Siding with a gun rights blogger, a federal judge said this week that the state of California appears to have violated the First Amendment with a law allowing public officials—including lawmakers who vote for gun control laws—to prevent online posting of their addresses and phone numbers.
This story from sfgate.com, the issue came up in July 2016 when a pro-gun blogger posted the names, addresses and phone numbers of 40 legislators who had supported firearms restrictions that were later signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The restrictions included a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and requires background checks for all ammunition purchases. The law also requires that the buyers’ addresses and phone numbers be stored in a state database.
When several lawmaker received threats, the legislative counsel’s office contacted WordPress, the blog’s host, and demanded removal of the information, citing a state law from 2005 that allows state officials to have their addresses and phone numbers removed from the Internet if they fear for their safety. The host complied, the story says.
The story says that in response to a lawsuit by Publius (the blogger’s screen name) and a Massachusetts gun advocate who also posted the information, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill barred the state from using the 2005 law against the plaintiffs, saying they were likely to prove it was unconstitutional.
“The postings were ‘political speech’ in protest of the new gun laws, O’Neill said. The state is entitled to protect its officials and their families, he said, but this law isn’t limited to verified, ‘credible’ threats of harm, and instead takes lawmakers’ word that they felt threatened. He also noted that the law covers only online postings and allows a newspaper or broadcaster to report the same information.”
“The underlying principle is basically the same, that the government has strong limitations on what kind of information it can prevent the publication of,” said Dick Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, in this story from Fox News. “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.”