia C. Kelety returned the case to the lower court and said the preliminary injunction should be vacated.
Lawyers representing gun owners and firearms groups suing the state did not immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment.
Friday’s ruling came months after a federal judge refused to block the law in a separate lawsuit.
The data-sharing law is among several gun measures in California that are being legally challenged. In October, a federal judge again struck down the state’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons, ruling that the law violates constitutional rights.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that once the data-sharing ruling is implemented, the state will resume providing this information to researchers.
“The court’s decision is a victory in our ongoing efforts to prevent gun violence,” Bonta said in a statement.
He added: The law “meets the important goal of enabling research that supports informed policymaking aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence.”
Garen Wintemute, director of the Center for Research on Gun Violence at the University of California, Davis, applauded the recent ruling. The center has been working with the state to study gun violence.
“The court’s decision is an important victory for science,” Wintemute 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 could not be done anywhere else. “We are glad to be able to return to that important work, which will improve health and safety here in California and across the country.”