California gun owners have been under siege for the past year — even by the not-so-golden state’s standards.
In September 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB-173 allowing disclosure of highly sensitive information, including a gun owner’s name, address, place of birth, phone number, occupation, driver’s license or ID number, race, gender, height, weight, hair color, eye color and even their social security number and types of firearms they own, at universities and any “bona fide research institute.” In practice, the legislation encourages the disclosure of this personal data to anti-gun organizations that have little incentive to protect the data. In January, the NRA-ILA filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
Recently, California showed why this kind of detailed gun owner data shouldn’t be kept in the first place. On Monday, June 27, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced the launch of the California Department of Justice (DOJ) firearms dashboard portal. The data tool was designed to provide detailed data on firearms transactions and concealed carry weapons (CCW) license holders to anyone visiting the Department of Justice’s website. However, savvy users quickly realized that the dashboard could be used to access the personally identifiable information of California CCW holders — including date of birth, full name, and address.
The leak’s odd timing had some wondering if it was staged in retaliation for the US Supreme Court’s decision NYSRPA vs. Bruen, which turned California’s May-issue-carry approval regime on its head. NRA-ILA promptly asked a federal judge to stop the DOJ from violating gun owners’ privacy rights and releasing more data.
Given this history, California gun owners know their government is unwilling or unable to protect their personal information. However, another reason to object to this data collection is how California uses the information. As with AB-173, the information is passed to anti-weapons researchers for use in their efforts to undermine Second Amendment rights.
California has its own official taxpayer-funded anti-gun factoid factory. The California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis, led by longtime gun control zealot Garen Wintemute, is putting a scientific spin on the one-party state’s never-ending war on gun owners. The research center was founded in 2016 with $5 million in tax revenue. The 2019 Newsom budget allocated an additional $3.85 million in taxpayer money to the gun control project.
Now there is evidence that the center is using the state’s gun ownership data to racially profile gun owners. Additionally, the center appears to support the use of this racist data to target gun owners for government “intervention.”
On July 14, The Hill published an article titled “How Machine Learning Can Identify Suicidal Gun Buyers,” which reviewed a recent study funded by the California Firearm Violence Research Center, “Machine Learning Analysis of Handgun Transactions to Predict Firearm Suicide Risk.” was touted.” The Hill play noted:
New research from the University of California, Davis suggests that machine learning can predict gun buyers’ likelihood of gun suicide based on handgun purchase data. Identifying those at risk allows for preventive measures and can ultimately help reduce suicide rates.
To concoct their algorithm, the anti-gun researchers “pulled data from California’s Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) database, which contains information on nearly 5 million handgun transaction records.”
The researchers used the data to create a list of alleged risk factors, and then assigned each person a score based on the weighting of the risk factors. According to the researchers, this risk assessment could be used to inform government “interventions.”
Some of the perceived risk factors will surely raise eyebrows among those who value civil liberties. The Hill article states, “Forty-one risk factors for firearm suicide were identified, including older age, first-time buyer, white race, living in close proximity to the seller, and purchase of a revolver.” The study stated that
Age, race, and ethnicity of the buyer, both known risk factors, were also among the most important characteristics, consistent with the population-level observation that elevated suicide rates are associated with age and are highest in older white males.
The study reiterated the authors’ dedication to age and racial profiles, stating, “The category of handgun (revolver, semi-automatic, or other), the race and ethnicity of the purchaser, the age of the purchaser, and the month of the transaction are the most important characteristics overall.” .”
A co-author on the study advocated using this “machine learning” to inform government “interventions.” She told The Hill, “This study adds to the growing evidence that computational methods can help identify high-risk groups and design targeted interventions.”
What could these “interventions” be? They appear to consist of restricting access to firearms for those who are not otherwise prohibited from owning firearms under current law – based in part on race and age.
The study specifically noted that such an intervention could include the California DOJ sending a threatening letter to a flagged potential firearms buyer during the state’s 10-day waiting period. The article notes
A reporting system could prompt a letter from the California Department of Justice during the mandatory 10-day waiting period between purchase and collection of the firearm, a period that gives a person time to potentially seek help or contemplate suicide before being granted access to the firearm.
Even more sinister, the study’s authors propose automatically throwing those who meet a certain threshold risk factor into California’s “red flag” regulatory regime. The article stated
Considerable intervention could be considered among the relatively few transactions considered to be the highest risk. For example for transactions with the above points [a certain threshold]a flag for further investigation to consider the possibility of a civil extreme risk order (often known as a “red flag” order) that would allow courts to grant access to firearms to those deemed to be at imminent risk evade or prevent violence or self-harm.
California taxpayers pay anti-gun researchers to campaign to limit a constitutional right based on race and age.
Some so-called civil rights supporters may be reluctant to criticize California in this case because of an aversion to firearms or a lack of sympathy for the group that would be the primary target of the proposed regime. However, it takes little imagination to understand how such machine learning could be used by fellow fanatics to attempt to subvert any number of civil liberties based on a person’s immutable characteristics.
In other contexts, Governor Newsom has come out as a staunch opponent of racial profiling. Surely a man of deep principle will take action to ensure that a state body which has benefited from his considerable patronage ceases its ugly and illiberal behavior.