In a victory for gun advocates, a federal judge said yesterday that California appears to have violated freedom of speech with a law allowing public officials — including legislators who voted for gun-control laws — to prevent online posting of their addresses and phone numbers, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The issue arose in July when a pro-gun blogger posted the names, addresses and phone numbers of 40 lawmakers who had supported firearms restrictions that were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The restrictions included a ban on possessing guns that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and a requirement of background checks for buyers of ammunition. The law also required that the buyer’s address and phone number be put into a state database.
The blogger, “Publius,” who obtained the legislators’ information from public records, declared in his posting that “these tyrants are no longer going to be insulated from us.” After several lawmakers received threatening phone calls and messages, the legislative counsel’s office contacted WordPress, the blog’s online host, and demanded removal of the information within 48 hours. The office cited a state law that allows state officials to have their addresses and phone numbers removed from the Internet if they fear for their safety. WordPress complied. Ruling in a lawsuit by Publius and a Massachusetts gun advocate who also posted the information, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill of Fresno barred the state from using the 2005 law against the plaintiffs and said 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.