Gun rights advocates can publish lawmakers' addresses, judge rules

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Gun owners' rights advocates are free to publish the home addresses and telephone numbers of California state lawmakers who voted for firearms restrictions, a federal judge decided Monday.

It is the second time in a week that judges decided that California lawmakers went too far in protecting the private information of public figures.

U.S. Chief District Judge Lawrence O'Neill of Fresno issued a preliminary injunction Monday blocking a state law that lets public officials demand that their private information be removed from the internet if they fear for their safety or the safety of their families.

O'Neill ruled that the state law is too broad and violates the advocates' free speech rights. Publishing the lawmakers' personal information "is a form of political protest," he said in a 38-page opinion.

The bloggers were protesting a law that requires the state to collect the personal information of those who buy firearms and ammunition in California. When viewed in that context, the judge decided, "the legislators' personal information becomes a matter of public concern."

A California blogger who goes by the pseudonym "Doe Publius" and writes under the name "The Real Write Winger" posted the identifying information for 40 state lawmakers after Governor Jerry Brown signed several gun control bills into law in July 2016. It was later republished by another blogger.

"These tyrants are no longer going to be insulated from us," he wrote. "These are the people who voted to send you to prison if you exercise your rights and liberties" as a gun owner.

At least six state senators reported receiving threatening phone calls or social media messages that appeared to have been prompted by the blog entry, according to court documents.

Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine soon demanded, on behalf of lawmakers, that two advocates remove the information from their websites.

"Disturbing," Senate spokesman Anthony Reyes said in a one-word statement about O'Neill's decision.

The Legislative Counsel's office is evaluating the ruling, Assembly spokesman Kevin Liao said. O'Neill gave the state until March 10 to decide its next step.

The decision is similar to last week's ruling by a San Francisco-based federal judge blocking a California law that allows actors and other entertainment professionals to force a popular industry website to remove their ages, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

"The underlying principle is basically the same, that the government has strict limitations on what kind of information it can prevent the publication of," Snyder said. "Any ruling that allows for the dissemination of true facts is good. I understand the safety concerns, but there are other ways to address that."

Brandon Combs, president of the advocacy organization Firearms Policy Coalition, also praised the ruling that he said protects the right of free speech "even when speech is uncomfortable." His group paid for the legal challenge.