FILE - In this March 15, 2019, file photo, a bump stock is displayed in Harrisonburg, Va. In the days and weeks leading up to the ban on bump stocks that took effect Tuesday, March 26, 2019, tens of thousands of the devices were destroyed by owners or handed over to authorities.
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FILE - In this March 15, 2019, file photo, a bump stock is displayed in Harrisonburg, Va. In the days and weeks leading up to the ban on bump stocks that took effect Tuesday, March 26, 2019, tens of thousands of the devices were destroyed by owners or handed over to authorities.
Credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber, File

Gun owners, please sue over personal data in bump stock buyback, State Patrol says

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The Washington State Patrol faces lawsuits over its potential disclosure of names and addresses of gun owners involved in a bump stock buyback program. The agency said those lawsuits are welcome.

Chris Loftis, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said his agency’s buyback program for bump stocks spent its allotted $150,000 last month. Three-hundred-twenty-four gun owners statewide turned in 1,000 bump stocks, for compensation of $150 per device.

The bump stocks, which can modify a semiautomatic rifle to resemble a fully automatic machine gun, have recently been banned under federal law.

“To gain the voucher, you had to provide your name and address so we could process the voucher and send you a check,” he said. “What we did not foresee is that we would then subsequently receive a request for that information.”

Two public disclosure requests, actually. One has since been modified and the other withdrawn.

Amy Radil reports...

Loftis said the Washington Attorney General’s office concluded that names and addresses of people who took part in the buyback– unlike the names of people who hold a concealed weapons permit – were not exempt from public disclosure and would have to be turned over in a matter of weeks.

His agency alerted the gun owners that barring a legal challenge, their information would be made public.

“We sent out a letter to those individuals letting them know that at that point the release of their names and addresses seemed legally unavoidable,” he said.

The letter told recipients “that there was recourse, they could seek an injunction in the Superior Court, and that unless we received a court order not to release the information, we would be doing so at the end of this month.”

The agency’s phones started ringing. “You had just an extraordinary volume of people calling saying, ‘I’m really concerned,'” Loftis said.

Hundreds of gun owners told the State Patrol that they feared repercussions, from losing their jobs to having their homes targeted for burglaries or protests.

“People had a very realistic and authentic fear that this would target their personal property and that means it would also be a public safety issue,” Loftis said.

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Loftis said since those letters went out, the public disclosure requests have been modified and withdrawn so disclosure is no longer imminent. “They did so after media attention ... brought unfavorable attention to them,” he said.

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action announced Tuesday it would support a legal challenge to the disclosures. In a statement the organization said, "By releasing the names and addresses of those who participated in this program the state is effectively drawing a road map for criminals intent on guns.”

The NRA added, “The state plans to create an interactive map displaying the names and addresses of everyone who participated in the buy-back program.”

State Patrol spokesman Loftis said that’s completely false. “The only reason that we gathered this information was to simply mail people checks, “ he said.

Two lawsuits, one in state and the other in federal court, have also been filed to prevent release of that information. Attorney Joel Ard filed the federal lawsuit. But he said they are currently evaluating the impact of the disclosure requests being withdrawn.

“It may be that everyone’s legitimate privacy concerns have been addressed at this point,” he said. Ard said there is a bill in the Legislature to exempt personal information for buyback participants from public disclosure.

Loftis acknowledged that a state agency having to invite lawsuits against itself was a strange turn of events.

“You know, sometimes there’s an interesting space between the law, common sense and public safety,” he said.

“In this case you had people asking for information that was legally obtainable. You had the commonsense concern that when someone participated in a program to buy back a private item, that their privacy would be protected. And then you had the safety concerns of a hotly debated and sometimes divisive issue in our culture.”

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