Washington State gun owners who surrendered their bump stocks in exchange for financial compensation from the state are sounding alarms since learning of a Public Records Act (PRA) request from an individual seeking their names and addresses in order to build a database and publicly reveal their identities.
The request was in a brief email to the Washington State Patrol (WSP), which administered the “buyback” program in March. Under a law enacted earlier this year, the state allocated $150,000 for the purpose of “buying back” bump stocks for $150 apiece, with a limit of five per person. According to WSP public records officer Gretchen Dolan, the money went fast, so at least 1,000 bump stocks were turned in by Washington gun owners.
But then came the PRA request via email from an individual named “Yati Arguna,” which may be a pseudonym.
“This is a public records request. I seek to inspect any and all completed WSP bump stock buy back (sic) forms. I seek to obtain the names and addresses where checks will be mailed for the bump stock buy back (sic) program. My intent is to create a searchable database and map of Washington state to overlay the locations. 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.”
WSP has been sending letters to all people who turned in their bump stocks and will receive compensation, to advise them of the request. It ignited a firestorm, best illustrated by the conversation that erupted on a popular AR-15 internet forum.
In the letter to gun owners, WSP advised, “Disclosure will occur in fifteen days (April 26, 2019), absent a superior court order enjoining disclosure.” (emphasis added) This offers a course of action for gun owners, but they will have to act fast. The WSP letter was sent specifically to advise the affected gun owners of the PRA request “to give you the opportunity to seek to enjoin disclosure of the records…” Otherwise, the information on the former bump stock owners will be released because it does not appear to be protected from disclosure by law.
But there is a bizarre development that turned their wrath in the wrong direction.
Coincidentally, Kennewick-area gun rights activist Paul Holgate also submitted a more formal PRA request, with his email address and phone number, and a copy of that request, along with the “Yati Arguna” note was part of the package mailed to each participating gun owner. The result was an avalanche of telephone calls and emails to Holgate from concerned gun owners.
Holgate told Liberty Park Press, “I’m a big Second Amendment advocate and I also believe in government accountability.”
He was “bothered” that the state might be building its own database, and when he initially inquired about that, Holgate said the state declined to answer. So, he filed the PRA request, asking how many individuals turned in bump stocks, what information was collected by the state patrol, any policy or procedure documents that may have been created and how the agency disposed of the bump stocks it collected.
He does not think “Yati Arguna” actually exists.
Liberty Park Press attempted to contact that person via the email address supplied on the original note, but received no response.
Gun owners are wary about such a request because of past attempts, in other parts of the country, to identify people with gun permits and reveal their home addresses. This could, they worry, make them vulnerable to burglary or home invasion robberies, and also exposes them to possible public scorn.
In Washington state, the identities of gun owners with concealed pistol licenses is confidential by law.
For his part, Holgate said he is “just a private citizen” and a longtime gun owner who is frustrated by a wave of anti-gun activism that has erupted in recent years.
“There’s a lot of crap going down in Washington state. They’re trying to degrade our Second Amendment rights and I think the state should be held accountable…I could care less about getting information about people.”—Paul Holgate
“I totally understand why people are up in arms,” he chuckled, “but they’re up in arms at the wrong person.”