A federal lawsuit has been filed seeking to prevent the state of Washington from publicly disclosing the names of those who participated in the state’s buyback program for bump stocks. The now-illegal device enhances the rate of fire of some semiautomatic firearms and was used to kill 58 people and wound more than 400 at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in 2017.
The proposed class-action complaint and an accompanying motion for a temporary restraining order were filed Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Tacoma and seeks to short-circuit a series of public-disclosure requests filed with the Washington State Patrol seeking the identities of the 324 people who were paid $150 each for up to five bump stocks. The state Legislature last year set up the program and funded it with $150,000.
The State Patrol said all of that money was allocated, meaning 1,000 bump stocks were purchased.
The federal action seeks to broaden a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the release of the information issued this year by Spokane County Superior Court Commissioner Jacquelyn High-Edward. That order expires May 3, according to filings included with the federal complaint.
The federal action would broaden the state-court TRO into a class action to include everyone who participated in the program, and asks U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle to declare the release of personal, identifying information about the previous owners of the devices a violation of privacy rights and unconstitutional. It asks the judge to permanently enjoin the state from ever giving it out.
“In this time of rampant vitriol in public discourse, few topics are subject to more controversy than the private use and ownership of firearms,” wrote Joel Ard, a Bainbridge Island attorney who has been joined by lawyers from a Washington, D.C., firm, Cooper & Kirk. “And within this particularly controversial topic, few issues are as contentious as the private use and ownership of bump stock devices.”
The action claims that the individuals who owned bump stocks and sold them back to the state were exercising their Second Amendment rights and that the public release of their personal information through the state’s Public Records Act “will subject them to a heightened risk of public censure and scrutiny.”
“What is more, because their addresses will be published along with their names, they and their families will not be secure in their homes from unwanted attention from protesters and criminals looking to steal firearms,” according to the motion for a federal TRO. “The court cannot allow the state to release this information.”
Ard, contacted Friday, declined to comment for publication.
Bump stocks attach to the stock and lower receiver of a semi-automatic rifle and use the energy from the gun’s recoil to enhance the rate of fire. They were relatively unknown outside of firearms enthusiasts until Oct. 1, 2017, when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, spraying hundreds of rounds into the crowd using bump stock-enhanced rifles. The Trump administration banned them shortly thereafter.
The Washington state Legislature set up and funded with $150,000 a program to purchase bump stocks from their owners for $150 each. The program ended last month with 324 people turning in 1,000 of the devices, according to the State Patrol. Shortly afterward, the State Patrol received two public-disclosure requests, one from an individual identified as Yati Arguna and the other from Paul Holgate. The Arguna request stated an intention to “create a searchable database” and a map.
“The public has a right to know that these dangerous devices may have been in neighborhoods that the (sic) live in and who has previously owned such devices,” Arguna wrote in his request.
The federal documents indicate that both of those requests were eventually withdrawn following the issuance of the state court TRO, but that a third request from The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane has since been filed.
The federal complaint states that the plaintiffs in the case — identified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 — do not contest the state’s right to collect the personal information, but only its public dissemination.